Michael Dobner is a lot like most swimming coaches. He interacts with his swimmers in expressive swoops, teaching them how to tweak individual strokes and getting good starts off the blocks. In the process, Dobner teaches them about patience and learning to interact with a disability, all while seeing through that disability. There's a good reason for that: Dobner is deaf.
As documented in a fantastic feature from the Seattle Times, Dobner has emerged as both a successful coach in life and the pool for Kentridge (Wash.) High. Dobner also coached the Kent-Meridian girls swimming team and served as a sign language teacher at Kent-Meridian and Pierce College in the fall. Throughout his different jobs, he happily provides realistic insight for swimmers at a time in their life when they need help with their strokes and with their interactions with others who might be less like themselves.
In the process, Dobner -- who was both a swimmer and football player himself at Puyallup (Wash.) High -- has become an inspiration for many of his Kentridge swimmers.
"He's a really good coach. He knows a lot about the sport and he's very passionate about it. He's very good at getting the best out of you,"Kentridge senior co-captain Malcolm Allen told the Times. "It's inspiring because he does what he does at the same level as other coaches with his disadvantage, and he really just does it all in stride. Nothing really slows him down. He just does what he does."
Fittingly, Dobner sees nothing out of the ordinary about his three pursuits.
"It doesn't matter if you're deaf or if you're in a wheelchair, it just proves that anybody can do anything," Dobner told the Times. "You can become a coach, can do whatever you want to be. I'm a coach because that's what I wanted to do, so I made it happen."
Of course there is something out of the ordinary about Dobner. The fact that he steadfastly refuses to be slowed by his own limitations while proving that people should be accepted regardless of their disabilities is the kind of teaching lesson that can have a profound impact on impressionable teenagers. Though it may be all too rare in most situations, Dobner is leaving teens with a positive role model to build on.
That's not bad for a man who says as much with his gesticulations and broad smiles as he does with his mouth.