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Testimonials

Testimonials:

I do believe that OA's focus on character 'moves the needle' and provides the year over year personal growth that takes time. Thank you for your continued focus in this area. Parent

 

 

The OA mission makes such an important impact on our community. Water Polo parent 

 

Thank you for another memorable Banquet evening.  It's very inspiring to hear examples of how you truly practice what you preach. Of course I see it in all the little things you do every day. I'm utterly grateful that my daughters have had you coaches in their lives as role models and as concrete examples of what they should aspire to. OA Parent   

 

Thank you for helping build the character of our daughter. OA is so amazing and I am so glad we are a part of it. OA Parent

 

Your vision and dedication continues to touch lives outside of OA. Another reminder of how blessed and lucky our girls (family) are to have found your program.  I’m grateful every day for what your passionate team does for these kids in and out of the water.  OA Parent

 

Thank you for envisioning  and then actualizing a place like OA, where kids can thrive and learn how to be good people and fine athletes. Kids need a framework through which they can do great things and you have provided that framework! You’ve freed them from outside pressures by teaching them that they can work hard and be themselves while thinking of others. Thanks again to ALL of you! You are not only creating a great team you are a great team!! OA Parent

 

 
I often think about how fortunate we are to live here and have our girls involved in OA.  You both have such a positive influence in our kids' lives.  Thank you for your dedication to these swimmers: for your tireless time on the pool deck, your hours spent planning workouts, and your healthy attitude toward life and swimming. Swimming is a crucial and beloved part of our lives, and thank you for bringing the best of the sport to our family.  OA Parent
 
 
On this day of thanks I’m feeling grateful that my sons are part of such a wonderful inspiring team.  OA Parent

 

Thank you so much for the most transformative and inspiring six years of my life. My time on OA has changed me into a better person, athlete, and student. I appreciate your help in both the pool and in life. I know the lessons you've taught me will serve me well into the future. You've redefined the word "coach" for me and my teammates. You are an excellent role model and I am so thankful to have been an OA swimmer. Thank you again for everything. I would not be where I am whithout you. OA swimmer (2017).

I cant thank you enough for such an incredible experience with Orinda Aquatics. Our kids grew so much in both life and swimming. We will always be grateful to you. Thank you again for what you did for our family. An OA Parent

 

Thank you for three great years and an invaluable experience. The growth our son has realized, not only with swimming but his own personal work ethic, is amazing. He has developed such a great group of core friends at OA. Thank you for having a special place in your hearts for him as you encouraged him through his time on the team. He now moves on as a confident, grounded adult. OA Parent

 

We would like to thank you again so much for everything you and the entire OA program has done for our son. It has truly been the most important thing in his life the last three years - forming his character, developing him as an athlete, and finding his “people” - friends and coaches he will treasure forever. OA Parents

 

I just also want to say OA and the coaches she has had have really done a stellar job of setting her up for success, not to mention your motto of character first. She really has embraced it and does her best to live by that each and every day. Thank you for creating such an amazing environment for kids to develop and grow. We are so proud to be a part of the OA family. Thank you! OA Parent

 

Thank you.  Aside from their parents, you have been the single most influential adult in their lives throughout their childhoods.  Your significance in their lives has been powerful.  The character building lessons and the life values than you worked along with us to instill have been invaluable, and we will be forever grateful.  I’m very proud of their thoughtfulness and kindness, and the way they handle failures and setbacks and use determination and perseverance to overcome challenges. I hope that you continuing to do meaningful things for the sport of swimming and young athletes. Parent

 

Our family is incredibly grateful for all of your support over the years.  Our son would not have developed into the young man that he is without spending countless hours in the pool and learning valuable life lessons as a member of Orinda Aquatics. OA Parent

Coach Donnie,

Thank you very much for taking the time to write the meet notes.  We have learned the OA values and perspective over the years and become ardent believers.  Swimming is much more than about times.  You are also teaching them how to approach life and those are lessons that they cannot learn from school, violin/piano lessons, and not even from us as parents. We appreciate your dedication to the kids and the team.  Please don't hesitate to call on us if we could be of any help to the team. Thank you, OA Parent

 

You had a profound positive influence on our kids, and their parents. You are a true gentleman that excels in his profession and understands young people; teaching them life lessons that are more important than the swimming. Parent

 
 
Thanks also for all you do as coaches for the kids. We travel and joined the team for the amazing coaching and for a code of ethics that improves not just the strokes, but also the attitude and direction these kids take throughout every aspect of their lives. I've seen the results and can't tell you how much it is appreciated. OA Parent
 
I remember reading the Thanksgiving message from you last year. I read it aloud to our family on our way to my sister's home for Thanksgiving. Again, I am so thankful for your leadership and caring way with our kids. OA Parent
 

We are very grateful for all you have done for our daughter.  Your support and words of wisdom have helped her to become who she is today.  Under your guidance she has grown from a shy girl to a confident woman who makes good choices.  We are so lucky to have you and OA in our community. We don’t know what we have done without you. THANK YOU for all you do.  OA Parent

 

I always appreciate the uplifting articles you share and the team culture you have created on Orinda Aquatics. You have no idea how much peace of mind it is to know that my son is on a team that is such a positive environment. Thanks for all you do, OA Parent

 

I feel very blessed that my son and I are a part of OA. Parent

 

You, as their coach, had a profoundly positive influence on our kids (and their parents). You are a true gentleman that excels in his profession and understands young people; teaching them life lessons that are far more important than the swimming. Thank you! Parent

 

Ron and Don, I am doing a presentation at the ASCA World Clinic on Grit and how to build it into people.  I was a Division I women's swim coach for 27 years. I have read your work on character for ASCA and plan to incorporate parts into my ASCA presentation.  I want to thank you for your commitment to building a program based on character.  The results speak for themselves.  Best wishes, Jim

 

Thanks again for your leadership in providing a positive atmosphere and growth opportunity for the swim community. High School swimming lasts only 4 years but the lessons you teach will last a lifetime. Parent

