Diane “Di” Stowell was a wonderful mentor, a great friend and a huge source of inspiration. I use the title as a metaphor to speak to Di and her ability to perform, to embrace challenges and care for others. She was exceptional in all regards.
I first met Di in 1990 at Punahou School, during orientation for the start of the year. I was informed at the last minute that I was needed to teach psychology.
I was annoyed and questioning the logic when Di showed up with an introduction, explained the situation and presented an action plan. “Hey, Brad I’m Diane Stowell and we can work together. I’ll show you how to teach psychology. I think you’ll love it!
The enthusiasm, the warmth and the absolute confidence. Done deal.
So Di says come with me. We’ll start now. We go to her office and she says, “sit down and do this inventory.” I do it. It was the Myers–Briggs personality inventory. Di scores it and says, “E–S–F–J. Harmony. You are a support person. Sensitive, practical. Oh yeah, you have trouble letting go of upsets.” Bing. The lights go on.
I was the team counselor for the athletic department. One of my jobs was to work with athletes that had done something foolish, like drink a few sparkling beverages before they went to the dance. If they got busted, the person in charge would give them the option of going to see their dean or coming to see me. I guess it became fairly obvious that their best bet was to see me. And I began to hear some scary stories about kids being naughty. And Di was right. I had a hard time letting go of these upsets.
So Di and I began a 25-year-long discussion on the tools and techniques for learning how to give your best effort under pressure. The Eastern phrase that says, “you teach best what you most need to learn” was true for me. Looking back, this was the beginning of the formal training for what I do today. Mahalo Di!
Di the Performer
Di’s performance profile was that of a controller. She was extremely analytical and linear-minded. She needed to be in charge of her scope. When she had a plan and could execute it to her satisfaction she was at the top of her game. It was in those moments that “she would catch the biggest wave in every set.” The waves were in her scope. Her confidence never wavered.
She loved to work hard and push herself to completion. This was pure fun for her, because being able to complete her plan provided her with the clarity she needed to get better. Di was driven to get better.
Di’s strength in the water is legendary. But she was also extremely tough on land. One day we were at Kualoa Ranch and we’d been working at the ropes course that Punahou had there at the time. We’d been there all day. As the staff was leaving, Di and I met on the path headed down. Without skipping a beat, Di looks at me and said, “You want to run to the bottom?”
It was a steep path with lots of holes, trees and big rocks.
I say sure and begin to do a very careful jog, being extra careful not to fall. Di on the other hand throws her head down, learns way forward and begins to sprint to the bottom. She flies down the hill. Jumping, weaving, getting her feet up behind her. In no time she’s at the bottom.
As I finish a long time after, Di says, “I know you were just being careful because of your knees.” I say, “Di, lets be clear, in my best shape and condition ever I couldn’t do what you just did!”
For just a moment she paused, smiled and accepted the praise, and then she was on to the next challenge with the same level of intensity.
Reflection: Di really only had one weakness and that was chocolate. Her cookies were narly. Mind-altering for sure.
Di Embraced Challenges
In the event that Di was not able to complete her plan and get the job done, that was a challenge. She would get frustrated, but over time became more “mindful” and began to make what Ryan Holiday refers to in “The Daily Stoic” as a “reasoned choice.” She began to focus on the aspects of the situation that she could control. True to form, she got great at it.
Like a lot of great athletes, Di seemed to intuit most of the skills she needed to excel. In our discussions we always went back to Di’s real passion — performing in competition.
Re: Challenges. Di had a bottom line. She refused to let anything get in the way of being able to doing something she deemed worthy. Especially if she’d given her word. Her word cinched the deal.
During the last time we worked together, I jokingly asked her if she was getting to train enough. She replied in a very serious manner. “Well, yesterday I did dawn patrol with Linda LaGrande (surf was good), swam at lunch and dove hundred-foot hole with Roger Pfeffer in the evening. This morning I did UH swim workout.” I was about to say, “Wow” when I saw this huge gash in the top of her head.
“Oh my God, Di,” I said, “What happened to your head?”
“Skin cancer,” she exclaimed with disgust. “Sorry, I forgot to wear the bandage.”
I was lost for words. I thought about asking if she thought going in the water was good idea. And then I just respected her decision. Di was clear. She was not going to miss out. She was old-school, blue–collar, tough as nails.
Concern for Others
Di’s service to others is well documented. I don’t feel qualified to speak to all of what she did — I do know why. First, she had given her word, and second, her service to others gave her a real feeling of joy and satisfaction — much like catching the biggest wave in the set, swimming against the rip on the North Shore or traveling to a national swim meet and winning every event she entered. She simply loved the challenge and loved the people, places and things she competed against.
Di expressed her concern for others with her ability to listen. She could bring herself present and make you feel so important. Di could express such amazing warmth. I witnessed the effect she had on many people. Whether the person was angry, sad or depressed, they responded with respect and appreciation with Di.
Di hosted a study group at her house once a month. The topic was the Myers–Briggs personality inventory. The group that attended was extremely diverse. Most of them didn’t know Di the athlete. But when Di was in charge the meetings ran like clockwork.
I am grateful to Di for being such a good coach and friend. She set a great example of how to live and how to die. She loved life and life loved her back. Her love for her friends and family was fierce and complete.
In the race of life, she was truly a winner.
- At age 47 she came in second overall (not age group) in Women’ Triathlon in 1986.
- She and her team won six Hawaii Canoe Racing Association championships for senior master’s women. The first one in 1985, the year she first learned to paddle and repeated in 1986 – 1990.
- Hawaii State runner of the Year in 1984 and 1986
- Honolulu Advertisers Top Ten Athletes of the decade in 1990.
- US Masters National Open Water Swim Champion
- FINA Hawaiian Open Water Champion
- She won 20 Waikiki Rough Water Swims in her age group
- Winner of 17 National Master’s Swimming Championships
- National Masters Swimming Record Holder in several events
- Member of the Masters All American Team
- Inducted into the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame in 2003
- Inducted into the Duke Kahanohano Legend in 2016