Just before 7:00 p.m. on April 18, 2024, the swimmers of the Pau Hana Swim Team lined the edge of the pool, bracing for practice to begin. 

They chatter excitedly as they wait for their head coach, Teresa Fightmaster, or ‘T’ as the swimmers call her, to tell them what warm up will be. This was the team’s first week back to practicing following a small break after their winter season concluded in March.

“200 freestyle to start. Leaving on the top!” Coach T called out.

Dozens of young eyes darted to the digital clocks lining the Trumbull Aquatics Center’s pool deck. The clocks continued their steady march uphill, the seconds ticking by. 







“Go!” Coach T yelled when the clocks hit 52:00. 

One after another, the swimmers dove into the water, screeching as their bodies felt the shock of the cold pool. Not all of the athletes are quick to get in on time. There are a couple of stragglers hanging out on the dry land, delaying the inevitable. Not wanting them to get too far behind, Coach T corrals the rebels, until at last, all the fish are in the water. 

Pau Hana Swim Team, founded in 1968, is a local club swim team that practices at the Trumbull Aquatics Center at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. The team is one of over 3,100 teams across the country that are members of USA Swimming, the governing body of the sport of swimming in the United States. Members can register their team to compete in any USA Swimming sanctioned meets. Pau Hana swimmers compete at competitions all over the state of Ohio, and some of the swimmers travel across the country to race at high level swim meets. 

This spring marks 10 years since Fightmaster became the head coach of Pau Hana, though her ties to the club can be traced much farther back. She began swimming when she was eight years old in Dayton, Ohio. Eventually, her family moved to Newark, Ohio, where she joined Pau Hana swim team at the Licking County YMCA. 

“This was like when dinosaurs roamed the Earth,” Fightmaster said. “Jill Griesse, the founder of Pau Hana, was my coach. I started swimming with her, and I started getting a lot better. She was just an amazing coach. You know when you have somebody that comes into your life that can get the best out of you.”

Under Griesse, Fightmaster quickly rose through the ranks, qualifying for junior national and national level meets. She went on to win the 100-yard breaststroke at the Ohio High School State championships and earned a full-athletic scholarship to swim at The Ohio State University where she studied from 1982-1986. 

While swimming for OSU, Fightmaster was a five-time NCAA All-American and a three-time individual Big Ten Champion and helped her team to win the Big Ten Championship all four years of her collegiate career. She also made the United States National Team and competed at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials. 

“I learned a lot about hard work, and it was an amazing experience with an amazing group of women that I trained with,” Fightmaster said. 

But it was Griesse who made the biggest impact on her career as a swimmer and eventually, a coach. Griesse’s dedication to the kids on her team, and willingness to do anything to help them succeed, left a mark on everyone around her. That mark led Fightmaster back to the pool deck after her time in the water was over. 

“I think I had such a positive experience with [Griesse] that I wanted to find a way to give back,” she said. “So, I started coaching right after undergrad during grad school, and I haven’t looked back.”  

Fightmaster was an assistant coach for mens and womens programs at Texas A&M for two years, and then at the University of Illinois for a year. After that, she found her way back to Ohio, and coached a team in New Albany for eight years before coming back to her hometown to coach at the Newark YMCA. 

When Griesse passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2014, Fightmaster asked her family if she could bring back the name of the swim club that was so dear to Griesse’s heart. They agreed, and Pau Hana, which had morphed into something else since the days Fightmaster swam there, became Pau Hana once again, with Coach T leading the pack she loves so much. 

“I love getting to know them. I want to get to know them not just as an athlete, but as a person. And I think if you develop that relationship where they trust you, and you have that mutual respect, they’ll do anything for you,” she said. “And they know in the same terms, and I would do anything for them as well.” 

She believes that trust is crucial in any activity and relationship. If there is trust and respect between athletes and coaches, then they’ll go as far as they can dream. 

She used to think that college coaching was the goal, but these kids have stolen her heart. She watches the kids she coaches grow up, some of them even coming back to coach alongside her.   

“To be able to affect them positively, I think is really, that’s what, you know, makes me happy,” she said. 

Since she came back to the team, she began fun traditions like ‘watermelon Wednesdays.’ Every Wednesday over the summers, Fightmaster would bring a watermelon to practice and cut it up for the kids to eat. 

Some traditions are more heartfelt, Fightmaster said. 

Each year, Fightmaster reads Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” before swimmers compete at high school sectionals, and at the end-of-season banquet after the winter season, graduating seniors receive their own copy of the book signed by Fightmaster alongside a Pau Hana blanket. Then, seniors sign Fightmaster’s copy of the book. 

“We call it the big Ohana, the big family,” she said. “All the group names are Hawaiian. So Kamehameha is the highest group, and that in Hawaiian means the chosen one. And then there’s Alani, Akala, Polu, and Poni. Our youngest little muffins are Koa, and that’s warrior.”

The Hawaiian theme circles back to Griesse, who once lived in Hawaii with her husband. When they moved to Ohio, she brought a little bit of Hawaii with her by naming the swim team she started Pau Hana. The Hawaiian phrase means “work completed.” 

The swimmers hang on to the pool wall as Coach T explains the next set of the practice. The water around them is a tangle of legs, arms, and young bodies. A swimmer splashes one of his lane mates. 

When the top of the minute comes, the swimmers jump into their next set because their work is never completed.

Emma Pritchett writes for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is funded by the Mellon Foundation and donations from readers.