OA is a huge part of my life, and I can’t thank you enough for continuing to include me. By the way, I was on the deck this past Saturday, standing with Ronnie on the side of the pool toward the end of the workout, and I saw one of the swimmers get up the deck and ask everybody to get up with him so he could make an announcement about a charity event, which sounds impressive on its own.  But I was mostly taken aback by how everyone got out of the pool, formed a semi-circle around him, and listened respectfully and intently, as if they were taking directions from the head coach.  It was awesome and also a little bit eerie.  I don’t think my group was THAT well behaved!  You have a really good group, and it is a testament to all of you.  Jesse Krompier

 
Thanks soooo much for guiding our kids. You are the standard bearer for high school sportsmanship. OA Parent
 

I read the articles that my child brings home from the swim meetings. I find these articles to be very pertinent in these times and a great reminder for not only for the swimmers but to us parents too, to live a life of character. Thank you for searching out these articles which reinforce what I also try to instill. OA Parent

 

                                 Dear Ronnie and Donnie- Hello! I hope this email finds you well. It's been so long! I will never forget you both and OA, because while you were incredible coaches, you never lost sight of the scope of life outside the pool. You helped me find a good college fit, and you always took into consideration, with great care, and great kindness, my family situation and my outside interests. I definitely attribute even the possibility of my continued love of swimming to OA. I know too many people who have burned out and started to hate the very sport that they center their lives around. OA, in retrospect, taught me the importance of loving what you do. OA Alum 

 

Thanks for all that you do to make the Clovis travel trip such a positive team experience and to make OA a great environment for the kids. We are so thankful to have had the chance to be a part of this team. OA Parent

 

Our child is very proud to be on Orinda Aquatics and feels very much a part of the Charter First family.  He has grown tremendously as a swimmer under your coaching and has made some great friends.  We also have to add that joining OA was one of the best decisions our family has ever made. OA Parent 

 

This Thanksgiving, as I look back on what I am truly grateful for, I can't help but realize all that this team has given me. I am truly thankful to be a part of such a great team, community, and even family. Thank you for all that you've done for me over the past 3 years; I would not be the person I am today without your guidance and advice. I hope you are enjoying today with friends and family, happy Thanksgiving! OA Senior

 

Thank you for teaching them about values and about doing what's right --- Character First! We are so lucky to be a part of the Orinda Aquatic organization. Thank you! OA Parent

 

Hi Don/Ron

I can’t thank you enough for sharing your material with me.  It’s pure gold. I’m doing my best here to make people aware of Orinda Aquatics’ outlook and values.  For example, I’m speaking at a national clinic this Saturday about the fundamentals of revitalizing swimming in our country and have included a section on the work you are doing in my presentation. An International Coach

 

Donnie, I really appreciate Orinda aquatics now. You're right, our team culture and attitude is special and rare. I just finished my first college visit, and it's definitely given me a different view on things. An OA swimmer

 

Our kids have come to really love this team.  We really appreciate the great coaching and words of wisdom, given to our kids by all of you.  We know that is something you don't find at every team.  Thanks again, for everything you do to make this team a wonderful experience for our children! OA Parent

 

I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating a wonderful experience for my kids over the years. They are better swimmers but most importantly better human beings by being part of OA. Keep changing lives and hearts . 

 

I am interested in purchasing some Orinda Aquatics swim caps. We saw your team at Senior Zones and were very impressed, and I am very interested in supporting your mission. Please let me know if this is possible. Please know that folks in the swimming world are taking note of Orinda Aquatics and seeing the difference you all are making, both to your team and to the swimming community at large. We are so impressed and applaud your efforts. Many thanks for the example you are setting. 

 

I want to thank you for the wonderful presentations at this past weekend’s ASCA Age Group Coaches Clinic in San Diego.  I am always thrilled with the conferences and come back with tons of ideas to implement in my community and in our tiny little team.  Your philosophy and ideas are wonderful and inspired a lot of ideas for change. Comment from an ASCA Clinic

 

Thank you again for your positive influence on both our children. You have all had a large and very positive impact on their lives, as well as their maturity, fitness, and college direction.  You have given him all the tools to succeed in all aspects of life. You all are doing really good work and have a profoundly positive effect on the entire team.  You should be very proud of your accomplishments.  OA Parent

 

Thanks for allowing me to watch your practice and learn about your club.  You guys have built something special! College coach

 

You have jointly created and fostered such a loving environment in OA, which has merged an extraordinary culture of character and humility with significant success at the individual and team level in an unprecedented academic backdrop. OA parent

 

We cannot thank you enough for the invaluable experience our son has received under your tutelage and training at Orinda Aquatics. OA has changed his life. OA parent

 

Our 12 year old got up and cleared and washed all the dishes tonight - without being asked!!! Delighted, I thanked him and let him know how much I appreciated it and how lovely it was! Then it occurred to me that maybe this was part of his Character Camp "homework" - which he did confirm - but still what an amazing gift!!! So we ask you, any chance camp can last all summer and you could have him mowing the lawn soon??? OA Parent

 
 
Thanks for being such an incredible influence and life leader for our child these past few years.  We are forever grateful for your presence and the heartfelt wisdom you have imparted.  We know you will always remain a positive influence in his life.  OA Parent
 

I’d like to congratulate you both again on what you’ve accomplished to date and on your enduring, passionate commitment to swimming and its young participants.  I was extremely touched to listen to you talk over dinner about your journey, and it’s a conversation I’ll never forget.  I’m proud to have the opportunity, as a senior administrator in our sport, to join with you in making it a more enjoyable, rewarding and purposeful experience for our members. Swimming Queensland 

 
 
Something else we spoke about has been on my mind. The use of drugs and alcohol are HUGE amongst young people today and it seems to be getting worse. It truly breaks my heart. I feel your passion and I am so grateful and thankful for people like you who care about these kids. Although academics are so important, the life lessons that my child can learn from OA are just as important. Every bit of time I spend taking him to and from are well worth it.  OA Parent
 
 
Thank you for always for teaching my son the value of leadership, integrity, and team spirit. That will go far beyond this swim time, his grades, and what college he goes to. OA Parent
 
 
Most of all, I am grateful that you have built such a positive environment for every member of the team! OA Parent
 

We as parents are really grateful that you guys address these significant life issues. OA’s leadership in character building  is more important than ever during these times. OA Parent

 

Ronnie and Donnie,

Our son mentioned that you talked to the kids in a group meeting about the situation involving alcohol on a college campus, and we just wanted to thank you for doing that. We are grateful that our son is in an environment, outside of home, where he has adult mentors that care and are willing to discuss hard topics.  As parents, we want our children to be exposed to adults who share our desire for raising compassionate children who will contribute their talents in a positive way.  We appreciate your efforts in and out of the pool.  Thank you.

