After relocating with her husband Chip to Lake Bluff in 1990, Cindy Dell got a call from one of her high school teammates that needed help at the Lake Forest Swim Club. She didn’t realize at the time this phone call would alter the trajectory of her life. The job became a springboard into the life of a swimming coach, mentor, leader, and to becoming a person who empowered young people of all ages to be good people.
Dell thinks of swimming as a great teacher of life’s lessons. Hard work is one.
“Swimming is a really, really tough sport,” Dell adds. “You’re in the pool at 5:15 am. You have a full day of school. You have practice after school and at times get home at 9 at night.”
Failure and taking risks are other inherent lessons. Kids learn to embrace failure, and that failure is a great way to learn valuable information and get better. Dell believes kids learn that by taking risks, they develop confidence. Finding that inner strength and confidence is what she wants for all her athletes.
“Swimming isn’t, you know, a hugely popular sport. There’s not a large fan base,” Dell says. “What it forces the swimmers to do as they have their heads down and are looking at a black line is to find the courage and drive inside themselves.”
Probably the biggest lesson she wants her students to espouse is the idea of giving back to a community.
“What I teach my athletes is that there is so much more to life than swimming,” Dell says. “You have to give back and you have to be a part of giving back in life.”
She uses swimming events as tools to raise money for several charities, including the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association, the Max Schweitz Foundation, and for various causes at the University of Chicago.
“The team culture at Lake Forest High School is so positive and strong, because of our great captains who lead by example daily,” she says.
Dell has brought this philosophy to thousands of her students and athletes. It started at the Lake Forest Swim Club and continued to Lake Forest High School in 2004, where today she also works as a co-facilitator and aide in the special education department, and coaches water polo. Where does she find the energy to keep going after 30 years?
“There’s something different all the time, every day,” Dell says. “Each athlete changes, each new year brings in new students, athletes, and opportunities. Each year I get to teach kids to navigate life.”
Does she have plans to stop?
“You know, there will be that day where I wake up and I’ll say it’s time to fly off on my broomstick,” Dell laughs. “But right now I thank God I got lucky enough to have this job. I’m a firm believer that there’s a reason for everything.”