Beneath the Surface

“Beneath the Surface,” New Era, Feb. 1997, 28

Beneath the Surface

For a while, Kris was just floating along. Then he found out how to put strength back in his strokes.

Kris Fisher is well known in Toronto, Ontario, as a world-class swimmer. But talk to Kris, and before you hear about flip turns and his time in the backstroke, you’ll likely hear about his brother, Tom.

Kris says, “Tom told me this,” or, “It’s like Tom always says.” He often quotes what his brother has said about life or swimming. But don’t misunderstand—Kris isn’t a parrot, and he doesn’t live in his brother’s shadow. Tom is, however, a powerful influence on Kris, a powerful influence for good.

Kris had started into some rough water. He was 16 years old and quickly becoming an internationally recognized swimmer. He ranked 50th in the world for his age group. He swam on the Canadian national youth team that competed in Sweden. He received a grant to help with the costs of swimming. Maybe those waters don’t sound too rough, but his success fueled his ego until it began to crowd out his dependence on serious swim practices, family support, and ultimately Heavenly Father.

“I got cocky,” Kris recalls, sitting on the steps of the Gorgas Library at the University of Alabama, where he now attends school. “I was getting swallowed up in pride instead of being humble and remembering what got me where I was.” His confidence led him to relax in his swimming practices and meets, and, even more dangerous, in his spiritual pursuits.

“The Church had become more of a once-a-week, just-on-Sunday thing,” Kris says. “I was going to church with my parents, but as soon as I left, it was like I stepped out of the Church world and stepped back into the regular world. The Church would just sort of slip out of my mind for the rest of the week.”

During this time, Tom was serving his mission in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kris and Tom are the only children in their family and had both been competitive swimmers. They spent a lot of time together growing up, whether they were heading off at 5:00 A.M. for swim practice or just watching one of their favorite sci-fi television shows together. But with Tom leaving for college and then a mission, Kris, four years younger than Tom, got used to being alone.

Kris’s I-don’t-need-anyone’s-help attitude, however, began to take its toll. His swimming fell to a low, causing him to miss out on making other national teams or receiving additional grants. And the more frustrated he became with his performance in the pool, the more frustrated he became outside the pool. Arguments with his parents became part of the regular routine as they tried to counsel him; and the Church, though still a part of his Sundays, had become something he thought he would get serious about when he was older.

Through the letters Tom wrote home, Kris sees, looking back, that Tom understood what was at the root of Kris’s swimming frustrations. Tom wrote Kris letters about how he could improve—not his strokes or his time, but his testimony. He gave him advice about scripture study, prayer, and service. He also encouraged Kris to follow their parents’ counsel. Though both Tom and Kris understood the commitment needed to be a world-class swimmer, Tom had come to realize the more important commitment needed to be a valiant son of God—something Kris was still figuring out.

“It’s like the way Michelangelo described making a statue,” says Kris. “He said that the statue was already there [in the piece of stone] and he just cleared away the extra pieces. It was like that with Tom. He knew what was underneath my surface; he just helped clear away some of the rough edges.”

The rough edges didn’t chip off with the first pound of the chisel, though. Kris tried with half-hearted effort to implement some of Tom’s written advice, but he never really got into a daily routine of scripture study and prayer. So when Tom came home from his mission, Kris didn’t react very well to Tom’s missionary zeal.

For the first few weeks after Tom’s return, Kris didn’t want to hear Tom’s advice. “Tom had changed so much by being around the gospel 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I would just stand back when he tried to help me,” Kris recalls, grinning at his own stubbornness. Tom tried to get Kris to study daily and join in family prayer. He used analogies comparing swimming to the scriptures. He reminded Kris that he needed to put on the “whole armor of God.”

Kris remembers clearly when understanding finally clicked into place. “It always put me on the defensive [when he would talk to me about living the gospel] and I would think, ‘You’re used to all that. I’m not used to it. I haven’t been like that for a while.’ And then it just hit me. ‘I haven’t been like that for a while.’ Maybe there’s a reason things haven’t been going so well.”

Kris continues, “I was struggling and wasn’t going where I wanted to go. Then I finally realized that all Tom was doing was trying to help me, and I do need help from other people. There are other people out there who want to see me do well—my family and Heavenly Father want to see me achieve what I can achieve with their help. I changed my attitude—I’m not invincible. And when I made the gospel more of an everyday thing, all of a sudden it wasn’t just something I believed; it’s something I do and live.

“Tom helped me see that I wasn’t doing things in the gospel. I wasn’t training my spirit, and your spirit shrinks just like your body does if you don’t exercise it.”

Now that Kris has become converted through the help of his brother, he is continually strengthening those around him and helping them swim a smoother course—in and out of the pool. It is not uncommon to overhear Kris chatting about the gospel with his nonmember teammates on the University of Alabama swim team as they travel to meets. And he isn’t afraid to tell fellow students how they can make their lives better by living gospel principles.

“People can change a lot,” says Kris. “They can turn around and find out that all hope is not lost.”

Kris is no stranger to challenges, and he knows that others around him face the same things. But because of Tom’s help, he now knows that faith in Christ can calm even the stormiest seas.

Photography by Richard M. Romney and courtesy of the Fisher family

He was making a big splash, but he knew something was missing. It took serious searching to catch a higher view, a view he still tries to maintain.

The success of swimming, Kris finally learned, meant practicing hard day after day. With help from his parents and his brother, he also learned that spiritual success means working hard to stay within the lanes the Lord has marked.

Kris still likes to wrestle with a pet dog or tell how he won a medal. But he knows there’s a time for serious things, too, like squeezing scripture study into an already busy schedule.