Sincerely, an OA Parent

 

Thank you for your tireless giving and effort on behalf of all of the kids. I know and see frequently the environment you have created with the team and it is a gift to every athlete and by extension to every family.  OA Parent
 

Your message regarding character is fundamental and foundational. Without it, nothing we do as coaches will last long. When we are effective at teaching those principles we can never lose and neither can our swimmers no matter what their times or places. Congratulations on your service of the greater good. A coach

 

I finyself reading all your "Character First" material to try to get myself on track. The same material aimed at teenagers is critical to me. Incredibly helpful. Bless you both for putting all these resources together. A coach

 
One thing I am certain is that you have created an amazing healthy environment for many kids.  Parent

Your book has become required meeting for our entire coaching staff. Thanks for fighting the good fight in regards to making the development of character within our athletes a top priority in USA Swimming. Your team is a model program for other’s to learn from. USA Swimming Coach

 
 
The culture of community and character all of you have created for your swimmers and families has been evident from the first day. ​Cannot tell you how happy we are to be a part of OA.   
 
 
Our child has benefited greatly from this program.  He really takes this stuff to heart.  Even though he is easy going, he has a significant serious side to him, and he clearly uses many of the principles that he's learned from you guys as he navigates a course through his day-to-day life. We are very grateful. Thank you so much for everything.  OA Parent
 
 

Hi Don and Ron,

I'm not sure if you remember me but I swam for you back in 2009 before I transferred to Southern California. I have graduated several years ago, and I am still coaching down here...in fact I am a head coach for a new team in the area. Having had the opportunity to swim for both of you, has still inspired me to this day. I strive everyday to coach to a standard that would make both of you proud!  One of the things that has made the biggest impact on me was "Character First." It is something that I have implemented in every one of my coaching positions, and it is something that I plan to put at the center of my team now. I would love to be able to put the link for your book on our team unify website!  Thank you for everything you have done, and I look forward to hopefully speaking with you. CG  

 

I look forward to getting the book you wrote I see on the ASCA site. Your message regarding character is fundamental and foundational. Without it, nothing we do as coaches will last long. When we are effective at teaching those principles we can never lose and neither can our swimmers no matter what their times or places. Congratulations on your service of the greater good. A USA Swimming Coach

 

I have to share with you that I am truly impressed with your showing at Clovis.  I saw the material on your website about the nature of your trip and I am going to strive to emulate your goal of a chaperone-less meet. A USA Swimming Coach

 

Hi Ronnie and Donnie-

Something that you all said last week at the parent meeting really connected with me. With so much stuff the kids have to do with school and swimming. What has to give? The social life.

In our observation, our daughter’s involvement and commitment to OA got her THROUGH her freshman year. I was really surprised in the strong/intense friendships she developed through OA.  She became very close to several of her older team mates.  It was surprising that they would spend HOURS talking in their cars or out on walks, etc. during last year and this past summer. They may not have realized it, but those girls were acting as her mentors (swimming and life). Personally, I would never have hung around a freshman, but maybe guys are different that way, or perhaps this was an example of the strong "character" building program that you both have developed.  I personally believe it's the latter. Of course those girls are exceptional, but they were there because of the commitment to your program. 

I feel that she had the equivalent of my freshman year in COLLEGE last year as far as personal development. Luckily she is pretty communicative with us about the goings on of the average teen age kid around her so we have no illusions that it is all sweet and sugary. However, we feel very good about what she takes away from OA as a whole and applies it to her everyday life. Her life philosophy and principles have really grown this past year. She really appreciates what she gets out of OA at "the end of the day".   I hope that she is able to do the same thing for others that her older team mates did for her.  Just some thoughts and thank you, an OA Parent

 

I know this is way overdue, but I seem to have been struggling to find the words to tell you how great it was to have you come and speak to our Senior Group.  The parents were extremely complimentary and want you to return.  I have noticed the difference in how the swimmers talk to themselves and to others.  I also made your packet part of our goal meetings and I was amazed with some of the ideas they had come up with especially regarding how they are going to make a difference.  Once again, you have mentored me and helped me become a better coach.  At our coaches meeting last week, the other coaches that were there told me about how they were using tools you talked about to make their practice groups better.      

 

Thank you so much for sharing this great message. I (and I assume that I speak for most parents of OA swimmers) truly appreciate the values you and Ron impart to the swimmers.  OA Parent
 
 
It was really through my accident that I realized (yet again) what a privilege it was to swim with OA and how I learned to really incorporate positive perspective into my everyday life.  The doctors said I healed remarkably quickly and were convinced that it was the power of positive thought!  I am so sorry that it has been so long since we last talked but I am looking forward to seeing everyone over Thanksgiving break!  A former swimmer

 

Comment on SwimSwam Interview with Don Heidary: "Exceptional….that article needs to be read by each and every swimmer, and parent, in the country.   All sports, and businesses, should do their utmost to promote this way of life.  What a different world it would be…"

 

Your program is an amazing gift and resource for this community, and I and my family look forward to supporting your program for years to come. Fall/Character Camp Parent

 

Working with you and the Orinda Aquatics team definitely help keep my confidence strong, it helped keep me grounded and helped me to continue believing in myself even in the face of adversity. I really can’t express how thankful I am for your encouragement, listening, laughter, guidance and friendship. An OA swimmer

 

From a Division 1 College Coach re: ASCA Fellows Program:

Along those lines, it seems very clear to me (and what I want to emphasize to them) that the work you are doing in building character, ethics, leadership into your Orinda Aquatics program is leadership at the highest level.  It also seems to me that you are the leading edge of a curve, pendulum perhaps, that they will see swing back in the direction of character, ethics, integrity in athletics programs during their careers in coaching.

