It was time.
Tharon Drake’s body told him so, although it took him some time to really believe it.
He eventually listened and made the tough decision to retire from competitive swimming.
The 2011 Hobbs High graduate and two-time 2016 Rio Paralympian Games silver medalist called it a career in competitive swimming, something he has done since he was a nine.
“I am now retired and it’s funny saying that,” said Tharon. “With my health, I started using a walking cane and I decided it was about time to retire. It was not an easy decision. I had to make a decision and it took me right up until I could go to (this year’s) paralympic trials. I made the decision the day of the deadline for the trials.”
In 2007 Tharon was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with amnesia. The condition was a result of vaccinations he had received. In 2008, his eyesight began deteriorating and he was diagnosed with mathylation disorder, which means his body does not absorb vitamins properly.
Even though, internally, he had made his decision to retire, there was always something in the back of his head, he said, that would leave a little bit of a change of heart. Mainly because he didn’t know what he was going to do next.
“Everything that I do, I believe it needs to be done at its very, very best,” said Tharon, who officially retired last summer. “That’s just how I have always been. Anyone who knows me knows I have always been the type of person to do anything that I do at 100 percent. There’s no such thing as swimming for fun some days. It’s so hard for me understand that not everything is a race and it’s pretty funny at the same time.”
He believes that attitude has led to many more failures than successes but those successes have been bigger than any of the failures.
“It it was a great decision,” he said. “I am getting to spend more time with my family which I enjoying so much.”
Finding something new in life to transition to wasn’t too hard. Tharon and his wife, Paula, are living in Hobbs and contracted to coach swimming and adaptive sports at the Center of Recreational Excellence (CORE). The Adaptive Avengers, as it is called, is for people with any type of disability who are learning to perform different sports. There are two age groups, children 4-12 years of age and teenagers and older. Each age group meets twice a week.
“That’s been a really fun class,” said Tharon, age
28. “We are loving living in Hobbs. Getting back into the hometown has been great and getting to coach these athletes has been amazing.”
Paula, who was a strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., when they met, said Tharon worked hard to close that chapter in his life. Something that is often hard for athletes to accomplish.
“Sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do,” Paula said, “but he is closing that part of his life as an athlete and opening another as a coach has helped him a lot in coping with the closure. I am so proud of what he has accomplished as an athlete and I am looking forward to see what he can do as a coach.”
Tharon believes that in coaching he can make some positive changes for any athlete. Not just in the midst of competition and training but positive changes in that athlete’s life.
“As a coach if my goal is to just make you a fast swimmer then I am in the wrong job,” Tharon said. “My goal is to make them not just better athletes but also better people. It’s cool to see a life lesson learned.”
Tharon’s coaching didn’t start at the CORE. He became the first blind swimming coach in the U.S. when he took a coaching position in North Carolina a few years ago. He and Paula would host athletes who would travel from up and down the east coast to attend weekend training camps.
“I’ve already had the blessing to coach those guys and I would love for that side to grow,” Tharon said. “I think it started me.”
Coaching isn’t the only thing Tharon has going on in his life. He’s close to earning his master’s degree in Business Administration from the DeVry and Keller online graduate school. He’s become a travel agent, he’s teaching piano and he’s become a motivational speaker at a handful of hospitals.
“(Teaching piano) just teaching people something they might think of, ‘oh I can’t do,’ and getting them to experiment life has been awesome,” he said. “In the motivational speaking I am just trying to help others where I can.”
Tharon has been able to tell some of his story at a new museum at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Tharon has a display with some other Paralympian swimmers featuring a plaque in his honor and his swimsuits, tappers, goggles and other items he used during the 2016 Paralympics.
“There is an interactive wall where visitors can all the different athletes who made Team USA since 1896, the first modern Olympics,” Tharon said. “If you type in my name, there I am.”
Tharon spent five 1/2 years living and training in Colorado Springs. His friendly nature and desire to meet and know each athlete who trained there earned him the nickname “The Mayor.”
“That is what made the Olympic trials so hard for me this year because I’d hear a friend make it and a friend miss it,” he said.
Tharon is planning on swimming again for a cause, not a race. On Sept. 25, he and Paula are expected to participate in a Swim Across America open water event in Dallas for cancer research. It’s in honor of his cousin, Corey Cruce, who passed away in December 2018 from Cancer.
“Corey and I were really close and since his death I have really wanted to see what we can do to help out,” Tharon said. “I’ve never done these open swims before but it will be a half-mile loop. We just want to raise as much money for this as we can. Cancer has impacted not just me but the entire community.”
Tharon said donations can be made on his and Paula’s personal Facebook pages.
With his family back to being a more permanent fixture and coaching as well, this new life has given a new meaning to Tharon’s career. It’s something he is most proud of and excited about.
“I’ve always placed my career and life around God,” Tharon said. “It has always been my center. Losing my eyesight in those early was not an easy thing but there was purpose that I might not understand at that moment. Now I can look back 14 years later and go, wow, God had some huge things in store. Who would have known it would have come from something bad like losing your eyesight. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain that one.”
After his silver medal performances in the 100 meter breaststroke and the 400 meter breastroke at the Rio Games, Tharon returned to his hometown for a month and toured of all the Hobbs public schools showing off the medals.
“They are at home now and feel like someone took a razor blade to them,” Tharon laughed. “They can look pretty for a blind man or they can change the world. I let every student who wanted to touch the medals and the promise they made to me and themselves was by touching that medal when life gets hard you promise yourself you can do it. No matter how impossible it seems, you can do it.
Tharon made a goal to them that he was going to chase gold at the next world championships. In 2017 he earned gold in the 100 meter breaststroke and 400 meter freestyle and a silver in the 200 meter intermediate.
He’s planning on taking his medals on an encore tour to the Hobbs schools this fall.
“That was something very important to me,” Tharon said, “making that kind of an impact, still, on this community. That is my goal in life. Swimming is the tool God blessed me with to change the world one step at a time.”