By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
While still competing, Scott Usher never really thought of pursuing coaching as a career option.
In fact, he was warned that the coaching lifestyle could be difficult if a balance between coaching and family couldn’t be found.
Heeding this advice at the conclusion of his competitive swimming career, Usher gravitated toward coaching anyway – and he couldn’t be more happy.
“Fortunately, I’ve been able to find balance, and I have had some wonderful mentors in Tom Johnson, Dan Ross and Pete Lindsay who have demonstrated and assisted me in achieving that balance,” said Usher, an assistant men’s swim coach with Miami (Ohio) University, where he recently completed his master of science degree in athletic administration. “The past few years coaching swimmers has been a great opportunity to share my experience as an athlete and give them my perspective on the sport.
“The most enjoyable component of working in the collegiate setting is seeing the student-athletes develop and mature from freshmen to seniors. It’s rewarding to see an individual who doesn’t know which way is up when they arrive at the University developing into a leader and securing his lifelong career dream by graduation. Having the meetings with my athletes that discuss not just swimming but life and the pursuit of life goals after swimming is very rewarding to me.”
Usher’s coaching gig at Miami started three years ago when wife Shannon’s career (after graduating from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis) took them back to her hometown of Cincinnati.
While she was finishing her degree, Usher got his coaching feet wet working as the head developmental swimming coach with St. Louis’ Parkway School District from 2009-2010. After that, he did a communications internship at USA Swimming during the summer of 2011.
“The opportunity at Miami was more than I could pass up three years ago,” said Usher, who was an athlete rep and clinician for USA Swimming – communicating with parents and swimmers and teaching and demonstrating technique, etc. – from 2004-2009. “The ability to gain experience coaching a Division I team along with obtaining my master’s degree was more than I could ask for.”
Coming from small-town Grand Island, Neb., out of high school, Usher wasn’t greeted with the throngs of college swimming scholarship offers that most future Olympians receive (although he did receive an offer from a top 10 program).
Nonetheless, when he visited the University of Wyoming in 2001, he knew almost instantly that this was the right environment from an education and coaching standpoint that could help him move forward in and out of the pool.
“I am proud to say that I am a Wyoming Cowboy and that I was blessed with my opportunity to attend the University,” said Usher, who earned his degree in criminal justice in 2006 intending to pursue a career with the FBI.
“When I took my trip to Wyoming I was met by an enthusiastic, passionate and intelligent coach in Tom Johnson. I knew that with his coaching, the direction of the team and the outdoors opportunities available, Wyoming was the place for me.
“It was the people who were around me during my time at Wyoming that helped to develop me into the Olympian I am today. I always trained hard, loved to compete and had an edge over my competition. The coaching staff, graduate assistant in Robert Boysen and all of my teammates were the ones who helped create the competitor in me and achieve the goals that I set out in front of me.”
After a couple of years in the program, Usher developed into one of the top breaststrokers in the country and went into 2004 Olympic Trials as a true contender. He left Long Beach as a member of the Olympic team, finishing second to Brendan Hansen to earn a spot.
While his Olympic performance didn’t go as he’d hoped (he made the finals and finished seventh), Usher said he looks back on that whole experience with very fond memories.
“My 2004 experiences at the Olympic Trials and Olympics were amazing,” Usher said. “The rush of excitement that I felt once I qualified for the Olympics is one that I am rarely going to experience ever again.
“The opportunity to represent something on the scale of the United States of America was life-changing. The opportunity to represent my country has changed my life forever, and the experiences that I went through during those days have helped mold me into the person I am today. It was simply, AMAZING.”
Usher went on to earn a spot on World Championship teams from 2005 to 2007, but came up just short of earning a second trip to the Olympics with his third-place finish in the 200 breast at 2008 Olympic Trials in his home state.
He said once he took his last stroke but didn’t make the top two, he knew his great swimming run was over – and he was good with that.
“When I finished my race at the 2008 Olympic Trials and saw a third place by my name on the scoreboard, I was disappointed but that is it,” Usher said. “I vividly remember walking back to the warm down pool and sitting on the deck with my arm around my training partner Giordan Pogioli who also competed in the finals and saying, ‘What a ride!’ I knew at that moment that I was finished with my swimming career, and I was not upset with that because of my preparation ahead of time. I made sure that I prepared day-in and day-out to perform at my best ability at that one moment so that I would be content with any result.
“I believe that my swimming career was exactly what it should have been. Of course, I would have loved to win an Olympic gold medal but that was not one of my chapters to write. My career was full of rewarding and fulfilling moments, challenging and character building opportunities, along with special friendships and life changing experiences.
With his career path firmly in-hand, Usher said starting a family with Shannon and buying their first house – as well as transitioning into a sports administration career – are his next priorities along with always remembering and embracing his roots and reaching out to others whenever possible.
“The future for me is as bright as ever, and I look forward to being in a position to give back to organizations and people that have given me so much. I live a truly blessed life,” Usher said. “Being that I have always been from areas that may not have been considered to have prestigious pedigrees or credentials in the sport of swimming, I’m very proud of my accomplishments.
“These places that I am from are places where, from birth, achievements are silently celebrated and a handshake is as good as a contract. It was never about proving something because of where I came from, but it was always about challenging my limits as an athlete and person so that I could improve upon the places I could go.”