The reason I would like them to attend your course is to help them get a jump start into the Teaching Character First concepts that guide your team and your teaching.   In its most basic form, the Fellows Program itself intends to help a  group of young coaches get “jump started” into key ideas that are central to leadership roles needed in our sport in our country.

From a Divison III Coach visiting the team:

I want to thank you for your welcoming and friendly environment on Saturday and for the chance to meet so many of your swimmers...You guys are really helping these kids grow into great citizens and young adults.  That's a level of responsiveness we don't always see in working with high school students.  It's refreshing and certainly makes me want to welcome more of them into our program in the future!

 

I am impressed with everything about your program, and mostly that swimming is a great experience for your athletes and your coaches.   You include the athlete as a person, and that goes a long way.  College coach

 

Hi Donnie,

I want to thank you for offering Character Camp for my kids.  As a competitive swimmer through college, I eventually discovered much of what you teach on my own, but I was not given an opportunity to learn all that you value in a structured program.  My coaches were good role models, but I see that you take your program steps further and stress the importance of community, leadership, character, and integrity.  From the behavior change that I saw in my children, I realize that the way you interact with your swimmers has a strong positive influence on their behavior choices.  As you must already know, you have created a valuable program.  Last week was one of the most pleasant weeks we have had at home.  My kids were thoughtful, cooperative, and helpful; amazingly, they did not complain.  For this, I thank you.  I look forward to more opportunities for my kids to be part of the OA Character Counts community.  Character Camp parent.



We as families here at OA are so incredibly honored and lucky to have you working daily with our kids. We are very proud and grateful for what you do for our swimmers first as young people and secondly as developing athletes. Thanks for working as hard as you do.  OA parent. 

 

Congrats on a great article on SwimSwam. It's fantastic that the media is recognizing integrity and character, and not just performance. You two have been a major influence in a lot of young swimmers' lives. It is an honor to work with both of you and OA. Consultant

The OA program had a profound impact on my son. He found self-esteem, a sense of community, and discipline at a time he desperately needed to change things in his life if he wanted to fulfill his college dreams.  We can’t thank you enough for the exceptional program you run.  Parent

 

Once again thank you for all that you have done for me the past four years in high school. I do not think that without you I would be the person I am today or be attending the college I am. I will miss you. You do so much for the community and deserve a ton of thanks. Thanks for doing so much for the team both in the pool and helping the next generation of young adults be there best.  A swimmer/graduate

 

Dear Don,
 
Thank you for your presentation today. I was very impressed with your talk. I can see how your philosophy can be applied to many other areas, as well as coaching.  I think it applies to leadership in so many life areas.  I am a coach and a teacher and struggle with getting my teenagers to understand what it takes to lead. The mind set and character that has to be in place to be an effective leader.  I thought your presentation presented a different outlook on coaching/leading. It asked the leaders to look at themselves, to take responsibility for their actions and how those actions affected those under them.  This is what I am trying to get these young leaders to understand.  Coach
 

It was truly our privilege to attend last night's events. I can't imagine more deserving coaches and people anywhere than the two of you. Congratulations. You impact the youth in our community (and outside our community) every single day and are true partners with the parents and athletes in this community. It is an honor and friendship is a true blessing.  OA Parent

 

Ron and Don - we were all very impressed at how polite and grateful all the swimmers were on Saturday. Testimony to the fantastic leadership and life skills you are providing them with. Was very refreshing. See you tomorrow. Nick Folker

 

Hi Ronnie and Donnie!
 
This is Brian O'Hara, I hope you are both doing well! I am at UC Santa Cruz currently and graduating this March. I wanted to let you know that when I went to the athletic facility on campus this past weekend and noticed some familiar logos from other teams I remember competing against, SRVLA, PASA, etc. I had this huge bittersweet feeling overwhelm me standing on the deck seeing kids warm-up, others huddled within their groups chatting to pass time, hearing the announcers trying to gather timers for finals, coaches around the pool under the pop-ups; all the memories during my five years at OA came back while taking in everything happening, I wanted nothing more than to be a part of that swim meet. I decided to talk to some swimmers to find out about the meet and then I began telling them how lucky they are and how jealous I am because I really miss being part of a team. They thought I was crazy.
 
With all of that backstory, I just wanted to tell you that I am forever grateful for the Character First attitude that Orinda Aquatics demands from their swimmers. During my time I was focused on my swimming and I thought the life messages were nothing more than a reminder for being positive (whether we were talking as a group before a meet about properly warming up and warming down or in the community room talking about everything from helping others to managing finances). I have begun to realize that I was surrounded by amazing people who helped encourage positive values: the coaches (helping push me to new limits in the pool and developing my character outside of it), my teammates (motivating me in practice and cheering me during meets), and the parents (helping run the meets, and taking responsibilities/volunteering for positions that would look like jobs to many others). OA has an incredible community and since then I haven't been able to experience the positive influence and structure that OA provided to its swimmers. Despite that I am no longer going to practices anymore your influence in my life is enduring. Orinda Aquatics has instilled a lasting motivation to become a more fulfilled person for myself a positive influence for others, thank you for helping me become the person I am and for continuing to help and coach others to become more prepared and successful, in the pool and in life. I will try to stop by after I graduate in a couple months and say hello!
 
