Legendary Swim Coach John ‘JR’ Rodgers Recovering From Heart Op With Eye On Aussie Charges In Gwangju

JohnJRRodgersKareenaLeeREEN LEE JR AND NICK SLOMAN PAN PACS
John 'JR' Rodgers flanked by Kareena Lee and Nick Sloman - Photo Courtesy: Ian Hanson

Story and main photo courtesy of Ian Hanson 

Legendary Australian swim coach John “JR” Rodgers will watch tomorrow’s Open Water Swimming World Championships in Gwangju, Korea from the confines of his hospital bed on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast – lucky to be alive.

The 81-year-old Noosa-based Olympic Team coach is on track to make a full recovery after undergoing major open heart surgery following the discovery of a 10cm tear in his aorta.

Rodgers business partner, fellow coach and former pupil, dual Olympian Graeme Brewer revealed today the man so affectionately know around the coaching world as “JR” will be released from hospital next week and will fight to coach another day.

The man who has guided some of Australia’s finest internationals to great heights at Olympics and World Championships over a celebrated coaching career suffered a serious heart episode while swimming at Noosa Aquatic Centre three weeks ago.

Rodgers, who is regarded as one of the fittest men for his age, scrambled to the side of the pool after swimming 400m, alerted lifeguards, before showering and driving himself to Noosa Hospital.

Once assessed he was transported to Kawana University Hospital for immediate testing , where doctors discovered the tear to the aorta.

Following open heart surgery, Rodgers spent four days in an induced coma, his family and friends by his side, praying that JR would pull through.

“I have to admit it was touch and go for the old boy but somehow, some way he managed to survive this ordeal…the doctors are amazed really….it is some what of a miracle,” said Brewer, who has been JR’s right hand man for many years.

“It just wasn’t his time…but all of us who know JR it probably doesn’t come as any surprise…a case of where there’s a will there’s a way. He is already up on the cycle and walking with the aid of a stick – he’s got a long way to go – we just have to insist he starts to eat to build himself up again.

“But I can tell all the coaches and the swimming community out there that JR will be back on pool deck – he lives for it and even if they wheel him onto the deck in a wheelchair he will be there that’s for sure.”

Brewer and Rodgers-coached 2012 English Channel conquerer and 2009 World Open Water 25km silver medallist Trent Grimsey, have been among the few guests who have been to visit him.

Coach Ron McKeon – Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

But many of his former swimmers, including Olympians Max Metzker and Ron McKeon, who is in charge of the Australian Open Water Team in Korea, have sent their best wishes.

Tomorrow Rodgers will be glued to his daughter Justine’s computer in the Eden Private Hospital in Cooroy watching his latest super-charge Kareena Lee contest the 10km Marathon Open Water Championship which doubles as Olympic selection.

Kareena Lee – Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

If Kareena and fellow Dolphin Chelsea Gubecka finish in the Top Ten they will be the first athletes nominated to the Australian Olympjc Team for next year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Then come Tuesday it will be Lee’s Noosa training partner, Nick Sloman’s turn to race the 10km World Championship race with once again immediate Olympic spots up for grabs in the Top 10.

With Rodgers in hospital it was Brewer who put the finishing touches to Lee and Sloman’s World’s preparation with two weeks training at the Sunshine Coast Grammar School Pool, which he said they were all so grateful – with Noosa closed for eight weeks.

One thing is certain JR with Brewer’s finishing touches, has his two swimmers, race fit and ready to swim the races of their lives.

And as if they needed it, the pair will now have extra motivation: to do it for JR!

  • The women’s 10km will start at 9am AEST with race coverage available through FinaTV and the men’s race Tuesday also from 9am.