Kathryn Gregory, the long-time coach and founding force behind the Stripers, the U.S. Masters Swimming Team at the Northern Neck Family YMCA, recently retired after almost 20 years.
Gregory and her husband, Tom, an engineer, moved to the Northern Neck from Maryland in 1997, reported Richard A. Scott. While living in Maryland, she had been a hospital dietician and participated as a U.S. Masters swimmer under the leadership of coach Nancy Brown, a national record holder.
After settling in the Northern Neck, she soon began looking for opportunities that would allow her to continue with competitive swimming, said Scott. Although the YMCA did not have a U.S. Masters team at the time, she asked the YMCA’s management for permission to start one and volunteered to serve as its coach. Her request was granted and she became the coach in 1998.
She recruited YMCA members to come to practices she held three days per week. The “kickoff” practice had a good turnout.
However, many who came found that the practices were more challenging than they had expected and did not return, said Scott.
At the same time, the word spread of the coach’s expertise and new faces arrived. Mary Helne said participants discovered “…what a warm, wise, encouraging and knowledgeable presence she was on deck.”
In February 1999, a handful of the team’s swimmers raced for the first time at a meet in Richmond. Both Gregory and the swimmers were pleased and excited with their performance, said Scott.
She was at the finish encouraging Pauli Dillard in the 50-yard butterfly, for example, using her own energy to motivate, as she did for others at many meets. By 2004, the team was ready to tackle the YMCA National Swimming Championships. That year, Kathy Broderick, Kelly Dameron, Dillard, Helne and Gregory raced in their first national meet as Stripers. Their experience gave them the confidence to again compete in the YMCA Nationals with increasing success, as the years progressed.
Other relatively recent additions to the Stripers such as Charlotte Hollings, Andrea Latell, Karen Jackson, Ray and Donna Funkhouser, Frank Miller, Molly Broderson, Esther Glover and Dick Scott now regularly compete throughout Virginia and the region, as well as the YMCA Nationals.
Recognition of her success and expertise as a coach came in 2008, when the U.S. Masters Swimming “Kerry O’Brien Coaching Award” was bestowed on Kathryn Gregory. The award is a reflection of skill in teaching swimming technique and serves as an indication of her innate ability to motivate.
“One of my best retirement experiences was being a member of Coach Kathryn’s Stripers,” said early member Bob Fox. “Her knowledge of stroke technique is sound. She has great skill at ‘kind but effective motivation’, and her teams have always enjoyed great results.”
A further testament to the coach’s skill as a motivator is the fact that the team has grown from its initial size of a handful to 33 swimmers. There have been new faces each year; while many join solely for the camaraderie and a chance to hone their swimming skills, others progress to competitive racing.
The Gregorys will be moving to Florida to be closer to family. The Stripers will now be headed by Craig Bauer, who possesses a wealth of experience from having coached in Indianapolis.
“I truly love Masters swimming and each of you will keep a piece of my heart,” wrote Gregory in a recent letter to the team.
“Seeing the growth of the Stripers has been most satisfying and rewarding to me over these many years; so lucky to have had such an opportunity. Will miss coaching and you wonderful folks tremendously,” she continued. “Your commitment and determination, as well as willingness to develop as swimmers are inspiring; not easy to get in the pool and struggle to improve each practice. Your loyalty is treasured; especially those of you who have been with me since 1998. What a fun ride it has been.”