Liz Litsch has thoroughly enjoyed her 30-year career working as a diving and swimming coach and special-needs teacher in the Peninsula School District.
Litsch, who coaches diving for both Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools, started her career in 1985 and has coached and educated thousands of students in her 30-year tenure.
Seeing her special-needs students progress and become productive members of society has given her an immense amount of pride.
“For some of the kids, being able to put a shirt on is a big deal,” Litsch said. “When you see those kids go out and get jobs in the community and be able to work and be successful, that’s just huge. I see that all the time. I work with kids that now have jobs in medical buildings, have jobs doing some custodial work and stuff like that. They’re working, fulfilling a purpose. They’re happy and that’s what they’re supposed to do.”
As far as coaching diving, Litsch has always had a competitive fire in her.
“I love winning,” she said. “But it was never a win at all costs. It was always a win with dignity. There’s a lot of people that will win at all costs. That’s not the way to do it. You win and you do it right.”
Litsch, 67, was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer July 10 and is on medical leave. Current Gig Harbor High School art teacher Alyse Yeaman, one of Litsch’s diving pupils in the mid 1990s, is throwing a party to celebrate Litsch’s life and contributions to the community this weekend.
The party was originally scheduled for December, but it was moved up due to the urgency of the situation, Yeaman said.
“She’s phenomenal,” Yeaman said. “She changes lives and inspires kids. She’s one in a million. She was one of the coaches who treated you like you were one of her kids, believed in you no matter your skill level. She went 110 percent for every kid. She’s just a phenomenal person.”
Yeaman counts her life as one of the many lives Litsch changed.
“If I could pick one of the top five people who influenced my life, she would be one of the top five,” Yeaman said. “It kills me to know I can’t go back and dive with her. It was the best memories of my life.”
Litsch, a swimmer as a kid, never originally aspired to be a diving coach, and didn’t dive when she was younger. But having children of her own changed things.
“My daughter was a fish — she was in the water when she was 3 months old,” Litsch said. “By the time she was 5, she had done just about everything you can do and was waiting for the body to catch up with her abilities. I wanted her to teach her how to dive.”
So Litsch sought the help of Keith Raney, a diver who participated in the 1980 Olympic Trials. Unfortunately, Raney’s work forced constant cancellations. So Litsch asked him to teach her, so she could teach her daughter. So he did.
In 1986, Litsch went to longtime Peninsula swim coach Craig Brown to ask if he had more information on diving.
“He handed me a technical manual that I still have,” Litsch said. “He said, ‘You can be the new diving coach.’ I told him I don’t want to because I don’t know enough about this. He told me, ‘Basically, what I need is someone to stand in the corner and make sure no one drowns.’”
So Litsch took the job, but her competitiveness never allowed her to be someone who would simply stand around and watch, like a lifeguard.
“I started learning from other diving coaches in the area,” Litsch said. “I learned from some really good people. I learned it right from the beginning, which was a real help. I didn’t have to relearn anything.”
Teaching movement came naturally. Previously, Litsch had taught horseback riding lessons.
“Eventually, I immersed myself in everything I could find about diving,” Litsch said. “Every time there was an Olympic coach standing around, I’d stand next to him and listen. I just learned.”
Now, she’ll be recognized for her time and the many lives she’s influenced in the pool and in the classroom.
“She’s someone who believes in you,” Yeaman said. “Divers are flying in from out of the state to see her because she did do that to every kid who walks through her program. They’re coming from everywhere.”