Brian O'Hara
Hi Donnie,
 
Thank you so much for the letter. I actually cried when I read over your recommendation. I'm so sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I was looking for some stationary to hand-write you a thank you note, but I couldn't find any.  I just wanted to say that all the kind things you wrote about me being a responsible, high-character, young adult would not be half as true were it not for your influence in my life. Your philosophy and the atmosphere you created at OA had a huge role in my maturation and formation as a person. So thank you for that.  College Student
 

Dear Ron and Don:

I want to thank you. It is to me a wonderful joy driving and being involved with these kids and both of you.  Their aliveness and kindness to each other, and your leadership toward them is an inspiration for me and my job as driver- trainer. It all makes this job great. Clovis Bus Driver

 
I want to tell you that "Character First" is probably the ultimate reason I chose OA for my kids' year-around swim. I really like the emphasis on life-building skills that OA commits to. From day one when I visited the team and had a meeting, I started to feel the difference. A nice smile and a sincere greeting from swimmers and coaches made us feel that this is the place to be. We are so fortunate to be part of this team as I know, regardless of the level of my kids as athletes, they will most likely be good people. I can't appreciate enough what you do to make OA so unique. New parent
 
 
Donnie/Ronnie,
 
Thanks for the note. The Olympics... really highlight the concept that in sports you must truly enjoy the process. 99% of the competitors don't win, and many don't even make it to the Games at all. I don't regret for one moment all of the hard work put in and sacrifices we made over the past four years.  My feeling is that in athletics, and probably in life, you can never completely ensure success. What you can do, however, is prepare to the point at which you deserve success. It's actually the feeling that comes with confidence in your preparation. Having prepared the right way allows me to walk away knowing that I did all I could and having no regrets.  I have learned more in the last few weeks than perhaps in the last four years. 
 
Thank you not only for the kind words but also for your support over the years. You two, along with Orinda Aquatics, have been the base that carried me forward in sports. Some might be surprised that a swim team has remained so important to me, but those people clearly do not understand all that Orinda Aquatics is. I developed so much both in and out of the water. I owe you so much.

Peter Varellas, Olympic Medalist - Men's Water Polo

 

I am such a believer in your program and just thankful we have had an opportunity to participate in it.  OA Parent of graduate.

 

I've read the handout/book!  I love it!  What a great "theory" and I love that results confirm the theory!  It will inspire me to continue with my own kids these same values. Thanks so much for sharing it with me, and for aspiring to teach kids more than just how to swim fast!

 

I'm thrilled that my daughter made the decision last year to move from summer rec swimming to Orinda Aquatics. She is so happy being in the water/swimming, and although she may never be a super-star in the swimming world, she is a super-star in my world, as I admire her dedication to something that helps to build her self-confidence. I love the "Character First" motto of OA, and the leadership that is demonstrated by the coaches, and the older swimmers. OA Parent 

 

I just wanted to wish you and your loved ones a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am so grateful for learning about Orinda Aquatics, and even more so for the opportunity to get to know you and learn from you.  Through you, I have found so much more meaning, direction, and purpose in coaching, and that has translated into feeling far more happiness and fulfillment in my life. For all of that, I offer my heartfelt thanks. A USA Swimming Coach
 

I just had a chance to read your character first coaching article written for the American Swimming Association. It is an inspiring, powerful piece. I have shared it with the faculty and athletic department here at my school in New Zealand, as this is the culture that every sporting team, school, or foundation that works with kids should be striving for. You guys have done an amazing job. This is the program I want my kids involved in, and hopefully one day will have the opportunity to do so. Good luck and keep up the good work! Ray

 

Your program is affecting hundreds for the better.  USA Swimming Coach

 

Hello Don.  Another great presentation! I enjoy hearing about your success with those young folks very much. It gives me hope each time. I also see the applications in the business world and think the students do as well.  Orinda families are very lucky to have you and your brother!  St. Mary's Faculty

 

It is I and the other OA parents who should be thanking you for the unending time, effort and direction you commit to our children. OA offers an all-too-rare environment these days where the kids receive care, guidance, are held to high standards and personally accountable for their actions. I am fortunate have such an opportunity to offer my son and enjoy the chance to support the organization. OA Parent
 

Thank you for your interest in our University and our program. Before I go any further, you need to know that I hold your coach and his brother in the highest regard. The things they are doing in pool and out of the pool truly are an inspiration. I've spent almost as much time on your team's website as I have putting my club team's website together. They are honorable men and I would relish the idea of having a member of Orinda Aquatics in our program. College Coach.
 
 
I have to say, your program is a class act!. Many thanks.
 
My child continues to rave about his experience at the travel meet, and about his experience with your team in general. Joining this team is probably the most important and positive decision he has made in his life.  Parent
 
Ron and Don,

I'm a new coach in a start-up swim program. I wanted to drop you both a note to let you know that I've been studying your website with great admiration of what you've put together.  When I started coaching I knew that I wanted it to be more than just a coach that tried to get kids to swim fast, I wanted their lives to be changed for the better. I wanted them to have a great experience. I think we're moving in the right direction but we're no where near where I'd like to see us. Your program has really impressed me at swim meets (that's why I looked up your website in the first place) and I can see that there's a great foundation behind it. Anyway, thanks for the motivation. You've put something together that is bigger than what most coaches can fathom.  USS Coach
 
Don and Ron, thank you so much for a great presentation at ASCA. What a fantastic job! That was the best talks of the entire clinic and the subject matter was so perfect for the swimming/youth sports world we live in nowadays. Thanks for being stand up guys. Now I know why you two have become so successful. I greatly appreciate what you did for us. S
 
 

Hi Donnie and Ronnie, - prior to my coaching debut, I read the 'putting character first' powerpoint that you guys had developed. It was very compelling. I definitely worked parts into my philosophy as I developed my style over the course of the season. I also used your thoughts as a mental touchstone whenever i felt like getting upset.   Additionally, I was forced to think of how my usage of alcohol related to the kids, and I made sure i never had a drink prior to or during any situation (practice, party, etc.) where I would be interacting with the players. I can't thank you enough for your tacit mentorship. Hopefully I will make a difference to someone else along the way as well. Parent/Coach

 
Hi Donnie!

I hope you are doing well and the team is good too.  I'm so sorry I've waited this long to e-mail you since leaving for college, I always meant to write.  It's no excuse, but I hope you can forgive me anyway. I've really missed the team, and having swum a season in college has really made me see how unique OA is and what a huge difference that it, and the coaches, have made on my life.  Positivity is something so easy to exude when things are good and well but so many of my teammates default to complaining and negativity when swimming isn't going well. These are also the same people who let that negativity into other challenging aspects of their lives and I can see exactly how that makes everything harder.  In trying to gently persuade them to try and always look on the brighter side of things, I really, finally appreciate how hard the coaches jobs are!  I've also realized how the program that you and Ronnie have built really fosters an appreciation for the sport.  Even through the injuries and everything, I have never fallen out of love with swimming.  But here, I have teammates who have stopped enjoying the sport and are "burnt out" from their teams at home- it kind of breaks my heart a little.  I'm sure that you have heard this many times before, but I have yet to encounter a team that rivals OA in dedication, team pride, a love for the sport, and, most importantly, character.  Hope to hear from you soon.
  

