Swim and dive alumni return to BYU

BYU swim and dive alumni pose during their reunion on campus. Some described the event as being 40 years overdue. (Crystal Marks)
BYU swim and dive alumni pose during their reunion on campus. Some described the event as being 40 years overdue. (Crystal Marx)

BYU swim and dive alumni from all across the country returned to Provo for a swim meet that was described as being 40 years overdue.

All-Americans, Olympians and former coaches from the 1960s to the current Cougar teams attended the three-day reunion for what may have been the best-concentrated swimming talent ever gathered in BYU history.

It was an interesting mix of personalities. Some were boisterous as they reminisced about the “good old days” with teammates. Others were much quieter, almost reverent in their visit to their alma mater.

For those who hadn’t come back to campus in years, it was surprising to see all the changes to the Richards Building facilities.

Lance Gordon, a sprint freestyle swimmer who was on the team at BYU from 1975-79, said the experience brought back memories.

“It was a blast into the past,” Gordon said. “I can’t believe how much better the campus and the pool looks. When you don’t come back for several decades, you start to remember things that you’ve forgotten.”

For others, like former head coach Tim Powers, returning to BYU is returning to the place that taught them discipline and work ethic and enriched their LDS faith.

Powers retired in 2012 after a 37-year career at the helm of the swim and dive team. He earned 20 conference titles, coached 46 All-Americans and had 16 athletes compete in Olympic Games. He was also a six-time League Coach of the Year Award winner.

Now Powers is preparing to serve an LDS mission with his wife. While he remembers his wins at BYU, he said that there are more important things.

“We’ve been on one mission and we’re going on another,” Powers said. “We want people to know that they’re children of God and he loves them, and that they have great potential. It’s nice to win championships; we won a bunch of them. But what we’re really trying to learn here are how to become good moms and dads.”

Chris Smith, a swimmer at BYU from 1979-81, said being back on campus felt like coming home.

“I probably spent about 3,000 hours in that pool during my four-year swimming career, and last week I put one more hour in the pool again,” Smith, the All-American backstroker, said. “It never felt so good.”

For others, BYU provided the same wholesome environment it’s always been known for. Many athletes came to Provo for the values and standards the university represents.

One of those athletes was Corey Killpack, an All-American individual medley swimmer in Provo from 1978-79 and 1981-84. Killpack’s father was an All-American at the University of Utah, but he decided BYU was the only place for him.

“Some of my fondest memories of BYU are the quality relationships with teammates and coaches,” Killpack said. “Even though I was recruited by bigger schools, I came here to BYU because of its unique environment.”

As the reunion began to wind down, participants paused in their reminiscing and joking to give tribute to teammate Mark McGregor, who passed away in 2005 after a battle with cancer.

McGregor swam from 1974-76 and 1978-80 and held several pool and school records. He was the Western Athletic Conference champion in 1976 in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle swims.

Several teammates gave their respects and shared memories of McGregor’s work ethic. It was an emotional time as former teammates grieved the loss of a fellow Cougar.

Jake Taylor is a five-time All-American in the 100 and 200-meter backstroke. (BYU Photo)

For many, it was an event they hoped would never end. While some live close to campus, there are others who may have set foot on campus for the final time to smell the chlorine-filled air of the BYU pool where they dedicated a relatively small, yet crucial, time of their lives.

But they hope the next reunion won’t take 40 years to plan.

“We haven’t done anything like this before,” All-American David White said. “We’re hoping to hold reunions each year if we can.”

Five-time All-American Jake Taylor holds four individual school records and is part of four relay school records. He has qualified for the Olympic trials in the 100 and 200-meter backstroke.

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