Palmyra swimming standout Peyten Lyons (right) and her mom Cynthia (left) share a close bond not only as mother and daughter, but also in the pool at
Palmyra swimming standout Peyten Lyons (right) and her mom Cynthia (left) share a close bond not only as mother and daughter, but also in the pool at Palmyra, where Cynthia coaches Peyten on the Cougars swim team. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS EARL BRIGHTBILL)
PALMYRA - Like any high-caliber competitive athlete, Peyten Lyons can get mad at her coach on occasion. You know, maybe butt heads over a strategy or a training plan once in a while.

Pretty normal, run-of-the mill stuff for a teenager. But unlike most scholastic athletes her age, the Palmyra swimming standout can't just go running to mom to complain when her coach ticks her off. Mom, you see, is also Cynthia Lyons, head coach of the boys' and girls' swim teams at Palmyra.

If you're thinking there's potential for drama and dysfunction there, think again.

Despite the obvious challenges Peyten, a sophomore, faces in being coached by a parent - and the equally difficult task Cynthia faces in coaching her own child - the two enjoy a strong, loving, respectful relationship both on and away from the pool deck.

They're certainly not the first family members to be in such a coach-athlete-parent-child relationship, and they won't be the last.

But they're undeniably one of the more successful, as evidenced by Peyten's unofficial status as Lebanon County's top scholastic swimmer and Cynthia's coaching chops, which helped the Cougar girls capture the Mid-Penn Keystone Division championships last season. "It's a lot different than what people expect it to be," Peyten said before swim practice on Wednesday. "Sometimes it gets pretty hard to balance out the relationship of mother and coach. But on the pool deck, she's my coach and at home she's my mom.



Cynthia smiles as she listens to her daughter's take on their relationship(s), not because Peyton's response was prompted but because she also is well aware of both the challenges and rewards that go with it.

"Sometimes it gets really difficult," Cynthia said. "I remember when before Peyten came to high school, I talked to (Cedar Crest coach) Beth Yocum because she coached her kids. And she said, you have to treat them like they're any other swimmer in the water.

"I think, to some extent, we do. But to some extent, I'm probably tougher on Peyten than I am on anybody else in the water. And that's probably on purpose, because I don't want anyone to think she's getting preferential treatment."

It's a tribute to 15-year old Peyten's maturity and responsible nature that she understands why her coach might need to push and prod her a little more than any of her teammates.

"I think by her doing that it helps me out in the long run," Peyten said. "Because it's making me that much better. It doesn't really faze me. Last year, I kinda stayed quiet and kept to myself a little bit. But this year I'm used to it, so it doesn't really matter."

Peyten's been swimming since the age of 6, and she comes by her affection for her chosen sport through her bloodlines - Cynthia is a former competitive swimmer at the collegiate level.

Coach Lyons, though, refuses to take credit for Peyten's banner freshman year, which was highlighted by a silver medal in the 100-yard backstroke at the District Three Class AA championship and a trip to the state meet at Bucknell.

"I pretty much swam all my life, but never as good as what Peyten is," she said with a chuckle. "Or, frankly, the entire high school team. I know what she's going through from a coaching perspective, I don't know what she's going through from a personal perspective because I never reached the heights that she has." But Cynthia got to experience life at the top of the medal stand last season, courtesy of Peyton's accomplishments at the district meet.

Per tradition, swimmers who medal at districts (and states) have their medals awarded to them by their coaches. Which meant Cynthia and Peyten got to share an unforgettable coach-swimmer moment and mother-daughter experience all at the same time.

"For a mom to be able to give a state medal or a district medal to their daughter, I couldn't have been more proud," Cynthia said. "For me to try to hold it together emotionally was hard."

When Peyten was surging toward her district silver medal, she happened to be the only Palmyra swimmer in the pool at that time, giving Cynthia the opportunity to cheer solely as a mom. The result?

"She was frantic," Peyten said, laughing.

