Friday, February 1, 2013

Moving to Denmark: Or, How I'm Leaving to Go Home

The Moment

On December 17th, 2011, I stood in the stands at my home pool, shouting out encouragement and shaking a big Danish flag. The Duel in the Pool was underway, and Denmark's star swimmer, Lotte Friis, was under world record pace in the 800 free. I was lined up nearly perfectly with the turn end of the pool. After the race, I went down and sheepishly asked her to take a picture of me. I like this photo because I can now look back on it and realize I was at a massive turning point in my life. I didn't know it yet, but this was the weekend that sent me on a collision course with some big decisions: to change jobs, move roughly 4,000 miles away to a foreign (sort of) country, and to go home.

Earlier in the weekend, I had breakfast with Jon Bjarnason. You may remember Jon from some of my other blogs- he's a swim coach in the Faroe Islands who is doing some pretty amazing stuff. Jon was on the staff of the European squad, and though we had many conversations this was our first time meeting in person. We talked about a lot of things, many of which I've forgotten. One thing, which I have not, was that he was emphatic that I should look at coaching a club team in Denmark. As he put it, the pay was good, the hours were good, and the opportunity was good.

Going to Denmark to live was always sort of a fantasy in my head, something I insisted I might do at some point but never seriously explored. Now might to be a good time to acknowledge that, as with all major decisions, I didn't start down this path without some serious consultation from my wife, Kate. Kate left no ambiguity about where she stood- she wanted to go to Denmark. A natural adventurer, she practically talked me into it.

So, I did look into it. I had maintained some connections within the country, specifically with my club coach during the summers I had trained there, Jan Hansen. I started talking with him about going over. Before long, I found myself in a dialog with Sigma Swim Club. Sigma really impressed me: they were the Danish club that had developed Lotte Friis, Mathias Gydesen, Mads Gl├Žsner and most recently Pernille Blume.  It doesn't get much better than that in Danish swimming. 

So, in August, I travelled to Denmark so that Sigma could see me face to face, and I could do likewise as well. Sigma graciously allowed me to finish out the upcoming collegiate season, and I will be there in two months or less.

Everyday since has been filled with excitement about the journey we are about to make, and a little sadness about what I'm leaving. It's rare to get the chance to make an adventure like this but have so many things certain at the same time. We're moving to a foreign country, but one I've been to nearly thirty times and where I speak the language. Beyond that, we are incredibly lucky to have family over there that has already helped us and will help us along the way. 

The sadness mainly comes when I look at the athletes I've been lucky enough to coach at Georgia Tech. Tomorrow is Georgia Tech's senior day, and among the seniors will be two swimmers that I had the chance to coach throughout my four years here. I feel good that I'm able to finish with them, but can't help the sentimental tug I feel when I look at three more classes full of senior days I won't make it to. 

I told the swimmers I would be leaving at the beginning of the season, knowing that keeping it a secret was near impossible and dishonest. Halfway through my announcement I completely lost it and began to cry. I was crying partly because I was sad to leave them, but they were mostly happy tears. For nearly thirty years I've felt a little bit like a foreigner in the country where I was born. All of those years, every time I stepped off a plane in the Copenhagen airport, a family member gave me a simple greeting: 

"Welcome home". 


  1. Good luck with the rest of the collegiate season, coach, and glad you are able to make this dream a reality. Looking forward to future blogs from Denmark, provided they are in English, of course...

  2. Chris,

    I am really excited for you. I look forward to hearing about by blog, email or skype. You will do great and will be missed by friends back here.

  3. Good luck with Sigma and the big move Chris!