The world of competitive swimming is a close knit place where everyone seems to know somebody who knows somebody else. It is amazing to how many lives are touched by this finite group of men and women who coach our young ones and help them develop into adults who go forth into the world. And, although we often see these men and women as swim coaches only, they have greater stories many of which are not publicized.
For five decades, Harry Meisel coached children here in Central Florida, specializing in teaching boys and girls ages 5 to 12 how to swim. He was a no-nonsense man who taught kids not only the fundamentals but also how to work hard, train hard and play by the rules. After coaching other teams, Harry started the Blue Dolfins in 1976. Through club and school teams, he led swimmers to 20 state swim championships and taught thousands of young people to swim including 1996 Olympian Jilen Siroky.
“He believed in Pete and Repeat. Repetition,” explains his son Kevin Meisel, who still coaches with the Blue Dolfins, “and he did it daily and unselfishly, whether it was in the classroom or on the pool deck.”
And while his influence on age group swimming in Central Florida was large enough to make him legendary, Harry was also a part of the “greatest generation ever” by serving in World War II. An Army veteran, he never forgot his years in the war, nor the people he fought alongside. He led by example and showed us what we all should be doing on Memorial Day.
Harry kept the memory alive of the men who fought and died in the war by educating younger generations. He and a group of fellow veterans would give talks to classroom children, explaining what it was like in the war and why it was important. He was also president of the committee that pushed for and finally erected the Battle of the Bulge monument here at Orlando’s Lake Eola Park, giving a permanent reminder of those who fought.
And in his eighties, Harry went back to Luxembourg to visit the very people he helped to liberate and to remember those who did not come home.
So, while thousands of children called Harry “Coach”, little did they know he was also called “hero” by many. And perhaps we all should follow his example of never forgetting.
And Harry is not alone. Those swim officials who are the engine behind producing swim meets also have their back stories, including Eddie Rose who was a fixture on deck at Central Florida meets for years.
Eddie Rose volunteered as a meet official because of his young son Charlie, who now is head coach of the Blue Dolfins coaching alongside Kevin Meisel. But back in the 1970s, young Charlie was following his father’s watery ways. You see, Eddie was a diver. He performed in the legendary International Water Follies, entertaining thousands as a comedic diver and performing with the likes of Johnny Weismuller.
But before that life of a performer, Eddie had also been a soldier, a tail gunner on a B-24 Liberator with the 15th Air Force during World War II. Being a tail gunner was precarious enough, but it was especially risky aboard a “flying coffin,” which is how B-17 crews described Eddie’s plane.
Eddie flew 47 missions before being shot down in Italy on July 25, 1944, which resulted in an injury that allowed Eddie to come home. For his military service, Eddie was awarded the American Campaign Medal, a World War II Victory medal, an Air Medal with three Oak Leaf clusters and an Air Medal with 4 Oak Leaf clusters, along with a Purple Heart. Like Harry, Eddie paid tribute to those who fought with him but died in the war. He even wrote about them and his experiences in his autobiography You Still Here?
So as we take time today to remember those who paid the ultimate price for our country, we also need to give pause to those who fought alongside them and survived. It is through their living memories that we know the stories of those who fell. So, swimmers, next time you are on deck, perhaps give your elders a bit more respect. Sure, they may be a swim coach or a meet official, or maybe just somebody’s parent or grandparent, but they may also be a hero who is owed much, much more.
Much love to Harry and Eddie… we miss you both!