Life lessons learned from swimming

“What I teach my kids is, you don’t use the word can’t. Ever,” Dana Powers said, the Sumner High swim coach and Bonney Lake police chief. She emphasized her words by hitting the side of her hand on the tabletop.

Dana Powers congratulates a Sumner swimmer during a swim meet.

“What I teach my kids is, you don’t use the word can’t. Ever,” Dana Powers said, the Sumner High swim coach and Bonney Lake police chief. She emphasized her words by hitting the side of her hand on the tabletop. “If they use the word can’t, then I’ll stare at them and say, ‘You lost before you even try. You lost because your brain is powerful, and if you’re telling yourself even before you try that you can’t do something, you’ve already lost. So go to the locker room.’”

Dana laughed as she imitated how her athletes react to being told to hit the showers – becoming flustered and stuttering explanations. No matter what they thought second before, they really don’t want to disappoint their coach or leave practice.

“It’s one word, but it’s a huge mindset,” Dana said. “I want to hear you try.”

Dana Powers started swimming competitively when she was 8. In the fifth grade, she also played softball, but had to run from swim practice to softball practice.

“It felt to me that I was being benched because they wanted me at practice and I couldn’t be 10 minutes late,” she said. Dana realized that when it came to swimming, the only roadblock keeping her from doing her best was herself.

“It is an individual sport, and nobody could tell me that I couldn’t do anything,” Dana said. “It wasn’t a coach that said, ‘you can’t go to that swim meet’ – it was my times. If I didn’t qualify, I couldn’t go. So it was me. So I would look inward, find that next level, and ask how I would get there.”

Even though Dana often pushed herself to always improve, she said that her parents were her true inspiration.

“They did whatever they had to do to help us be successful in life and to go on to get a college education,” Dana said.  “They always put us first, and whatever I do in life I do it in part to make them proud of me.”

In high school, Dana swam for Sumner in her freshman and sophomore years, and for Wilson High School in her junior and senior years when she transferred. She was admitted to the University of Nebraska, where she was a 16-time All-American and helped the team to three straight Big 8 Conference championships in the mid-80s.

One of Dana’s best sport memories was helping her team win those Big 8 championships, because it broke the Kansas Jayhawks’ 10-year championship streak.

Dana also swam in the 1984 Olympic trails, finishing just a shoulder behind Olympic-gold winner Mary T. Meagher.

It was in 1984 when Dana changed her mind about her college major, which was journalism. During the 1984 Olympic trials, a world record-holding swimmer did not make the Olympic team.

“That was like Michael Phelps not making the Olympic team,” Dana said. “And there was this crowd of people descending on her, asking ‘How do you feel?’ – and she was devastated. And I didn’t want to be that person, asking the obvious. It made a big impression on me. It wasn’t for me.”For her fifth year of college, Dana also helped coach the university team. Even though she qualified for the 1988 Olympic trials, Dana did not place for the Goodwill games, and she decided to take her life in a different direction.

“I got to the end of my swimming career and I was done, and I was OK with it,” she said. “I’m hanging it up, and I am ready for the next challenge.”After college, Dana began her life as a police officer. She started in Tacoma but eventually found an opening in Bonney Lake in 1992. In 2009, she became Sumner’s swim coach, and in 2011 was promoted to police chief.

Even though it had been several years since she had coached, she said it clicked right away. “I love watching kids improve and be better not just in the pool bit outside the pool, too,” she said.

As a swim coach, Dana does her best to give each of her athletes the individual attention they need to overcome their personal roadblocks. “The most amazing thing is watching a kid that starts as a freshman, and they’ve never dove or swam in their life, and watching that person learn how to flip turn and dive. Their eyes get this big,” Dana said wide-eyed, imitating the awed faces of her athletes. “And they go, ‘look at what I did.’”“It’s pulling that out of them that drives me,” she explained. “I get so pumped, watching them realize their successes.”Dana said that those successes can be taken out of athletics and used in other areas of life.

“This translates into the classroom, and the job market and the job world,” she said. For Dana, being an athlete helped her most with goal setting and understanding competition, whether it is in the water, on the field or in the job market.

“You understand the competition and the mindset to get in that competition,” she said. “You understand good sportsmanship – if you didn’t get it, why didn’t you get it? And how can you do better so you can get it? It’s not somebody else’s fault – it’s your own if you didn’t prepare for it.”

Dana’s current challenge is coming to terms with what her doctor coined as being a “middle-age athlete.”

“What is hard is knowing what you used to always be able to do, and your brain says, ‘I can do that,’” she said. “But you get in and it’s like, whoa, your body has changed, your muscle tone has changed, and you can’t do exactly what your brain says you can do.”

To stay active, Dana hikes Mount Peak or the Lakeland hill, skis, snowboards and scuba dives when she has the chance.

Even with all of her achievements as an athlete, Dana said that nothing beats watching her sons follow in her footsteps as athletes. Her oldest son, Connor Powers-Hubbard, swims for Saddleback College. Luc Powers-Hubbard, her youngest, received a scholarship for baseball at Columbia Basin in the Tri-Cities.

Dana is also proud of her nephew Trent Powers, who swam for Sumner and is currently in the Air Force in England.

“I think it’s great that they are on their own working towards their goals of receiving an education while also pursuing the sports they love,” Dana said. “It is a lot harder to be the spectator because you don’t have the control of doing it. My heart breaks when they don’t succeed, and I’m overjoyed when they do.”


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