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Elite Athlete Dawn Allinger Lewis to Share
Olympic Expertise with WAVE Campers This Summer 

By Michelle Netzloff-Luna
Cedar Street Times - June 7, 2019

"Think big and don't be afraid to dream. Always keep your eyes open. There are opportunities all around you." -Dawn Allinger Lewis, 1996 Olympian

If there's one thing you can count on with the WAVE Program, it's that you will find inspirational coaches and teachers sharing their talents with the campers. 2019 is no exception. The third incarnation of this free summer camp for all Pacific Grove youth bestows this year's participants with the chance to learn from an exceptional and elite athlete: 1996 Olympian and five time gold medal winner at the US National Team Handball Championships, Dawn Allinger Lewis.

Dawn Allinger Lewis[br]Former Olympian"Dawn is super huge in team handball," says WAVE Executive Director Darryl Smith. "The WAVE tries to do something new and different every year, and this year it's team handball. Because I knew Dawn from my coaching days in Montana and had such a great relationship with her, I invited her to come teach handball to our kids. As an Olympian, Dawn is an expert and we try to expose kids to people like her when we can. She's a great female athlete and such a terrific role model, especially for girls."

Team handball is one of the world's most popular team sports and has been an official Olympic sport since 1972. It is not your classic American handball, where players use their hands to hit a small rubber ball within a walled court. Rather team handball is a highly energetic sport that consists of seven players on each team using their hands to pass a hard, cantaloupe sized ball into the 6ft x10ft goal-net of the opponent. Combining elements of basketball, soccer, water polo and hockey, it's a game of speed and quickness where athletes dribble, pass and make fast breaks to drive the ball down the court. It is electric and exhilarating.

"I think team handball is the greatest game around," affirms Dawn. "It combines so many different elements, it's fast paced, high scoring and dynamic. It's intriguing to watch and amazing to play." Dawn is passionate about team handball and is excited to be part of the WAVE Program this summer.

"I love sharing my love for the sport and anytime you get to play with kids, life is good!"

"Before I coached college basketball," Executive Director Smith says, "I coached at Bozeman High in Montana and I was Dawn's high school basketball coach. She played volleyball as well, and was a three time state triple jump champion in track and field. While in high school, she was awarded the State of Montana's Gatorade Athlete of the Year, which recognizes the nation's most outstanding student athletes. She was a stud athlete!"

Dawn is more modest when she confides, "I don't feel my story is that amazing but what's inspiring about my story is that it's relatable. I think what people love about Olympians is seeing that you are one of them. What's significant is when you are talking to them, or they are watching you play on NBC during the Olympic Games, they say, 'that could be me someday.'
In high school I was fortunate enough to play three sports: basketball, volleyball and track. Team handball combines aspects of all three of these. I was also very fortunate to have amazing leaders and inspirational coaches, and one of them was coach Smith. Because we respected him, we always gave him everything we had. I believe he's one of the very reasons I developed the way I did as a person and as an athlete. It was my basketball skills that allowed me to go to college and facilitate a great education.

It's ironic I ended up playing team handball in the first place. I remember while I was in school at Washington State, I got to work at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle. Because of my job, I was given free tickets to see a lot of sports, including team handball. I remember thinking, 'Why in the world would I want to go watch team handball?' I went to all the other sports, but not team handball. So that opportunity flew right by me.

It wasn't until I did an internship to complete my coursework at Washington State when an opportunity came for me to attend the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. While I was working there, I lived on sight along side all these athletes in training. Both the men's and women's teams for Team Handball happened to be living and training there. I'd peek in the gym windows and think 'that looks kind of cool.' People kept saying to me 'you really should check this out.' But I wasn't interested at that time, because I had this path in my mind of becoming a Division I Basketball coach.

After my internship I got a job at Montana State as an assistant basketball coach while working on my Master's. All these handball opportunities kept arising so I started dabbling in team handball tournaments, Olympic Festivals and such. Then I got invited to a National Team tryout. I had a coach at that time who told me, 'Dawn, coaching will always be there, if you have a chance to pursue something different, go for it.' She inspired me just like coach Smith, who told me, 'Whatever sport you love, pursue that in college, and I'll help you get there.'

These coaches inspired me and helped direct me to do something that ultimately became a passion, lifestyle and great opportunity for me. They completely shifted my gears 180 degrees from a very planned life to pursuing a dream. You know, you have this vision of what your life is going to be, but then one person will have an immense impact on you and you'll go in a completely different direction. All the sudden you're in this space you never thought you'd be, with the most amazing opportunities you could ever imagine. I feel like that's where I landed. I can remember back in high school taking my two years of French, and thinking, 'when am I ever going to use this?' Then I end up playing in Europe, living in Norway, and Germany, and eventually traveling all over the world. I learned to keep my eyes open because there are opportunities all around." 

Advice from an Olympian

Dawn hopes to encourage health and fitness at the WAVE and aspires to promote the Olympic ideals of fair play, respect, perseverance and sportsmanship. She has this wisdom to share about her time as an Olympian:

What three qualities got you to the Olympics?
"Hard work, focus, and belief in yourself."

What was your favorite part about being on the Olympic team?
"Being exposed to new cultures and accomplishing something bigger than yourself. Being part of a team."

What was the biggest asset from your travels that helped you most in life?
"Having compassion for other people. The world is so much bigger than the space in which you live, there are a lot of differences, so learning to appreciate the differences and respect the differences."

How has the training you received as an elite athlete helped you in your everyday life?
"Training for the Olympics drives you to be the best you can be. It taught me how to set realistic goals and reevaluate them constantly. Set an appropriate timeline for those goals. For example, in high school I wanted to earn a college scholarship. My dad helped me stay on top of my studies. Coach Smith would help me set goals over the summer for off season training and create a timeline. They helped me figure out what targets I needed to hit, like certain camps, or making contact with certain people. They helped me evaluate where I could fit to be successful."

What advice can you offer athletes with big goals? What got you through the hard times and how did you overcome that?
"You really have to rely on other people. Rely on your friends to get your back when you're down, which means that you need to be there for them. Be supportive."

What would you want the WAVE campers to remember most from having met you? "Think big and don't be afraid to dream. Always keep your eyes open. There are opportunities all around you."

Dawn will be teaching team handball July 8-12 at the WAVE Program at Pacific Grove High School.

For more information about Dawn Allinger Lewis, please visit home page.



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Contact Information

Phone: (408) 960-5194
Address: 1160 Seaview Avenue
Pacific Grove, CA 93950

What is the WAVE Program?

The Wave Program is a two-week summer day camp for girls and boys going into 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th grade. We aim to provide an active, healthy, positive camp environment that sparks interest in team and individual sports and the arts electives offered at Pacific Grove High School.