Written by Bonnie Brooks, Class of 2010
“Swimming ended up treating me pretty well,” said Teresa Fightmaster, a 1982 graduate of Newark High School.
Fightmaster is a 2-time Ohio High School State champion, a 5-time NCAA All-American, and a 3-time Individual Big Ten Champion, earning her spots in the Newark High School and Ohio State Athletic Halls of Fame. She has coached top qualifiers in USA, YMCA, and high school swimming.
Fightmaster was born in Dayton and started swimming when she was about 8 years old. An instructor at a local pool noticed her ability and suggested that she join a summer team. Fightmaster enjoyed the experience and friendships she formed, and decided to join the Dayton Dolphins club swim team.
Her family moved to Newark during Fightmaster’s junior high years. Fightmaster was active in softball, basketball, track and choir at Wilson Junior High in Newark. She remembers gym teacher Ruth Sunkle, choir director Cabot Rea, and principal George Evans as a few of her favorite faculty. Fightmaster also joined the Pau Hana swim team at the Licking County YMCA.
During her freshman year at Newark High School, Fightmaster was one of only two girls on the swim team, along with Karen DiBlasio. The two swimmers set records and won championships at both the local and state levels. Fightmaster said she felt that Newark High School was an important stepping stone to her future endeavors, and P.J. Miller, Glenn McGregor, and Jimmy “Wildcat” Allen stood out to her as supportive educators.
Fightmaster’s athletic accomplishments during high school earned her a full scholarship to Ohio State, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in Psychological Sociological Aspects of Sport. During graduate school, Fightmaster was offered a coaching position on a local swim team, and she quickly realized that she enjoyed working with individual swimmers. In the following years, she coached swimming at the University of Illinois, Texas A&M, and the Coast Guard Academy. Fightmaster later decided she wanted to work with younger swimmers and became a coach at the New Albany Aquatics Club and the Licking County YMCA. She recently started her own swim team, called Pau Hana, which operates out of the Denison University aquatic center.
Fightmaster considers her induction into The Ohio State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2002 to be her most memorable athletic accomplishment.
“It was awesome” Fightmaster said. “Every year when (an athlete) is inducted, they get to walk out on the 50-yard line during halftime…and if you walk out at Ohio Stadium, it’s pretty inspirational. You’re going to remember that for the rest of your life.”
Fightmaster’s educational background in psychology has helped her motivate and set goals for swimmers with varying personalities. Each day, however, brings a unique set of challenges.
“There’s no book out there that gives you the right answers,” she said. “ You hope you do the right thing because you’re compassionate and you think ‘if this were me, how would I want to be treated?’”
To avoid frustration, Fightmaster suggests coaches should find their “niche”; they should determine which age group of athletes they enjoy working with. Fightmaster prefers to coach younger swimmers because they are still very moldable, and she can see an almost immediate impact of her coaching; college-level swimmers, on the other hand, have already been ingrained with years of practice and technique. Fightmaster strives to know her swimmers as people, not just as athletes. She wants to have a positive influence on their lives.
“I just love the kids. They’re my people.”
Her New Swim Team
Pau Hana, which means “work completed” in Hawaiian, is the name Fightmaster chose for her new, 67-member swim team. This name has a special meaning: It is a tribute to Jill Griesse, Fightmaster’s former coach and mentor. Griesse, who passed away last year, coached Newark’s Pau Hana club swim team in the 1970s.
“She was an incredible coach,” Fightmaster said. “She demanded the best…and had us believing that we could do anything. She was one of the reasons I got into coaching.”
Advice for Students
Fightmaster advises current students to take risks, but to also accept help from their community, school, and home. She also points out that being from a small town does not keep a person from reaching her goals.
“Make the most out of each day,” she said. “Be open-minded and accept challenges. Rely on your resources — there are good people out there, whether they are teachers, coaches, or friends. If you believe in yourself, opportunities are out there for you.”