Daunting workouts, fiery speeches and last-second victories are all staples in the story of any successful team; however, for the 2018 Palmyra-Macedon girls varsity swim team, it began with 22 girls holding shovels and pitchforks, surrounded by cows and horses.
When coaches Christopher Oaks and Rebecca DeSol took over the team a decade ago, they wanted to build a selfless, team-first culture in a sport highlighted by individual times and statistics. Over the years, they’ve delivered these lessons through community service, something they establish early each season.
“Swimming appears to be an individualized sport, but those familiar with the sport know it’s tough to do alone,” said Oaks, a three-time Finger Lakes Coach of the Year. “Grueling workouts are done best, and close races are won, with the support of the team.”
This year, the coaches organized a team trip to Cracker Box Palace, an animal sanctuary on the shores of Lake Ontario in Alton. In addition to their pool practice hours, the team spent time cleaning the cow barn and the horse stable from top to bottom cleaning stalls, windows and floors, in addition to the property perimeter trails.
When asked about why they took the girls to CrackerBox, Oaks said, “[It’s] important for the girls to see themselves as part of the community, as well as to see the benefits of hard work, especially when accomplished by a team.”
Rachael Mayou, one of the team captains, said, “It looks like a lot of work at first, but when you trust everyone you’re working with and have fun while you’re doing it, time goes by really fast.”
Like the sport of swimming, community service represents ongoing commitment. From moving hundreds of boxes of books for Palmyra Community Library to raking the yards of local senior citizens, opportunities to support others keeps the team’s calendar full.
“It feels good to help make another person happy,” junior Brynn Grandusky said. “It’s exciting to see how much we can actually accomplish.”
Each season, these humble moments guide the bigger moments, the ones that show up in crucial meets and championship events.
“At the Finger Lakes Invitational, I was thrilled to see every girl locked in to more than just their own swims,” DeSol said. “Our team isn’t as strong as it’s been in years past, but the mindset of this sport is just as important as its physical nature. This group knew their teammates’ goal times, where we were in the standings and what everyone needed to do to give it our best.”
The team pulled off an exciting upset: Pal-Mac’s fifth Finger Lakes League Invitational win in the Oaks-DeSol coaching era.
“The win didn’t come from us coaches, a chalk-talk or shouting on the pool deck,” DeSol said. “It came from the whole team collectively wanting the win and knowing their key role in the win.”
As team members prepared for the final event of the year, Class C Sectionals, they participated in the final community outreach project, Rake for Their Sake, to clean up the yards of local senior citizens. This event is the last time the whole team works together, as girls who do not make sectionals cut-times end their season here. After a morning of raking yards, jumping in leaf piles and playing with leaf blowers, the girls hugged each other one last time.
“Something special is created after all our hard work together,“ said Maddy Sproul, captain. “After all, community service not only teaches us to care for others, it reinforces the selfless nature of a team. In a symbolic way, raking leaves is like cleaning up after a long meet, giving us a way to conclude and reflect on how we’ve performed, and who we have become, thanks to each other’s support. This sense of togetherness, of unity, is everything to this team.”
“This is why our sport is so special,” Oaks said. “Sure, at the end of a race you have a time next to your name, but when it comes to dual meets, invitational events and championship banners, we care about the name ‘Pal-Mac’ and how proud we are to be a part of that community.”
The Pal-Mac girls sectional swimmers had the best performance of the coaches’ 10-year career: third place, with Mayou setting a new Section V Class C record in the 500 freestyle (5 minutes, 16 seconds and 88 tenths of a second).