But when she received her medal from her mom, er, coach, the younger Lyons gained her own understanding of the emotions Cynthia was experiencing.

"Walking out there and having her give me that medal, it was sorta surreal," Peyten said. "I know people say that a lot, but it was surreal. It was one of those moments you're never gonna forget.

"I almost cried a little bit, actually," she added, with a laugh. "I was happy that she was there to experience that with me."

A closer look at what's in store - and what's already taken place - on the local swimming scene this winter can be found in the following team capsules:

Cedar Crest Coach: Beth Yocum, 11th season Last year's record: Boys - 6-5 ; Girls - 4-7

Current record: Boys - 5-0; Girls - 1-4

Key losses: Boys - Will Gelgot, Adam Lough

Top returning swimmers: Boys - Alex Dishong (Sr.), Seba Soltanov (Jr.), Georigy Soltanov (Soph.), Daniel Neiswender (Jr.). Girls - Hannah Byler (Soph.), Anna Moffitt (Soph.)

Promising newcomers:

Outlook: Girls - The Falcons are quite young again, and not where they were during their glory days as a perennial Lancaster-Lebanon League title contender, but Yocum is still pleased with what she's seen so far. She may be even more optimistic when Byler returns from a knee injury sometime in January.

"We're gonna try to get to .500," she said. "It's still a young squad, but they're holding their own so far. They're swimming real well and gaining confidence."

Boys - It's much the same story with the Falcon boys. It's a young, largely inexperienced group but one with a good deal of potential that could be fully realized by the time late season and postseason comes around.

"It's a very young squad, too," Yocum said. "They're still trying to learn their roles. Our goal is to learn to swim a total meet. We're gonna have to work for everything we get.

"We have a motto, 'Practice to be ready to race,'" Yocum added. "If we do the right things at practice, it'll carry over on meet day."

Palmyra Coach: Cynthia Lyons, 4th season Last year's record:Boys - 4-8; Girls - 9-3, Mid-Penn Keystone Division champs

Current record: Boys - 1-2; Girls - 3-0

Key losses: Girls - Alana Sheriff

Top returning swimmers: Boys - Bryce Betz (Sr.), Evan Downey (Sr.), Danny Tunitis (Jr.), Josh Alderson (Jr.), Eddie Sanborn (Sr.), Scott Seibel (Jr.), Brandon Barr (Sr.) Girls -Reney Hess (Jr.), Katie Schreckengast (Jr.), Peyten Lyons (Soph.), Kylie Huffman (Jr.), Marybeth Rudy (Sr.), Bre Purnell (Sr.)

Promising newcomers: Boys - Josh Wakefield (Fr.), Teag Culver (Fr.) Girls - Emily Bliemeister (Fr.), Katie Keck (Fr.), Casey Wasilewski (Fr.), Megan Caton (Fr.)

Outlook: Girls - What's not to like? The Cougars are the reigning Mid-Penn Keystone Division champs and return most of the core of that team. Leading the way is super-talented sophomore Lyons, a silver medalist in the District Three Class AA 100-yard backstroke last season as a freshman, and the 200 medley relay team of Katie Schreckengast, Kylie Huffman, Reney Hess and Breanna Purnell that struck gold at districts.

And the best is probably still yet to come with this group, given that four of the five of swimmers listed above are still underclassmen and a promising freshman class is in the mix this year.

"We still have a pretty young team, and we have some talented freshmen with us this," Coach Lyons said. "We have six swimmers from last year that chose not to swim this year, so we're actually lower in numbers. However, we still have quite a bit of depth.

"We're excited. I'm pleased with the times and the progress so far."

Boys - The Cougars return a strong core group that nearly pulled off a win over Cedar Crest in the season opener, and that combination of talent and experience could lead to an improvement over last season's 4-8 record.

"They're all back," Lyons said. "We actually have a larger number of boys than girls for the first time since I've been here. I'm excited about the potential the boys have this year."