Thanks is really not enough in words, OA is an amazing place for so many young people, it gives us great hope. Thank you for everything!  OA Parent

 

Coach Don and Ron,

After 35 years in USA coaching I got out  two years ago.  I read with interest your Ethical coaching article.  I loved every bit of it.  I had a revelation around coaching year 3 or 4 (age:25-28) that winning was ok but very shallow without some of the ethics and character you mention throughout the article.  My son is now coaching.  Your article will be mandatory reading.  I will cut out certain parts for myself to post piece by piece for my team’s bulletin board.  Thanks so much for putting on paper something that I too truly believe in.  Building the person builds the program and is far more rewarding for the kids, parents and us.  If only all coaches in all sports would implement your ideas….what a world it would be.  C

 

Dear Coaches Donnie, Ronnie, Matt and Marc,

My child recently just joined the team but the impressions that you have made in the last two months on her are nothing short of incredible. Although she is a really good kid already, whatever you have all been telling her in the team meetings, on the pool deck and in the water has had a great impact.  Last week, she apologized to me, quite sincerely, for having a sullen attitude.  She also thanked me for all the driving that I do for her.   And tonight after I picked her up, she told me about a kid in her school who was having trouble recently and it had been bothering her and it was time to tell me about it.   This kicked off a lengthy discussion about drugs and alcohol that was candid and honest and you all gave me the springboard to have a very positive, helpful conversation with my daughter. I wanted to let you know that I very much appreciate all the hard work that you put into these kids, helping them to become better people and grow up well in so many different ways. Thank you.  New Parent

 

Good morning.  Unfortunately I will not be at the meeting tonight.  I look forward to my children spending another year in your remarkable program and would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all you have done for them. Best wishes.

OA Parent

Character was never modeled for me as child, but in the past two years I have worked to build it for me and my child - in life and in swimming.  The benefits are a closer family, solid relationships, and a future that looks much brighter than the past. OA impacts not only the lives of the kids but people like me (a parent). Keep up the good work.  

OA Parent

 

Hi, I was hoping to have the opportunity to see one of you this morning to Thank You, and congratulate you on a wonderful camp for these young swimmers.  My daughter has come home every night to enthusiastically share the objectives she learned and reviewed in the water that day. There is still one day remaining, but from our standpoint, this camp is already a huge success and should be a requirement of all middle school aquatic athletes in the area.  If you could have been a fly on the wall last night, listening to her talk bluntly about the challenges of alcohol and drugs in our community with her brother, and how it is a reflection of self-esteem, you would realize the impact you have made.  Tremendous community role models as yourselves taking time from your already busy schedules, and donating your time to reinforce lessons about Character as it relates to life and sports is a true gift. I can't thank you enough for developing this camp.

 

Character Camp Parent

 

Dear Ron and Don,
 
I would like to commend you both for today's presentation on Character Education and Coaching. It has been a number of years since I have been coaching on a pool deck...At that time, I was finishing up a 'young' coaching career and I wanted you both to know that I always admired the work you did with your athletes. Today's webinar reinforced that belief.
 
I am writing this email because I think your presentation can help many young, passionate coaches who are considering getting into the swim coaching world/arena because character education is essential when working athletes of any age. As a staff member for the CCC Board of Supervisors, I completely agree that we live in a society that does not stress the importance of character education and I again, commend you, USA Swimming, and ASCA for highlighting that today.
 
I want to reiterate your point that many coaches were/are results driven but these results were usually only proven by the stopwatch, not the evaluation of their athletes. In my opinion, that evaluation is the heart of what today's presentation is all about.
 
I agree with the emphasis in creating a successful team, and becoming a successful coach should not just be about developing fast swimmers, but helping create individuals with high character traits. I hope other coaches, board members and parents will understand this too.
 
Hopefully other coaches and teams can take to heart in today's discussion and truly emphasize character development within their organization. Your presentation created a great resource tool and infrastructure that I hope all USS and summer rec team's use by discussing this topic at their coaching-staff meetings. If everyone could understand the importance of character education, then all dimensions of the sport can benefit.
 
Thank you again for discussing a topic that, understandably, does not take the highest priority in the swimming world but is essentially important. I think by addressing this issue and the fact that USA Swimming/ASCA highlighted this opportunity to showcase it to their audience, proves that standards are being raised in our sport and local community.
 
Best of luck to you and your program. You are clearly doing things the right way.

 

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I just wanted to tell you how fantastic of a program OA is.  I came to this team from an environment that could not have been more different, and before I made the switch I was thinking about giving up on swimming entirely. Your coaching, and the amazing fellow swimmers I met, helped to remind me why I fell in love with the sport in the first place.  I just wanted to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to enjoy swimming again. I am so glad that I came to OA. The program you have is truly incredible, and I'm grateful for having been a part of it.

OA Graduate

I wanted to once again say how much we appreciate your coaching and leadership.  I've shared similar thoughts with you before, but feel that expressions of affirmation and gratitude are always worth repeating.  Our child absolutely LOVES swimming...and we can thank you and your program for that!  We continue to see confidence grow and the development of strength and skill in the water, as well as the deepening of friendships with her teammates.  The team became is a safe haven and that is a tribute to your commitment to truly putting character first.  Thank you for making our job as parents so easy in what could otherwise be a turbulent and difficult time - we continue to marvel at the competent and joyful young adult our child has become - THANK YOU! 

OA Parent

"Knowing that my son has such a team of caring, professional, and motivating coaches in his life brings me a sense of comfort.  It is an honor to be a part of OA, and I believe that I will never find another organization that will have such a positive influence on our family."

