Volume 1 Number 11 Lynn Kachmarik March 1, 2008

Lynn Comer-KachmarikLynn was a Gold Medalist at 2007 Aquatics World Championships, 30+ Women’s Water Polo, Stanford University. She was among first group of women to be inducted into the United States Water Polo Hall of Fame, (February, 2004). First woman inducted into the Collegiate Water Polo Hall of Fame (April, 2003). She was the Assistant Women’s National Team Coach from1991-93 (She was an assistant coach for the World Aquatic Championships at Perth in 1993). She was inducted into Slippery Rock Athletic Hall of Fame (1991). Lynn was the first women to Coach any NCAA Division I Men’s Team Sport (She coached water polo at Bucknell University from 1986 to 1990). She was the only Woman named as the Eastern Men’s Water Polo Coach of the Year (1986). Also she was the Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach at Bucknell from 1982 to 1998. From 1995 to 1998 she coached the Men’s Swimming and Diving Team and was the Women’s Water Polo coach at Bucknell from 1998 to 1999. She was a twelve-year member of the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team (Team Captain, 6 years). Lynn competed in the 1980, 1984, and 1988 World Aquatic Championships and she played in many FINA World Cup Championships as well. She was the first woman to play on the Women’s National Team from outside of California. Lynn was named to the All-World Team during her playing tenure on the US National Team. She was inducted into the Neshaminy High School Hall of Fame (1985). She was the recipient of the Sullivan Award for Outstanding Achievements in United States Aquatics (1981).  This is a shared aquatic award that is rotated among United States Swimming, Diving, Synchronized Swimming and Water Polo that recognizes that individual who has done the most for their sport over a four-year period of time. She was a four-time A.I.A.W. All-American Swimmer at Slippery Rock University. Lynn was an eight-time U.S. Water Polo All-American. Currently she is Director of Athletics and Recreation at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, and she is a member of the USAWP Board of Directors where she is the Ethic’s Committee Chairperson. (As you can see Lynn was both a pioneer player and a pioneer coach and she chose to tell her stories from a player’s perspective.)

Remembrance of Things Past


It was the summer of 1985 and we had just finished the FINA Cup Championships in Europe when we found ourselves traveling the trains south towards Italy.  To combine playing water polo and world traveling with your teammates has to be some of my greatest memories of the old days.

This particular adventure is still so fresh in my mind that I laugh just thinking about it. Not putting much thought into where we were flying, I was so excited knowing that we were flying to an island off the coast of Sicily.  In my mind, I saw a tropical island with beautiful palm trees and wonderful fresh fruit awaiting our arrival.   As we approached the island the pilot told us to look out the right side of the plane.  I dove over my teammates next to the window and looked out only to see brown, brown, and brown everywhere.  Where were we?  Clearly, we were flying over the wrong island?

It was then that my teammates pointed out that Malta was NOT a tropical island but a poor country that was devastated in the war.  As the plane landed, I was still trying to get my thoughts in place as to where we really were staying.  My excitement turned to shock and disappointment.  We all went to get our luggage and then went to find the bus driver. 

Since this was a very small airport and the plane was quite small, we were easy to spot.   A short little man approached us with the biggest smile I ever saw.  Still being in shock over the lack of colors everywhere….. and when I first looked at this man, all I noticed was the fact that he really had no visible teeth.  He shuffled us out of the airport and onto an old, dirty, yellow school bus with no windows.  As I looked from teammate to teammate the same empty look was on everyone’s face.  Where are we and what happened to paradise?

As the bus pulled away towards our destination, I started to notice the happy-go-lucky attitude of the driver.  We did not understand him and he did not understand us.  He just kept smiling and nodding his head as he pretended to understand our questions.  The bus was barely moving with lots of grinding noises.  The road was dirt and only wide enough for one vehicle at a time.  I felt like I had just taken a huge step back in time!  How far back was just not clear!

Our journey continued for quite a while with everything looking the same…. old, dirty and brown.  Soon we arrived at our destination.  Our lodging was at a private boy’s Catholic school.  Outside to greet us were many women from the Australian National Team.  Smiles, hugs and lots of laughter were quickly shared; however, you still had this feeling that they knew something that we did not know.  They seemed to be much happier to see us then usual as they directed us to our sleeping quarters.  They were also very eager to know when we were headed for our first training session.

We quickly assessed our dorm-like lodgings as we all grabbed a bed in a huge long hall.  I think it was a bed?  Very short, one thin mattress and a sheet for all!  After we settled in, it was soon time for our first meal.  We raced to the dining hall and sat down to some great home made fresh bread, butter and soup.  It was an excellent meal.  Things were looking up.

