Coaching at Purdue Valuable Part of Evan Austin’s Quest for Third Paralympics

Evan Austin, front, and Rudy Garcia Tolson; Photo Courtesy: Kevin McCarthy

As Evan Austin mounted a charge for what he hoped would be a third Paralympics, he recognized that he needed a change.

It was the fall of 2019, and Austin was fresh off arguably his greatest accomplishment in the pool, a gold medal in the 50-meter butterfly at the 2019 World Championships. A veteran of six championship finals at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Paralympics, Austin sought a new training challenge.

So after being a resident team member at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, he returned closer to his roots, the Terre Haute, Indiana, native joined the training group at Purdue University.


Evan Austin at the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Trials; Photo Courtesy: Kevin McCarthy

One equally important factor in that move was the chance for Austin to renew his interest in coaching, as a volunteer assistant for the Boilermakers’ women’s team.

“It gives you a new perspective and changes how you see things, how you see strokes, and also how you receive criticism,” Austin said last week via Zoom as part of a panel at the USOPC Media summit. “So I think it’s really valuable that I’ve had the ability to be on both sides of my sport. It’s something I look forward to in the future. I think coaching and being on the outside of the pool looking in is something maybe that’s in my future. I think it’s a valuable asset that I’ve had and gotten to be a part of.”

“Valuable asset” is how Purdue women’s coach John Klinge describes Austin’s time at the school. Austin is in Klinge’s training group, so he both coaches and coaches with Austin. It’s an arrangement Klinge has had with plenty of swimmers in his 13 seasons at the helm of Purdue, but few have had the effect Austin does.

“He brings such a big amount of heart and passion to practice every day, whether he’s swimming or he’s on deck coaching,” Klinge told Swimming World. “He’s motivating to be around in every way. … The biggest thing he brings is he’s had some struggles that other people haven’t had in their lives and is able to stay so incredibly upbeat and passionate, but more than that, optimistic. That just rubs off on everyone everyday.”

Austin, who competes in S7, SB6 and SM7 classifications, brought experience to West Lafayette. A graduate of Terre Haute South Vigo High, he worked as an assistant at Terre Haute South. In between, he earned his degree in public communications at Indiana State in 2015.

Now 28, Austin is looking toward a future in coaching when his days in the pool are over. Klinge sees obvious potential in him to do big things on the deck. As proof, he cites how many of the early obstacles Austin has surmounted with such professionalism.

One fear Austin expressed was about how he’d be perceived by the women he was coaching. Klinge didn’t clock Austin’s apprehension in that department until they talked about it well into his tenure. And the ease with which Austin adapted gave Klinge no reason to be concerned.

Klinge instead was on the lookout for another potential friction point: Sometimes, when you have a coach who also trains with his pupils, there can be points of tension. Again, Klinge saw Austin navigate that dynamic flawlessly.


Evan Austin; Photo Courtesy: Kevin McCarthy

“I was afraid that they were going to maybe not accept me and maybe not listen to me, thinking that maybe I don’t really know what I’m talking about,” Austin said. “But I’ve been welcomed here like a member of the family and everyone seems to accept the critiques and techniques, the work that I give and relate to my swimmers. I’m with them in the trenches when they hop in the pool. That’s something that’s helped me grow as a swimmer and as a person, too.”

“He bridges that very easily,” Klinge said. “It’s not been an issue. Even when he’s in the water, there’s a certain level of respect for him that the team gives, so he’s like a coach in the water.”

Austin spent plenty of time in 2020 out of the water due to COVID-19-related closures. A friend let him use their family’s lake house to shift to open-water training, with the friend in a paddleboat as a spotter for errant boats and tubers.

All the anticipation over the last year for the chance to finally get to Tokyo has made Austin all the more excited and appreciative for that opportunity.

“You’re ready to compete,” he said. “We were in that mindset last year that it was going to happen and then the postponement happened and I believe that was the right call, I really do. I think safety is the most important thing for all the athletes. And now we get the opportunity. I just had the itch for a year now to race. …

“I think the Olympics are obviously a significant sporting event in themselves. They stand alone as a feat of what the world can do when it comes together, and I feel like this is going to have an extra pinch of sugar and spice on it because the world had to come through this whole thing together. And now we get to put not only Team USA’s athletes but everyone’s athletes on display and show the world that we’re a resilient species.”

When that training is done, Klinge will be eagerly awaiting his return to West Lafayette.

“He’s made it incredibly easy,” Klinge said. “He’s so professional and passionate about what he’s doing. Whether he’s working with me on deck and we’re coaching or he’s in the water, it’s kind of a seamless transition.”

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