OA Parent

 

 Coach Don and Ron (and all OA coaches and swimmers),

I have yet to visit an OA practice but I could envision and appreciate the focus, pride, and strength of character of the OA swimmers in the moment displayed on the magazine cover. I know OA swimmers set a wonderful standard managing, embracing, and ultimately mastering the challenges, expectations and opportunities of being leaders, teammates, and athletes on one of the coolest, character driven and successful swim teams in the United States of America.

USA Swimming Coach

 

This community knows that in you, we have a treasure.  Thank you for your interest, your ethics, and your commitment to the character of our children.  Thank you for being an anchor when kids are adrift.  Thank you for your kindness and compassion towards my child and the team, whatever community or school they belong too. 

Thank you very much.  What you do for our kids in terms of helping them develop their sense of character while building their esteem and friendships is remarkable.  I believe it is a chapter of their upbringing that our kids truly cherish on their way to becoming young adults, and I know they will take it with them and it will influence them in positive ways their entire life.
 
Parent (of graduate)
 
First, I want to thank you for Orinda Aquatics. I love your team philosophy of Character First. I have read the quotes in picture case outside the women's locker room at Soda Center. They inspire me as an adult to be an even better person. I also love the way all of your coaches have coached my daughter for the last five fall seasons. Your fall program is awesome.  
 
Parent

 

Ronnie and Donnie,

I couldn't help but noticing in the news a story about a mass cheating attempt on a college campus.  The reason I'm bringing this to your attention is because I wanted to thank you for everything you have taught me.  I specifically remember having a team meeting about cheating in life and in the classroom and how to protect your personal integrity.  I would like to think that I would not have done something this, but it would be naive to think that your confidence, pride, and love the both of you have for your swimmers did not have a direct influence on my development as a student-athlete and as a person, and my ability to avoid this type of thing.

A former OA swimmer

 

A heartfelt Thank You to you and your wonderful OA program for aiding in the development of the heart, body and minds of our kids!    

Parent 

 

"Knowing that my child has such a team of caring, professional, and motivational coaches in his life brings me a sense of comfort.  It is an honor to be part of Orinda Aquatics, and I believe that we will never find another organization  in our lives that will have such a positive influence on our family."

 

 

Parent

 

  

"I could have only dreamed to have been part of a program like this in high school.  This is a special team and I wish you much continued success shaping our wonderful kids."

Parent

Hi coaches,

     I hope this e-mail finds you doing well. I can't even believe it, but I am actually en route to college as I write.  I just wanted to take the time to thank you for all that you did for me. I was amazed and relieved to find a swim program that fit perfectly for me not only as a swimmer, but as a person. I cannot express to you how grateful I am to you for giving me the opportunity to be on this remarkable team. Not only did I improve as a swimmer, but I learned a lot about balance, and how to look at the "bigger picture." I am so thankful for you and that I could enjoy swimming again, just as I began to lose sight of my passion and love for it. Thanks to you, I am going into college with a wholesome, balanced perspective on the sport, and most importantly I'm genuinely excited to swim. The memories that I am taking with me from swimming on OA this summer will always be with me, because everyone has been so remarkably warm and welcoming, which is a reflection on the staff and what you stand for. I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done for me. 

Best regards,

    Hi coaches,

     I hope this e-mail finds you doing well. I can't even believe it, but I am actually en route to college as I write.  I just wanted to take the time to thank you for all that you did for me. I was amazed and relieved to find a swim program that fit perfectly for me not only as a swimmer, but as a person. I cannot express to you how grateful I am to you for giving me the opportunity to be on this remarkable team. Not only did I improve as a swimmer, but I learned a lot about balance, and how to look at the "bigger picture." I am so thankful for you and that I could enjoy swimming again, just as I began to lose sight of my passion and love for it. Thanks to you, I am going into college with a wholesome, balanced perspective on the sport, and most importantly I'm genuinely excited to swim. The memories that I am taking with me from swimming on OA this summer will always be with me, because everyone has been so remarkably warm and welcoming, which is a reflection on the staff and what you stand for. I cannot thank you enough for all that you have done for me. 

Best regards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   I know that you are men who live their beliefs and take action to make things happen. I came to recognize that over the few years my son swam for you two. The article reminded me of this and also how grateful I am that he found his way to Orinda Aquatics. You and Ronnie were, and continue to be, mentors and true friends for my son and I thank you for that.

 An OA parent   

 

 From an OA swimmer (recently graduated college)

You have had such a profound impact on me and have really contributed to my growth as an athlete and more. I  get a little teary when I think about how my swimming career is over, but I have achieved so much and have competed at a level I never thought I would.  Thank you for everything!
 

    Coach Don,

I am truly impressed with the clarity of standards you and Ron set for your program. It appears the kids understand and value the traits and standards you expect from them. In life, perhaps when things are the toughest, they will draw upon the grit, faith and practices learned and rehearse d consistently as athletes, teammates and contributors to OA. 

OA clearly is a great program - a highly successful swim team and a great place for friendships and acquiring invaluable life lessons. Awesome!

Respectfully, Allan

 

Thank you for sharing the positive side of youth sports and swimming especially.  Your vision of what is good about people and to promote them is unparalleled. The youth of our communities and the sport of swimming are so lucky to have you!!!!!

  A School Administrator

"No matter how I travel and coach, I have to say that what you guys built at OA is one of a kind."

