Hobbs coach Tharon Drake uses personal challenge to inspire others

Published: Jul. 23, 2023 at 3:00 PM CDT
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HOBBS, NM (KCBD) - At the Center of Recreational Excellence or C.O.R.E facility in Hobbs, New Mexico, you’ll find a world champion athlete coaching kids in the aquatic center and guiding adults in a gym class.

When our cameras got there, Tharon Drake was trying to inspire his swim class by letting them see and feel the medals he has won.

He told them, “I won two silver medals, one in the 400-meter freestyle and one in the 100-meter breaststroke.” That was in 2016 in Rio, after winning several world championships.

Tharon is also quick to tell the kids that none of his medals came easily.

He says, “Those came with years and years of hard work and it also came with a lot of disappointment.”

He is referring to his Paralympic medals. Tharon knows what they say because they are also in braille.

Tharon was born with good vision. He loved to swim and by age 9, he was on the swim team. But life changed when he was 14.

He explains, “All we know is I have brain problems. It’s all in my brain. In February of 2008, I gradually went completely blind within about three and a half months.”

He says doctors still can’t explain why it happened. But every test, then and now, show Tharon has seen nothing but black since he was a teenager.

Reflecting back, he says, “So I had a quick life decision. I could give up on everything or I could use my hardheadedness for good and keep pushing. That’s what I did. I kept swimming.”

Tharon says his dad searched for resources on how to help the blind swim.

Whatever he found, it must have worked because Tharon says, “Somehow I got a little faster and by the time I was a senior in high school, I was already breaking American records.”

Today, Tharon Drake has given up swimming to concentrate on coaching with some help from Kason Bowman, his assistant.

Kason admits, “I wasn’t sure if we were going to work out very well. But today, I see it as what I can’t see, he hears and what he can’t hear, I see.”

Lyndsey Henderson, Director of the facility, says, “Tharon is amazing. We are so blessed to have him on our team.”

Tharon says this about his coaching style, “I’m always trying to coach my athletes, hey, I don’t care what place you’re coming in at the wall. Are we focusing on the little things, such as what are your arms doing? How are we breathing?”

It is truly amazing to watch Tharon coach kids in the pool while he walks alongside them, giving them instructions and clocking their time. But that’s just the beginning of his day.

He teaches a gym class called the “Adaptive Avengers.” That group on the basketball court combines different ages and disabilities.

Tharon will even put aside his cane to encourage athletes to block a pass or shoot a basket.

And one more thing that’s hard to believe. Tharon Drake teaches the piano.

But the greatest thing he teaches is a lesson for all of us.

He says, “I hope that our athletes and others around me can see life’s not over when something bad happens, that we can use that for good.”