Sink or Swim: Tiger Sharks Coach Overcomes Obstacles to Pass on His Love of the Sport

by Lynn Kreul

If you drive past the Republic Aquatic Center at seven a.m., you might notice dozens of kids jumping in the cold pool to begin their morning workout. The Republic Tiger Sharks swim team has been around for more than ten years and has a range of athletes from five- to 16-year-olds. The team is led by four young coaches, all of whom were a part of the team when they were younger and have their unique stories about swim team.

One coach surmounted especially difficult obstacles to remain a part of the program. He’s Zachary Martin, a recent graduate of Republic High School and a swim team coach and mentor for 75 young swimmers for the past three years. Not only is he a dedicated coach, but he also has a pretty impressive swimming record himself. Martin has been swimming since he was five years old, and at the peak of his career, he swam for the Missouri State Aquatics team, MSA.

Martin has many fond memories of the pool, but by far his favorite memory is the game called Sharks and Minnows, which his team always played after a long, hard day at a swim meet. “It was just a fun game we got to do and it made me look forward to meet days a little more, ” says Martin.

Not all his swimming memories are positive ones, though. During one of his last practices on the MSA team, Martin suffered what was believed to be a tear in his Achilles tendon but was soon discovered to be far worse.

“My family was on our way home from Indianapolis when I went into septic shock in the back seat of the car,” he remembers.

Martin’s family immediately drove to St. Louis, where they found out his ankle did not have a tear, but instead had a serious staph infection.

“I was in a medically induced coma for about a month, and I only went to about two weeks of school my second semester of freshman year,” says Martin. “I lost the ability to walk for a while, and it caused a lot of stress for my family.”

Martin was fighting for his life while trying to study for his first-ever high school finals week. But he was able to not only fight off the infection, but finish his freshman year successfully. After the infection was gone, he began the rehabilitation process.

“Eventually I got back to swimming, and that really helped with the recovery, because it basically uses every muscle in your body,” he says. “It’s really nice because you’re not supporting all your weight, the water kind of takes some pressure off of your injuries.”

Martin has taken a lot from his incident, but the biggest lesson he has learned is that life is short, and that he has to continued to do what he loves. He has always had a passion for swimming and wouldn’t dream of letting anything stop him from being a part of the pool. Though he does not swim competitively anymore, Martin loves to coach and has done so for three years now.

“I kept with swimming because of the coaches,” he says. “That’s the reason I coach now, to help kids find the passion I found for swimming. There is really no easy part of coaching but I enjoy doing it so the easiest part is coming back each summer to the kids.”


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