From Kevin Lai, former coach (in Hong Kong)

 

Hi Don & Ron—

I wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks for allowing us some insight to the creativity you instill in your program to keep it fresh and fun.  I came across your Graduation workout in Bob Steele’s “Games, Gimmicks, Challenges” book and loved the idea of it.  When we had finished, they all threw their caps into the air and were telling me it was a very fun practice.  They were all running over to their parents to tell them that they had just graduated.  Dan

 

Hi Don & Ron—

 

I wanted to drop you a quick note of thanks for allowing us some insight to the creativity you instill in your program to keep it fresh and fun.  I came across your Graduation workout in Bob Steele’s “Games, Gimmicks, Challenges” book and loved the idea of it.  I am an Age Group coach and so I took the liberty of modifying it for our top 10-12 year olds as a nice Saturday challenge.  When I told them what we were doing at the start of practice they were all a bit skeptical and overwhelmed by the length of it but about half way through practice they were really starting to get into it.  When we had finished they all threw their caps into the air and were telling me it was a very fun practice.  It’s not often I get an 11 year old to tell me that 5000 yards is fun.  They were all running over to their parents to tell them that they had just graduated.  It was a nice way to end "Hi coaches,

First, I want to thank you for all you do for the swimmers of our community - we have been so impressed with the OA program thus far!!!  After hearing so much about high moral standards and emphasis on character, it is a real privilege to finally be part of a program that truly lives out their ideals.  We have seen our child grow significantly in terms of focus, personal discipline, leadership, academic performance, etc.  THANK YOU!!!!"

 
 An OA parent

Thank you so much for all Orinda Aquatics does, I am so
impressed and always grateful.

An OA parent

 
I love your team! Everything was great! I am looking forward to our long-term relationship. All CD's will be mailed to you later today or tomorrow. Thank you for your help!
 
Dr. G (Genadijus Sokolovas)

 Regarding the "Letter to the Team" 

"As a final note, I wanted to send along three comments from our division staff on your end of year recap (and this does not include those who verbally said something to me)":

From Randy Julian (Randy is the Central Zone Sport Development Consultant): Just looked at this.  This is really really big time great! It reads like a good book and has POWERFUL lessons all through it.  How would parents NOT want their children to swim for Orinda? 
From Kim O’Shea:Wow…..good stuff!
From Dave Thomas (Dave is the Southern Zone Sport Development Consultant): Outstanding.  Thanks for sharing.  If I am ever in that neck of the woods I would like to check the program out.

From USA Swimming Club Development Staff

   Thanks you for being a fantastic example of leadership, goodwill and great swimming.

   A.C. in Vermont

  
I wanted to let you know how impressed I am with OA!  What great kids you have swimming for OA.  We have been through many teams whether it be traveling basketball, or soccer, dance and summer swimming.  Many of the  teams focus on the here and now, and winning.   OA feels very different.  I know it can take many years of hard work to reach your goals, and I feel very fortunate that our child is swimming with such a positive team.  Too bad OA wasn't around when I was swimming! A   New OA Parent  

 

I am proud to be associated with you...you have done so much for the Lamorinda community generally and the swimming community specifically. Well done and keep up the good work!

Rick  Vandenberg

 

       "It is said that in everyone’s life there is a transition that occurs in the latter years. This is where the focus changes from personal success to significance. Fortunately for us, you and Ron have spent your careers and lives empowering children to see their potential, as well as how to achieve it. In doing this, you have transcended coaching and been a positive influence in a lot of lives. And what could be more significant
than that."

     A Fall Swimming Parent

 Dear Ronnie and Donnie,

You and your entire staff of coaches have always been a huge part of my daughter’s life. You have taught her many life lessons, in and out of the pool.  I believe that she is the incredible swimmer, student, and more importantly, young women that she is today because of your influence in her life as she was growing up. They say "it takes a village".  Well Orinda Aquatics was definitely a huge part of "our village".  You made my job as a parent so much easier. It’s hard now a days to find people that share your same values and ethics.  I always felt that with you had her (and our) best interests at heart and I appreciate your support.  You will always be a big part of the our life story. 
XO (A former OA parent after college graduation)

  

Ronnie, Donnie, Matt, Marc, Kevin, and Dave
 
For several years....usually after the high school swim season ends or after I have read something about Orinda Aquatics or after I see an Orinda Aquatics swim practice......I’ve wanted to tell you how over-whelmed I am at what you have done for the Lamorinda Community in Aquatics.  
 
I planned on writing this letter several times in the last 3-4 years whenever I would look through the results of NCS swimming....But I would put it off...and then thought it was a  little ’corny’ to say anything...once it was 1 or 2 months after the Championship meet.
 
But today...when I had the opportunity to attend the 50th anniversary OMPA (ALL-ORINDA)....and then went over to the Orinda Aquatics booth and reviewed Orinda Aquatics many accomplishment....I decided ’corny’ or not I was going to tell you what I should have told you years ago.....
 
I am not aware of everything Donnie and Ronnie did throughout the many years they have been coaching...but I do know they had a ’vision’ of establishing a ’1st Class’ aquatics program in the area and to accomplish their vision they brought together a group of dedicated/knowledgeable coaches.
 
The quality (depth) of various high school swimmers (at the local high schools) speaks volumes for what all of you have done.  In addition, you have provided a number of local athletes the opportunity to pursue their passion for swimming.....whether they want to become a ’nationally ranked swimmer’ or just to be part of a ’team’.   You have established both.
 
To build a swim program from its beginning has to be a very rewarding experience.  I hope all of you have the opportunity to step back and realize how significant your contributions have been......you have had a tremendous impact on so many lives (young and old).
 
I for one....applaud your dedication and expertise......
 
Bill Brown
 
 
Hi Ronnie and Donnie,

You are awesome! I just want to say thank you for the coaching that you gave me. I am now coaching swimming at Notre Dame high school in san jose. Hope you are well! :) Congrats on all of your success!

Much love,
Gina
 
 
"I appreciate the philosophy that you and Ronnie have always lived by and coached by.   And I can say that the Lane Kids have benefitted from it as early as 22 years ago.  Congratulations on a Dream Come True."   Isabel Lane
 
 
"Of all the years, our swim years with you still remain the highlight and favorite of ours. From Meadow through OA and High School, the times will always be so dear to us as are you! Our congratulations to you and Ronnie for landing two athletes on the swim and water polo Olympic teams this year. It’s your structured, committed, disciplined model and loving approach that has mentored so many, and girls too. Our hat’s off to you two! Thank you for everything always! Sending lots of love and gratitude!" Maria Thurman

"Thank goodness for OA - you guys are such gifts to our children."

Note from Head Coach at Northwestern University:  "We always enjoy getting swimmers from Orinda looking at NU and hope to find some with the right fit in the future."  All the best to you and your swimmers.