DOWNTOWN — In less than a year, swimming coach Dave Kelsheimer has given Team Santa Monica an Olympic feel.
Since coming back to the states from Australia in September of 2010 to coach the team that often works out at Santa Monica College, Kelsheimer has brought an aggressive coaching style to TSM that has already yielded improved times and even a qualifier for the U.S. Olympic trials.
Eugene Tee, who followed the coach to the states, has qualified for both the U.S. and Australian trials in the 400 meter medley, giving much of the credit to his globe trotting coach. Both trials take place next year.
“I owe Dave a lot,” Tee said while the team was in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. for a meet. “He’s really changed my life.
“I never thought I’d be at this level before meeting him.”
Tee, who attends St. Monica Catholic High School, lives with a host family here in Santa Monica. He said that Kelsheimer helped arrange his accommodations with the family of a teammate.
Ironically, Kelsheimer gives much of the credit for TSM’s rebirth to the 17-year-old swimmer he first met six years ago in Melbourne. He said that having an athlete like Tee in the pool gives his other swimmers the notion that reaching the Olympics isn’t a pipe dream.
That competitive environment seems to be rubbing off.
“For all of these guys, it has been a real acceleration of their progress,” Kelsheimer said. “This is a first-hand example of what is possible.
“Our training sessions are very tough. I’m very humbled by the leap of faith these kids have taken.”
In addition to Tee’s accomplishments, TSM has produced three Senior National Team qualifiers and four Junior National Team qualifiers. Kelsheimer thinks this is just the beginning. But, before anybody can rise to Tee’s level, it will have to come at a price.
Kelsheimer, who candidly admits to toning down his coaching style from his early days, is still quite the task master.
“I’m pretty intense,” he said. “You try to keep your energy focused on what you need to work out.”
He said that begins with innovative techniques he first honed while coaching in Australia. He said that TSM is the only team in the U.S. to use physical therapy as a training tool and not just for rehabilitation from injuries or fatigue. He and his physical therapy team design exercises to prevent injury and to enhance performance.
“We want the kids to be effective in training,” he said of the process. “We try to fix things before they become problems.”
He credits much of the team’s recent success to the techniques he’s come to use on a daily basis.
“It is all designed to help athletes swim the same distances with less strokes,” he added.
That work has resulted in TSM member Jordan Wilimovsky’s sudden rise to the national stage. He has qualified for the Senior National qualifier. Andy Lau, a student at Santa Monica High School, is also on the fast track to stardom.
“He’s not far off,” Kelsheimer said of the swimmer who, like Tee, participates in the 400 IM.
Kelsheimer’s path to Santa Monica has contributed to creating his coaching philosophy and it has even put his passport to good use.
In addition to coaching in Australia, Kelsheimer also worked in the Cayman Islands.
During 10 years in the Cayman Islands, Kelsheimer was instrumental in the island nation’s entry into Olympic competition. Upon arrival, he was tasked with creating the team from scratch, hoping to have instant success. He soon realized that making Olympic swimmers was no easy job.
In his time with the Cayman Islands team, Kelsheimer was ultimately able to qualify four swimmers for the Olympics. Despite not winning any medals at the Summer Games, he said that he was satisfied with the progress and left the team in January of 2005.
Kelsheimer said that his coaching experience overseas has helped him quickly reshape TSM into a potential national powerhouse. He hopes it pays off quickly as the U.S. Olympic trials are just a year away.
“I don’t have any doubt that we’ll have more guys there,” he said. “These guys are dropping 10, 20 seconds per event.”