Tucker Dupree’s swimming career does not follow the norm for many elite athletes. Four years after his first practice, Dupree successfully competed on the world stage. Sounds like an easy life, right? Wrong. At 17 years old, Tucker had irreversibly lost 70% of his central vision within a four-month time span. Inflicted with a rare genetic mutation that has only affected 9,000 people in recorded history, he was forced to come to grips with a new reality.
You may wonder how a man who is centrally blind can effectively watch and coach technique, but he uses visual adaptation techniques refined over his many years of blindness to connect with swimmers of all backgrounds. He has years of experience teaching clinics and utilizing peripheral vision to give feedback and to fine-tune his own swimming. “Our sport is about consistency and repetition. I count all of my strokes and use lane lines to make sure I hit my turns and get to the wall first,” he explains. Swimmers at his clinics will learn stroke counts and body awareness to enhance practice and race performance.
Because Dupree had to take coaching feedback verbally rather than visually, he built up a remarkable toolbox of cues and explanations that will undoubtedly connect with swimmers of all backgrounds. “We all have different ways of learning. There’s no one way to fix your stroke. We’ll have over 100 kids at clinics, and I see them as 100 different opportunities to connect and develop a better way to train and race. Athletes get coached at all the time. I am here to coach with the swimmers.”
Choosing to engage in each practice whether you’re feeling fresh or exhausted is crucial to becoming a great swimmer. Dupree credits his quick rise in swimming success to acute attention to details and technique rather than pounding out the yardage. “The kids must choose one or two skills each practice to sharpen. You do hundreds of flip turns in practice, but are you in-tune with your technique each flip, or are you just going through the motions?” He will break down certain skills and repeat them until the swimmers have their “lightbulb moment” rather than flooding them with information and moving on.
In addition to his wealth of swim knowledge, Dupree emphasizes the importance of strengthening the mental aspect of competition and the daily grind of training: “The mental aspect of competition is what sets apart the good from the great.” Mastering your mindset starts with awareness of your body, confidence in your training, and an informed race strategy built from trial and error.
Rather than viewing visual impairment as a set-back, he describes it as an opportunity through which he has been able to represent the USA, compete at the highest level, and give back to the swimming community. Tucker Dupree embodies the true spirit of competitiveness, resiliency and work ethic. Kids of all ages will not only learn technique and skills in a unique way, but also how to sharpen their mental focus and toughness from a master of mindset. “You can’t control a lot of things. But you can control your attitude, warm-up, and race strategy.”
Dupree’s natural instinct to turn challenges into opportunities for growth will not only transform your swimmer’s perspective on the sport, but also will sharpen their ability to adapt and rise to meet any challenge life may bring.
If nothing else, Dupree wishes to impart these nuggets of wisdom: “Know what you can control, and work with what you cannot. Find what triggers your ‘happy’ and have a supportive community. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind for success. But at the end of the day, the ability to have limitless vision and know what makes you happy is what defines success.”