By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
There’s no denying Ian Crocker had incredible passion for swimming when he was competing.
He proved it week after week, meet after meet with several short- and long-course world records, along with five medals (two gold) at three Olympic Games.
Crocker enjoyed a long, successful career spanning more than a decade, but when he knew it was time to retire in 2012, he made the decision with little hesitation.
Since then, he’s found another outlet – still involving the sport he’s loved since he was little – where he can channel that passion and help others at the same time.
“The main thing that keeps me busy is volunteer coaching for the University of Texas Women's team,” said Crocker, who earned 21 international medals in his storied career and was the first person to swim under 51 seconds in the 100-metrt butterfly. “I've been volunteering since the fall of 2012, right about the time Carol Capitani and Roric Fink took over the program.
“At the outset, I was curious to begin learning the ropes of coaching at the collegiate level and see if it might be something I'd like to pursue long-term. Over the last two years, I've discovered a passion within myself for helping high-level swimmers achieve their goals as individuals and as a team.”
When he’s not working with Texas swimmers and coaches, Crocker travels the country meeting and inspiring the next generation of great swimmers through the Mutual of Omaha Breakout Swim Clinics.
That helps fuel his love for coaching, something he became interested in while still competing. But it wasn’t until after he retired following the 2012 Olympics that he opened a swim school in Austin, Texas, which proved to be a great learning experience for him.
“Working with young swimmers reignited the excitement I had for the sport when I was a young age-group swimmer,” Crocker said. “After a year of teaching lessons, however, I decided there was still something missing. That’s when I began doing the breakout clinics with my good friend Josh Davis.”
The former world-record-holder in the 50 and 100 butterfly events (long-course) said when he started volunteer coaching at his alma mater, he discovered the element that was missing from coaching his swim school athletes.
He learned that coaching driven personalities like those you find in college swimming (like himself) turned out to be more fulfilling.
He said he feels that he’s able to draw upon his own unique experiences from his 18 years as an athlete and reinvest that knowledge back into the sport that gave him so much.
“At the point (of retirement), I was 26 years old and had been on the U.S. National Team for about a decade,” he said. “When I got serious about swimming in my early teens, I had three major dream goals: go the Olympics and win medals, get college paid for and break world records.
“In my last few years as a competitor, I still had goals I wanted to achieve, but I also started to find the answer to a nagging question that kept running through my mind – “What’s next? I stayed focused on my training and competitions as best as I could while I saw former National team teammates and Texas teammates getting advanced degrees, beginning careers and starting families. By 2012, I felt I'd achieved what I had set out to achieve as a competitor and it was time to expand my horizons.”
Before he decided to hang up his goggles and swimsuit, Crocker thought about giving competitive swimming another shot in 2011.
More than three years after his last swim meet (Beijing Olympics), he returned to the drug-testing pool, indicating his had intentions of returning to competition – and making a run at a fourth Olympics in 2012.
But he said, after really thinking things through, he decided that time had passed and he was ready to move on with the next phase of his life.
“Every summer during the major international swimming championships, I get inspired and want to jump back in the game,” said Crocker, who found balance and perspective about swimming and life when he married wife, Kristin, in October 2011. “In the summer of 2011 I was toying with the idea of training for London, partially because it felt odd to have an Olympics coming up and not be training for it.
“But when the rubber met the road, I realized I wasn't 18 anymore, and that makes a three-year hiatus a little harder to overcome! More importantly, at the time I was just beginning to get interested in coaching.”
Now, two years since his retirement, Crocker admits he still misses certain aspects about competition – the endorphin rush of attaining a long-standing goal, seeing friends at meets and even some aspects of training.
But overall, he knows he’s found his calling in coaching.
“In the early stages of retirement, it was nice to not have to be up for morning workouts, not be constantly tired from training, and to be able to eat more or less whatever I wanted,” said Crocker, who attributes his friendly competition with Michael Phelps in the 100 butterfly through the years as his biggest push toward success in international swimming.
“But after a few months of this newfound freedom with daily decisions, I realized that there really is no end to making sacrifices when swimming is over. It's just a part of healthy living, and living for success in any venture. It was only then that I became thankful for the life lessons I had acquired through swimming.”