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Campus welcomes alumni for swimming and diving reunion

Campus welcomes alumni for swimming and diving reunion

Jim ‘Coachman’ Steen, left | COURTESY OF KENYON COMMUNICATIONS

Kenyon welcomed nearly 500 swimming and diving alumni, family members and friends back to Gambier for the program’s largest-scale reunion to date over the weekend. Lords, Ladies and Owls all had the chance to swim, reconnect and celebrate. Legendary coach Jim Steen and swimmers Teresa Fish née Zurick ’88, Sanders “Read” Boon ’03, Agnese Butler née Ozolina ’04 and Andrejs Duda ’06 were all inducted into the Kenyon Athletics Hall of Fame. Throughout the course of the three-day event, Kenyon swimmers and divers of past and present got the chance to celebrate the NCAA’s most decorated program.

Rachel Berger ’11, a host committee member and swimming alumna, described the process of planning the reunion as a labor of love. “We spent a little over nine months organizing and essentially curating a special weekend for the alumni,” she said in an interview with the Collegian. “I think we all wanted to roll out the ‘purple carpet’ for everyone.” 

The reunion was packed to the gills with events for alumni and current swimmers alike. On Friday, attendees began arriving to the Hill, where signs with Steen’s most notable quotes dotted the lawns across campus. After getting the chance to explore their old haunts, guests convened to honor Fish, Boon, Butler and Duda’s induction into the Hall of Fame.

During their Kenyon careers, the honored swimmers earned a combined 100 All-American honors and 74 NCAA titles. Despite the many accolades each of them collected during their time on the Hill, they found induction into the Hall of Fame difficult to fully describe. “I’m just very humbled and honored,” Duda, who won a program-record 24 NCAA titles, said in an interview with the Collegian

“It is a huge honor and gives me chills when I think about all the amazing people that are in [the Hall of Fame] and now I am part of that group, [it] seems impossible,” Butler, who was a three-time Olympian with the Latvian national team, wrote in an email to the Collegian. Fish, who earned all 14 of her NCAA titles in relays, could hardly believe the distinction. “I actually think my induction was surreal — the fact that I was being inducted in the first place and then to be able to be inducted the same weekend as my coach,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian

The festivities continued on Saturday, as current and former swimmers got the chance to practice together and race. The alumni meet brought back memories for Duda, even as the passage of time brought its changes. “Although most alum[ni] were pretty out of shape, it was still great to have a little relay with the same people I had a relay with 15 some years ago, and then being able to race current swimmers and just being in that culture of cheers and excitement,” he said. 

Performing the group cheer with more than five decades of swimmers was particularly meaningful for AC Fleenor ’24. “To have 200 people all singing these cheers that have been sung for 50-plus years, gave me constant chill bumps. During ‘Stop, Look and Listen,’ the seniors and alumni get to stand on the bleachers and lead the cheer for all of the underclassmen,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Standing up there with Ladies of the past and having all the underclassmen look up to me made me cry.”

In the afternoon, alumni mingled with current swimmers at a networking event, while other attendees took a tour of campus and spectated at various Kenyon athletic contests. At halftime of the Kenyon football game, the five Hall of Fame inductees were honored with a brief ceremony. Butler especially appreciated the chance to stand on McBride Field: “I loved being able to walk on the football field during halftime for the [Hall of Fame] recognition. I had never been on any football field before this weekend.” 

For all the generations of Kenyon’s swimmers and divers, Steen’s induction on Saturday night was a highlight of the weekend. Steen, who won 50 NCAA championships as a coach, had long deferred his induction into the Hall of Fame. In a letter he wrote to alumni ahead of the reunion, he explained: “Since the inception of the Hall of Fame I have been often asked by Kenyon swimmers and divers to present them for induction — an even greater honor for me. I’ve always felt the focus of attention during the ceremony needs to be on these individuals, the real stars of the program.” However, in 2023, Steen finally agreed, playfully agreeing with a former swimmer who told Steen he needed to be inducted “before he kicks the bucket!” 

For the athletes who competed under him, the man known as ‘Coachman’ was long overdue to enter the Hall of Fame. “He’s a living legend,” Duda said. “Seeing him inducted and being inducted in the same weekend with myself and three other swimmers was pretty incredible. I would have just showed up for his induction without anybody else there.” Though Marko Krtinic ’24 never swam for Steen, he shared Duda’s sentiment. “I can definitely say that the four-hour wait was worth it, and I enjoyed every minute of his speech,” Krtinic wrote in an email to the Collegian. “He has built the program we have today with his swimmers and divers, and it is our responsibility to continue to preserve this excellence.”

Steen’s induction brought Butler and Fish back to their time swimming for Kenyon. “It felt like my college days! A talk from Coachman was a bonus!” Fish said. “He is always a captivating speaker and it was the pep talk I needed.” Butler concurred: “It went long but those speeches were so emotional and inspiring that I will cherish them forever. Coach asking all of the swimmers who swam for him to come closer and sit around him during his speech was priceless — it felt like the good old days!”

Throughout the weekend, whether in the Steen Aquatic Center or on Middle Path, a sense of connection was omnipresent. Head Coach Jess Book ’01 was glad to get the chance to see the generations of Kenyon swimming and diving come together for a weekend. “We have a very tight-knit family of alumni that love the sport deeply,” he said in an interview with the Collegian. “To have a time to come back and reconnect with multiple generations of swimming and diving was a lot of fun.” 

Though the reunion ended on Sunday, the event and its expression of love for Kenyon swimming and diving’s community will stay with Fleenor: “[I]t is an extremely hard thing to explain, but when you watch an event like this happen you can just feel the spirit of Kenyon.”

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