Houston Community Newspapers Online - Neighbors: Swim coach laps up life in The Woodlands: It took Hurricane Katrina and a third retirement to make him slow down. Now one of the United States' most recognized swimming coaches has made his home in The Woodlands.Great article about Coach Bower and Barbara. Only one typo, Steve Lunquist was a breastroke swimmer, not backstroke.
There's still a good chance a person could run into Dick Bower, a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, by a pool at the Woodlands Athletic Center. But the 76-year-old, who has had dozens of his swimmers win high school all-American honors over the years, has stepped back from the swimming scene a little.
Bower still offers private and semi-private lessons at the WAC, competes with his wife Barbara in swimming tournaments almost monthly and serves as an expert witness in legal cases that have elements that occurred under water. He just no longer manages his own swimming club and pool or coaches five college, high school and masters teams at the same time.
It was his height, more than anything, that got Bower into swimming.
While attending high school in the Buffalo, N.Y. area, the 5-foot 4-inch 10th-grader tried out for every sport but was cut because he was too short. The swimming team wasn't turned off by his lack of height, and before long he was performing well at meets and had earned a letter.
He went on to swim on his college team, even being awarded the title of captain during his freshmen year. He started coaching right out of college, and has been coaching and swimming competitively ever since.
His first coaching job was in 1952 with the Jamestown, N.Y. YMCA. Soon he began coaching the local high school team as well. The first year he had only one boy try out for the team. The boy became an all-American, and the next year 20 boys turned out.
After six years, and three state YMCA team championships, he left for Bethel Park High School in Pennsylvania. There, Bower organized a new team, taking them to a 92-8 record over the next six years.
From there, he moved on to manage the Greater Pittsburgh Swim Club. In 1966, he moved on to the Pittsburgh Club, which had never won a meet. During the next three years Bower led the club to 64-consecutive Class A and open meet wins.
Brandon, Fla. came calling next, along with the opportunity to manage a pool and run a competitive swimming school. He left the Brandon Swim and Tennis Club in 1970 to coach the Tulane University swimming teams.
Bower stayed in New Orleans for the next 25 years, coaching multiple high schools and masters' teams. His club team, the Bolts, won 38 Louisiana State Swimming championships and even traveled to Georgia to win its state championship one year.
Bower's coaching prowess resulted in a number of honors. Among his awards are a National High School Coach of the Year honor and multiple Coach of the Year awards in Louisiana.
His swimmers have achieved a number of honors as well. They have gone on to win medals in three different Olympics. One of those stars was Steve Lundquist, who set the world record in the 100-meter backstroke.
Among Bower's legacy in the swimming world is the origination of "cruise intervals." The technique is used to keep swimmers from swimming too fast and running out of energy at the end of a race or swimming too slowly and falling off their pace.
The concept, which has been adapted to other sports like running and biking, was popularized by Bower in 1971 after he discussed the technique in several swimming magazines. He developed the technique working with his friend James "Doc" Councilman in New York in the early 1950s.
Despite all his years coaching, and the thousands of hours spent at the pool, Bower still turns to swimming for relaxation and for his health.
"Health is my main thing. I don't need to be in meets, but I need to go to meets to practice," he said.
Amazingly, he continued to improve as a swimmer as he aged. While in his 40s he set his first national masters swimming records - beating his top college times at the same time.
"There's a secret," Bower said of his success at an age when many swimmers slow down. "Have slow times in college."
Ever humble, Bower downplays the success he's had in the national tournaments.
"There's a saying in masters swimming; if you live long enough you'll win.
"I'm not fast in any way," he said. "I'm just competitive with the old guys."
But he keeps swimming. Recently, Bower won four gold medals at the masters national meet; in the 50 meter, 100 meter, 200 meter and 500 meter freestyle.
His family has been a big part of Bower's life in swimming as well.
His wife Barbara joined him in the pool for the first time at age 37. For the next 17 years she improved her times, slowly getting faster and faster. She still swims, and still wins medals in masters' meets.
The couple's seven children have spent their share of time in the pool as well. Five of them committed to swimming enough to garner all-American status.
The Bowers evacuated their apartment in New Orleans in 2005, leaving ahead of Hurricane Katrina.
Loading up their suitcases, they headed to The Woodlands, where one of their daughters lives, with seven of their friends in tow. As luck would have it, their daughter had a townhouse for sale the refugees could pile into - with their three dogs and two cats.
It took the Bowers' seven trips to transport their property from their New Orleans apartment to a different townhouse in The Woodlands they leased and then purchased.
"New Orleans is no place to live right now," Bower said. "There are still
neighborhoods that don't have (basic amenities)."
To top that off, The Woodlands has everything Bower would want in a community. He's already gotten involved with the WAC, teaching clinics. These days he doesn't usually commit to a regular schedule because of the moments-notice demands expert witness testimony duties place on him.
"It's a Mecca for swimming," he said. "It has the best diving program in the country, maybe in the world."