By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 30, 2016) — The Stephenville Stingrays are winning events left and right in the pool.
Especially Dillon Barber, 14, and Hannah Truesdell, 16, who in turn credit much of the success to their coach, Reynaldo Meikle. Together the coach and two of his biggest stars form a nucleus of inspiration, a system of leadership by example that is contagious and quickly spreading to the other – many of them younger – swimmers on the team.
It all starts with Meikle. Sure, Truesdell and Barber were having success prior to Meikle taking over the team from longtime coach Nancy Gaither, but both say they have grown tremendously since his arrival.
“I’ve been swimming for about three years. At first it was fun, then it got really addicting and now it’s just my life,” says Barber, who has won three events each of the last three weeks. “It’s great to be on this team with all these amazing people and this is the best coach I have ever had.”
“I’ve been swimming nine years now. It’s always been my passion and the sport I love,” said Truesdell, who has won three events each of the last two weeks and has won at least one event in three straight meets. “I love my coach and teammates and how it’s such a Godly environment. That’s the best part of it all.”
The Godly environment, Truesdell says, begins with Meikle, known to his swimmers as Coach Rey.
“He came in here last year and it was such a blessing to have him as a coach because he’s been awesome for the kids and is such a God loving guy,” she said.
The coach also has high praise for two of his oldest stars. And while 16 and 14 may not sound old, Truesdell and Barber are certainly two of the elder statesmen on a team primarily featuring swimmers in the 8U, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 age groups, led by Barber on the plus side of the latter.
“What makes Hannah special is who she is personally. She has this excitement about her, as well as a nervousness about her,” Meikle said. “I bring all that into one big ball of inspiration and tell her to use that as her fire. She’s an excellent person and I just tell her let’s bring out your best.
“Dillon has a mindset of looking to the Olympics eventually. That’s where his focus is,” Coach Rey continued. “His mindset is like mine – if my leg is hurt, I’m still going to kick just as hard. If my arm hurts, I’m still going to pull just as hard. It’s a mindset of toughness you have to have in any sport, and Dillon has that.”
It’s something Coach Rey enjoys trying to spread to all his competitors, 28 of which swam their way to a combined 17 event victories in Weatherford last Saturday. Rey was a swim coach for 12 years in Jamaica before moving to the United States three years ago then settling in Stephenville with his wife a year later.
“It’s a beautiful experience working with kids here. They’re all excited and I love that,” said Meikle who got into swimming when he took over coaching for his sister in Jamaica 15 years ago. “It’s about building relationships with each kid, each child, and getting into their head. The biggest struggle for any athlete is their mind, so I try to get in their head and promote them in what they love.”
His swimmers, particularly Dillon, Hannah and others, have big goals. Especially with the Texas Amateur Athletic Association regional and state meets coming up.
Dillon qualified in the January Winter Games of Texas to advance to nationals in the 100 meter freestyle and the 50 free, and is looking to punch more nationals berths.
“I’m in the 100 individual medley, the 100 free and the 50 butterfly right now, and my favorite is the 100 free because it’s my best,” Barber explained. “When I win a race it feels amazing. It takes a minute to really soak in, like I don’t know what just happened.
“My goals for the summer are to make it to state and from state on to nationals,” he added.
He has a pre-race mantra that guides him.
“I just repeat to myself the saying, ‘Effort is power, power is effort,’” Barber said. “I repeat that and it gets me pumped up for the race.”
Truesdell is in the 100 free, the 50 free and the 50 fly.
“I love the 100 free because it’s more challenging and I enjoy pushing myself,” Truesdell said. “I also like the butterfly. It’s a little more complicated stroke, but I love it.”
She has big goals for the regional and state meets, too.
“The goal at regionals is to get into the top three and move on to state, and when we get there to hopefully move on to nationals,” she said.
They believe they have the right coach to get them – and several of their teammates – to the next level.
“Coach Rey brings out the best in every one of us and is such a Godly leader,” she said. “He shows us that we can do anything when we give it our all and have faith that God will bring out the best in us.”