Her six-mile course leads to the Sherwood Center pool where she pulls a Clark Kent costume change and swims a few thousand yards. All this happens before 6 a.m., when she welcomes a steady stream of groggy Whitman swimmers to their morning workout.
Coleman, as devoted to coaching as she is to personal fitness, has guided Whitman's swim teams since 1980. Prior to that time, she coached synchronized swimming for 21 years and was the women's swim coach for six years at George Williams College in Chicago. She also has coached age group swimming in Provo, Utah, and field hockey and basketball at Wittenberg College and the University of Kansas.
After coaching at different levels, in different sports, in different states, Coleman is more than happy with her present situation at Whitman, which is affiliated nationally with NCAA Div. III and NAIA Div. II.
"This is where athletics are healthy," she said. "NCAA Division III athletics are part of the total education of the student athlete, and they must be seen in that light. Athletics are only a part but still a vital part."
"I know that Whitman students are very dedicated to their studies, which means we have to build an excellent swimming program with limited time," she added. "But this does not mean you must sacrifice excellence. You have to help people push themselves to the maximum."
Coleman's role at Whitman is multi-faceted. A professor of physical education, she teaches such classes as Motor Learning and Exercise of Physiology as well as the aquatics classes. For her, the difference between coaching and teaching is almost undistinguishable. "A coach is a teacher," she maintains.
Coleman began her professional career as a teacher and entered the coaching world when Title IX created greater opportunities for women to participate in intercollegiate athletics. She was inspired to work in the educational field by her junior and senior high school teachers. "They were mentors who believed in training leaders," she said. "They let us know we could be leaders and gave us enough rope to hang ourselves or do something good. I try to help develop leaders because it was so important to me."
Coleman not only develops leaders but she helps produce incredible athletes. Over the past several years she has taken several strong teams of swimmers to the NAIA national championships. Her teams have shown remarkable improvement as evidenced by an ongoing string of broken school records and greater numbers of athletes qualifying for nationals.
Coleman attributes her program's improvement and success to many factors.
"There's a greater work ethic among the swimmers today, and the freshmen are coming here with better swimming backgrounds," she said. "The students at Whitman are stronger. A greater number of students realize they can handle athletics as well as academics."
"Whitman's administration also is pro-student-athlete," she said. "The atmosphere is increasingly more supportive of varsity athletic teams."
The Whitman swim program has a family atmosphere enhanced by the chemistry of Coleman and her assistant coach and son, Jay Coleman. "Jay and I have coached together for four years," she said. "It's a good working arrangement. Our philosophies are the same and our techniques are different enough so we can cover the needs of everyone on the team."
Coleman's philosophy is to help swimmers become the best they can be, and for her the joy of coaching is "helping make a difference in someone's life."
To do that, she said, a coach or teacher must be an "other-centered person." Coleman is just such a person, someone who invests 110 percent into her classes and goes the extra mile for her swimmers.
She still makes and takes time for her own fitness, however. Athletics have always been an important part of her life, beginning in high school when her sports were synchronized swimming, field hockey, basketball and softball.
Now, she now enjoys activities like hiking, biking and running. "I do them because I really like them and not because I feel I should," she said. "That's my time, even if it's at 4:30 in the morning in the rain or snow."
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to head swimming coach Lee Coleman. [ back to Men's & Women's Swimming page ]