It was now late in the afternoon and after a team meeting, we headed back onto our yellow bus to head to training.  We were all excited to see the pool and get back into the water.  Back on the one lane roads, which at times were very scary as you had no idea if another vehicle was coming around the bend and the bus driver never slowed down.  Our eyes were glued to the dirt roads and the roadside scenery.  As we approached the water polo facility, the sea came in sight.  At the time of our trip, water polo was the national sport of Malta so everyone was excited to host our tournament.  Once the bus stopped, gasps were heard by all as we looked over the edge of the parking lot to see what looked like a pool of water down below.  The Aussie's were quite excited for us to see this as it was a different kind of water polo facility then what we were used to.  Since none of us had been to Australia at this point in our playing careers, we did not know that these kinds of “sea pools” were common to them.  Hence the title of my article, “Wait until the Americans get here”!  As we looked down, we saw a huge cement wall on the sea side as a support wall.  Under water were two huge holes where the “pool” water came in and out of.  There were two huge nets covering these holes to keep the sharks and other “unwanted” sea creatures out of the playing facility. (We found out later that the nets were full of huge holes)  As we approached the entry area, dusk was falling.  It was only at this point, as I looked out into the pool, that I could see things swimming around and underwater plants growing under the surface. 

As I was trying to grasp onto the fact that this was where we were training and competing, our coach, Sandy Nitta starting yelling at us to “get in and begin warming up”.  All I could think of was that I would never live to tell my family and friends what this was like as surely a shark was awaiting my dive into the pool and this would be the last time I would ever touch a water polo ball.  After another :15 minutes of yelling, frustration and threats from Sandy the last few of us dove into the pool, only to have something brush up against me the second I hit the water.  Swimming frantically away from that spot, screaming that I was going to die, I realized that it was not the feared shark, but some underwater plant growth everywhere you put your hands to reach out and take a stroke.  My heart rate was pulsing around 200 beats per minute as I prayed like I have never prayed before.

After pure exhaustion and panic left me drained after warm-up, I was too emotionally drained to argue with Sandy anymore and we actually got in a good workout and some scrimmage time.  By that time, we had something else to complain about anyhow.  One by one, we started to feel this incredible pain and soreness in our eyes.  I remember approaching the wall and reaching out to reach the wall and grabbed onto nothing.  My vision was already impaired by the searing pain that was just getting worse by the second.  The intensity of the salt in the water was overpowering to our eyes.  Thankfully, practice was ending and it was a fight to see who could crawl out of this pool the fastest. 

I was never so happy to get back on our old, ugly, dirty bus and I almost hugged our toothless bus driver as I was so happy to be alive.  It was only as we pulled away that I realized that this would be our “home” facility for the next few days.  As we pulled back up to the boys’ school, there ready to greet us again were the very friendly Aussie's.  Ha, friendly nothing.  They were just there to count us to see if anyone had been eaten alive.  They just laughed at us and made fun of us as we got off the bus and re-told our stories of the pool.

Fast-forward to the tournament.  It was like the entire country came out for each and every game.  The officials were brought in to referee the games by a boat behind the huge wall. Once they were on “deck” they were inside a gated and locked entry area.  It seems that when their countrymen play games, the fans are so dangerous and brutal that for the safety of the officials, they are locked away from the fans.   Once the games are over, they climb over the wall, back to the boat, not to be seen by the fans or players again.

The games began and as always all our games were competitive, hard fought and sometimes brutal.  As each minute of each game went by, our eyes became more and more painful.  I remember being in the middle of the pool, with my hands, OVER my eyes shielding them from the sun, screaming to our coaches, “GET ME OUT OF HERE”, as I was blinded and in so much pain.  I remember coming to the side as our team physician, Dr. Hale, pouring all different kinds of eye wash solutions and numbing stuff into our eyes to try to relieve the pain.  Nothing ever worked!  For the first time in my playing career, I begged not to go back into the death pool!

After each day, I can remember like it was yesterday, sitting at the dinner table with my eyes closed, seeping with tears, having no idea what the food looked like that I was putting in my mouth.  Please tell me I am not eating fish eyes or something!  Lord knows what we actually ate, but each meal was topped off with the best homemade bread and butter you can imagine.  Bed came quick and easily as it was the best place to be safe since you had no eyesight to begin with.  (The things that happened at night with team pranks is best left for someone else’s story)

As we settled into our routine each day brought new and exciting stories and trips.  We went from thinking this was a cold, dark and dreary island, to a magical place filled with the nicest people in the world.  Our bus driver the man with no teeth, turned into the man with the happiest smile and personality you could ever wish to see.  We took adventures from one beautiful, perfect beach to another.  Never again would I ever see crystal blue water with pure white sand like I saw in Malta.  Breathtaking water caves, with beautiful fish were everywhere and snorkeling and skin diving made it a great time for all.

Too be continued ...

Lest We Forget: Pioneers of Women's Water Polo

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