National Coaches Day: Paralympian Tharon Drake Coaches Character In And Out Of The Pool

By Cady Lowery | Oct. 06, 2019, 2:18 p.m. (ET)

Tharon Drake dives into the pool at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center where he used to live as a resident athlete.

A swimmer’s accomplishments are often measured in the pool, and everything out of the water comes second. But for Paralympian and current college swim coach Tharon Drake, swimming goes deeper than any pool ever could. 

Drake serves as an assistant coach at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina, as the first and only NCAA swimming coach who is blind. He was told it would be impossible, and while challenging at times, he knows his unique perspective brings a lot to the Division II swim team. 

“At first I wanted to coach because I wanted to be in charge,” Drake said. “But it’s more than that. It’s instructing someone and really working side by side with them. And I was told I couldn’t do that because I’m blind. I would talk to people and say, ‘This is what I hear. What do you see?’”

His dad was one of his first swim coaches - coaching his club team in Hobbs, New Mexico. He’s a third generation “Coach Drake”, which he takes pride in. 

National Coach’s Day was established in 1972 to honor people like Drake and the people who influenced him. 

“Coaches have always played a crucial role in my athletic life, but also in my personal life,” Drake said. “A good coach shows you more than just how to do your sport well - they show you how to live your life well. They show you how to be a good example.”

As an athlete, Drake amassed five world championship medals and two Paralympic medals, with the 100-meter breaststroke and 400 freestyle being his signature events. His resume was telling before he joined Catawba, and he hopes to create a winning atmosphere there, too. 

But his journey to coaching was not an easy one. Swimming since he was nine and blind since he was in high school, Drake’s work ethic and character made him a person his team can look up to. 

At a young age, Drake was inspired by one of his basketball coaches who pushed him in the weight room and taught him skills he’d use outside of the pool. He uses his past coaches as an extra inspiration to lead, and it was a simple gesture from his old basketball coach that taught him how to lead by example. 

“One day I needed someone to help me run a 200-meter dash, and he said he would run it with me. It was so cool to have the coach as my guide when no one else wanted to run with me.”

That small act is what Drake tries to emulate with his athletes. 

“It’s so cool to work with each athlete. Every single person is their own individual. No two people act alike. I have to know how to coach everyone in a way that works for them, so it’s been a learning process.” 

Drake feels like he spent his life preparing for this. He’s learned so much from his time in the pool that this seemed like the next big step. His biggest shock? All the behind the scenes details.  

“I was used to just showing up ready to dominate the pool,” Drake said. “But there’s much more to it than that. It takes so much to make everything run smoothly.” 

A year into his coaching debut and dealing with those details, Drake still wants his team to strive to build their character over anything else. 

“I hope they can see my character,” Drake said. “We’re not all perfect, but I try as much as I can. There’s more to swimming than going fast. An athlete’s character is the most important, and I want all my athletes to go out and be a good person.”