PROVO, Utah, June 18. FORMER BYU swimmer and current assistant coach Billy Betz is no stranger to the spotlight in the friendly confines of the Richards Building pool, but recently Betz received national attention for his service far from Provo, earning Coca-Cola Community All-America honors for his volunteer work in El Salvador.
Chosen from a pool of national nominations, Betz is the first-ever recipient of the award in its inaugural year and the only Division 1-A athlete selected. The Coca-Cola Community All-Americans program recognizes, celebrates and applauds student-athletes who are making a difference in their communities. A $5000 donation will be made by Coca-Cola to Betz's charity of choice, the Health Education and Lifestyle Progress and Early Childhood Learning Foundation.
A former team captain and National Swimmer of the Week (March 6, 2003), Betz was recognized for his efforts in poverty-stricken communities in the Central American nation. Embodying BYU's motto of "Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve," Betz has spent one month during each of the last three summers and his entire Christmas holiday delivering medical supplies, performing vaccinations, suturing wounds and even delivering babies. In total, he has logged over 1900 hours performing such service.
"Billy is a guy who will volunteer for all kinds of service," said BYU swimming coach Tim Powers. "He sees a need and takes it upon himself to handle the need."
Betz's journey started when, as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in El Salvador, he saw the desperate conditions in the medical clinics. He returned to the country soon after his mission with Help International. During that trip, Betz decided something more had to be done.
"It began with the desire to be in a situation where I could help," Betz said. "It's reward enough to help others but it's even better to be able to see the results."
Help is definitely one thing Betz has provided. During his second humanitarian trip to El Salvador, the Logan, Utah, native loaded a 15-passenger van with supplies, including a mammogram machine, X-ray machine, two respirators, hospital gowns, syringes, scalpels, bed pans, clothes, food and miscellaneous medical supplies at a cost of $3000, which he gladly paid. Betz and a friend then made the 6-day trip, despite breaking down four times, to deliver the supplies. Last summer, with the aid of the American Red Cross, Betz again made the journey south with a 650-pound operating table, a mammogram machine, a wheel chair, clothes and hygiene kits.
An end to Betz's global humanitarian efforts is nowhere in sight. He hopes his next project will take him to Africa to build schools. Wherever the destination, Betz believes he has found the way to go.
"I've learned a lot," he said. "The main thing is that it's through serving and giving – even if you don't have a lot to give – that you really find out who you are and what you want out of life. For me, that is true happiness."