April 6, 2011
FAST Swimmers Keep Urbanchek Young
Mike Watkins//Correspondent for USA Swimming
After almost 50 years in the coaching profession, Jon Urbanchek is still motivated by the same passion: To create world-class swimmers and people.
His current opportunity as head coach of the Post Grad and Professional Training Center at Fullerton Aquatic Swim Team (FAST) -- one of three such USA Swimming- and USOC-sponsored programs for professional and post-graduate swimmers in the United States -- gives Urbanchek the opportunity to live his mission every day.
Working with Olympians Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler and U.S. National Team members Tyler Clary, Ariana Kukors and Emily Brunemann among many others twice a day in the pool not only keeps him active in coaching but also keeps him young.
"I've had to learn to Facebook and tweet as well as text and email to communicate with them; they don't answer their phones," said Urbanchek, who graduated from the University of Michigan in 1962 and was the first coach of FAST from 1975-77. "I don't tweet a whole lot, but when I get up at 5 a.m., I can see when someone has been tweeting at 1 a.m. when we have a 7 a.m. practice. It keeps me in the loop and allows me to keep track of what they're doing."
Urbanchek returned to Fullerton last spring when he was asked to assist Sean Hutchison, who had originated the post-grad program the previous year.
Since retiring as the head coach at Michigan in 2004, where he coached the Wolverines to 13 Big Ten Championships (10 straight from 1986-95) and the 1995 NCAA Championship title in his 22 years, Urbanchek has remained involved in coaching. He first worked with Dave Salo at Irvine Novaquatics and then went back to his alma mater, Michigan, to assist Bob Bowman.
After Bowman left Michigan in 2008, Urbanchek stayed on to assist Mike Bottom transition into his new role as head coach.
Each time, Urbanchek wanted to remain largely behind the scenes as an assistant -- until Hutchison left FAST at the end of 2010.
He's once again back in the spotlight, and even though he thought his head coaching days were behind him, he's excited to work with the current group of 13 swimmers who continue to help shape the face of U.S. and world swimming.
"These are some of the most goal-oriented kids I've ever worked with," Urbanchek said. "They are on a mission, and it doesn't take much to get them going. They are so motivated, and they are here because they want to be here."
Before Hutchison left, Urbanchek worked with an exclusive group at FAST. He now has combined Hutchison's group with his and brought former Michigan assistant Alex Braunfeld out to Fullerton to help him organize and work with the group that ranges from the 50 freestyle (Kara Lynn Joyce) to Open Water (Chip Peterson).
Considering 92 percent of the individual U.S. swimming medalists at the 2008 Olympics were post-grads and 64 percent of the current 2010-2011 U.S. National Team are post-grad swimmers, programs like FAST are pivotal to the United States' dominance in the pool.
"It's really great to be in an environment geared toward international swimming," said Clary, who skipped his senior season at Michigan this year to move to Fullerton to train with Urbanchek, who coached him as an assistant his freshman and sophomore years. "I miss the intensity of college swimming, but it's great to train with a mindset completely set on training for the highest level of swimming.
"Post-grad Training Centers like FAST are absolutely crucial because if you have all the National Team members training separately across the nation, the potential to be great can be very limited because you can only push yourself so much. But when you are training with the best in the world every day and constantly racing and improving, it makes you that much faster and more competitive," Clary said.
Needless to say, USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus is glad to have someone with Urbanchek's coaching credentials continuing the mission at FAST.
"Jon brings decades of experience, wisdom, relationships and confidence to this post," Wielgus said. "Without a doubt, he is one of the most respected coaches in the swimming family. I wish we could clone him so we'd have someone like Jon involved with USA Swimming indefinitely."
This weekend, Urbanchek will return to Ann Arbor along with his contingent of FAST swimmers for the Eric Namesnik Michigan Grand Prix. A student of Urbanchek's in the late 80s and early 90s, and then his graduate assistant and assistant through most of the decade, Namesnik died from injuries sustained in a car accident five years ago this past January.
Along with FAST's representatives, Michael Phelps, who trained at Ann Arbor prior to the 2008 Olympics, and a host of top-caliber swimmers will compete in Ann Arbor. It marks the first Grand Prix event of the season where collegiate swimmers, who completed their seasons last month, will be available to compete.
Urbanchek, the father of a daughter, Kristin, considered 'Snik' as the son he never had and admired his pupil's and friend's drive and work ethic.
"Snik was one of the hardest working kids and was right at the top of the list of the athletes I've worked with over my many years of coaching," Urbanchek said. "I've often used him as a yardstick for his dedication and motivation.
"He was one of those people you could always count on. Over the years, the records and medals don't last that long, but the friendships and characters along the way stay with you. He was definitely one of those characters, and he was loved by many. This meet is a great tribute to him and what he represented."
Urbanchek is signed on to lead FAST's Post Grad and Professional Training Center through the 2012 Olympics in London, and as far as continuing to coach beyond that, he said he'll decide somewhere on the London Bridge when it's all over.
"I told my wife (Melanie) I was done head coaching in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008, and each time I proved to be a liar because something always brought be back," Urbanchek said. "Right now, I'm just looking at London, and I imagine I'll stand on London Bridge in 2012 and go one way or the other. I'm certainly still loving it now."