Ever the sentimental type, retiring Nicolet swim coach Dwight Davis' recent last words to team members after 30 years of success came in an email and were instructive of how his team members both remember him fondly and on occasion roll their eyes at some of the things he says.
'Seniors remember that you never get a second chance for a first impression,' he wrote, 'but your last impression is the lasting one. Finish well. Returning team members start training. NOW. Davis.'
Not 'Coach Davis,' not 'Mr. Davis,' not 'Dwight' but simply 'Davis' ('It was just shorter and easier for the kids,' he said) will be remembered on many levels for what he has done at Nicolet since he arrived in Glendale in 1985. Because, along with coaching many successful swimmers, including Olympic champion Garrett Weber-Gale, he taught physical education, life-guarding and water safety.
Knowing that is instructive when thinking about when Davis was brought into St. Luke's Hospital in January 2015 after a mild stroke. He would eventually have open-heart surgery.
'It turned out that the admitting nurse was in one of my lifeguard classes, so was a resident (who was helping him),' said Davis, 'and the person who did my blood draw went 'Oh my God, I thought I recognized you.' That person was in one of my classes, too.'
In short, Davis helped train, teach and mold highly motivated, highly successful people both in and out of the pool, but because of the surgery and his slower-than-wanted recovery, he has effectively retired from both teaching and coaching.
'Dwight's an institution around here,' Nicolet athletic director Kirk Krychowiak said. 'He really deserves whatever recognition that he gets. He's done such good work for us.'
A former swimmer for Davis, Bill Shuster, who had been working as his assistant, took over on what was initially an interim basis and then later on a more permanent nature for the remainder of the 2014-15 boys seasons and then for both the 2015-16 school year's girls fall and boys winter campaigns.
'The kids probably got a lot better after I was gone,' Davis quipped, noting that he has infinite confidence in Shuster. Davis formally went on disability shortly after the surgery.
Davis, 62, has helped out as an unofficial assistant and chief cheerleader since then, but the man, who lives for renovating his old house, just doesn't have the stamina to do the things he likes and wants anymore.
'I can handle an eight-to-10-hour day doing stuff, but trying to come back to do it the next day, I'm just wiped out,' he said
He goes to physical therapy regularly and is back to one of his passions, lifting weights, but is frustrated in the latter endeavor because he said he is 'barely back to my warm-up weight'.
He said doctors are optimistic for his long-term prognosis but added that they don't have answers to all his questions.
'Still, it's time to turn over the baton,' he said. 'It's good for the school, it's good for the kids.'
But not necessarily good for the sport.
'We were at one meet,' said Whitefish Bay coach Jim Davis (no relation), 'and I was walking on the deck and a girl behind me starting yelling 'Davis!' I turned around and yelled 'What?' and she said 'Not you, the other Davis!' And there was Dwight over in an office watching all this and laughing his head off.'
Laughing is a thing that Dwight Davis still can do, and that's one of the things that Jim Davis will miss. 'There was rarely a time you saw a frown on his face,' he said of Dwight.
Dwight Davis, a native of Ohio, has always battled uphill in terms of conference team titles against the likes of Homestead and Cedarburg, but did claim two boys North Shore crowns in the 1990s. In the fall of 2014, shortly before his stroke, girls swimmer Gwen Worlton broke a long dry stretch for the Knights by winning the Division 1 state breaststroke title.
He's also fairly certain that in every Olympic year since 1992, a Nicolet swimmer or diver has taken part in the Olympic Trials, if not officially qualified. Weber-Gale, he said, was simply a swimmer for the ages.
But as noted, for Davis, it's not about the championships, but the experiences that the swimmers have.
'Dwight is a complete professional,' Homestead coach Mark Gwidt said. 'He's done it the right way. He's coached Olympians, sent quality individuals to college, and you always find his kids on the all-academic lists. He's helped thousands of kids. Thousands.'
To emphasize that point, Dwight Davis started the successful Bananas Swim Club that has served as the basis for Nicolet's recent resurgence in swimming. It has since become part of the Schroeder Aquatic Center's program.
As noted, he will look to stay active in swimming and around the house as his health permits. As Gwidt noted, people around him tend to succeed. One look at his family will tell you that.
His wife of 37 years, Liz, is a longtime third-grade teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools. They have four daughters, three of whom have doctorate degrees. The youngest has epilepsy and Davis calls her 'My hero.'
Success, it seems, comes in many forms in the Dwight Davis household.
'We're going to miss him so much,' Jim Davis said. 'Such a character, and such great insight to swimming and to competition. We just get along so well. The conference is full of good people and Dwight is good people.'