Following a successful 2016 Paralympics in Rio, winning a regional ESPY, winning five world medals, a Pana America medal, American records, and becoming the first blind swimming coach in the NCAA at Catawba College; Hobbs’ own Tharon Drake decided to return home.
Drake and his wife Paula left North Carolina and joined the CORE, where he is teaching the Tsunami swim club.
“It is amazing to get to come to Tsunami,” he said. “I left North Carolina where I was the first NCAA blind swim coach. It has been amazing to come back to my hometown and really get to show everyone the love of the sport. And show what all the great benefits with health, with just life lessons it can provide.”
During his time at Catawba College, Drake called the experience great. He enjoyed working with the swimmers during his time there.
“The college students where great,” he said. “At first they weren’t sure with how much they can get away with. I’ll never forget my first practice I heard someone pull on the lane rope, and I always told myself if I heard it I would always call it out. So I called it out immediately, didn’t let it slide and very kind about it. But about the fourth time this person did it, they didn’t like that I was calling them out. But the whole team realized very quickly just because I couldn’t see didn’t mean I didn’t figure out other ways to coach.”
Drake added it took nothing to get the swimmers at Catawba College to trust him. He called them amazing for accepting him as their coaching. The swimmers knew about Drake’s background in swimming, but he believes it was his actual coaching that won them over and not his achievements in the water.
“Once they saw my ability to coach, cause coaching and swimming I learned quickly are two very different things, and they really respected me as a coach,” he said. “They knew I had the background as an athlete and I can’t compliment them enough for what it took for them to accept me. I know they were always asked what its like to have a blind swim coach, and they said you don’t get away with anything. He hears everything.”
He hears everything came to be true as Drake stopped the interview because he heard a swimmer struggling to swim and was ready to help at a moments notice. He did relax and went back to the interview once the swimmer was closer to the lifeguard. That moment showed how Drake coaches he listens to the water and how the swimmer hits it with their hands and feet and tells where they need improvements.
Working at the CORE
Drake left Catawba College and returned home were he was offered a chance to work as a contractor in the CORE.
“I wanted to come back home and be closer to family,” he said. “We really saw Tsunami as an amazing opportunity and I wanted to be able to share my love for this sport, which translates into life lessons. To be able to do that in Hobbs is huge, I am a huge fan of Hobbs. When you look at my medals they look like someone took razor blades to them and the reason is ‘they can look pretty for a blind man or change the world.’ And I was able to take the medals to every school in Hobbs, wear the medals, touch them, and take pictures to them. I like bringing it back to Hobbs, back to Tsunami.”
Drake is currently helping aquatic coordinator Amanda Byers with the Tsunami swim club, where he can be seen teaching the young kids to some of the older kids. He will lean on his time coaching at the collegiate level, but he knows that each teaching group is different.
“Every group, every person is unique and that is what is amazing,” Drake said. “These guys are very unique and they each have their own personality. It is just amazing to be a part of Tsunami.”
He continued that every person is different so some might struggle with a kick and others struggle on a pull. But he enjoys working with the younger group because it gives him more time to help them develop. As he said time is of the essence as it is in everything, but he has learned patience with both Tsunami and college swimmers.
Working in the CORE, Drake has the chance to work with three other swimming coaches who bring their own unique perspective. Drake gets to work with his wife Paula, Shay Cross, and Cheyenne Roy who he enjoys and respects there coaching methods and style. He enjoys that all of them have a different background with swimming and each has their own love for the sport. All the coaches are on the same page when it comes to helping the Tsunami swimmers improve.
One important area Drake wants to work with is the parent of the Tsunami swimmers. He wants the parents to trust him with their children in teaching them how to swim well, swim safe, have fun, and swim fast. He wants the parents to not be worried about their children as they sit in the spectators stand, instead he wants them to know that their kids are having a great time in the water.
But Tsunami isn’t the only reason Drake is excited to work with the CORE.
“Here at the CORE we are going to start some disability courses,” he said. “We are calling them adaptive program here at the CORE, and we are waiting on the governor to let us open. After that it will be big things coming.”
Drake added Hobbs gets a bad rap and he wants to work on eliminating it. He believes the adaptive program will help in that and he is excited at being part of something bigger than himself.
“Working as a contractor here (in the CORE) has been amazing,” he said. “And I can’t wait to do more with it.”
Working in the Community
Drake enjoys working with the community. This came from his time with the Paralympics, which allowed him to go to all the schools in Hobbs. He wants to show that Hobbs is a great place.
“My biggest concern what I always want to do is we keep Hobbs a great place as I know it is,” Drake said. “My big projects right now is helping our swimmers and when the governor lets us having an adaptive program at the CORE. I’m very excited and that something that Paralympics changed my life.”
Thanks to the Paralympics Drake was able to go to the schools in Hobbs were he let the students see, touch, and wear his medals as a form of inspiration. He wants to inspire all students and athletes that disabilities do not hold you back from achieving your goals.
‘What I would like is for a person to be able to say lets not focus on what I can’t do but what I can do,” he said. “There are so many different sports whether its basketball, boxing, swimming there are so many different things we have different opportunities for. The opportunities are limitless.”
Another reason Drake likes to work in the community is because he feels his community has given so much to him. It is why he likes to go to schools in the community and other areas. He wants to inspire the students to know that they are capable of doing what he has done, and be better at it. He speaks to the students and lets them know that he isn’t the only person who can win a medal. He wants all the students to see that they have that ability in themselves.
He looks to make positive changes in the schools.
Drake is currently excited to be part of the CORE and what the future holds. He wants to be active in the Hobbs community and at the CORE. But he still hasn’t made the decision to retire from competitive swimming.
“That is something I fight myself over and over,” he said on trying to win more medals. “To be honest I have some brain problem and we don’t know what they are and it has affected my health. If you watch me walk I walk with a walking cane now and it really has affected the right side of my body due to the brain. But I am always hard headed so you will still catch me in the pool, and I can’t decide if I want to retire yet or not. But it has been amazing being back here in Hobbs having family to support me, friends that support, and I know God has a plan that I cant see yet. And I can’t wait to see what they are.”
Whether he makes the decision to retire or not, Drake is excited to be back home and wants to inspire the people of Hobbs.