Passages: Dick Fadgen, NCAA Champion and Long-Time Swim Coach, 86

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Photo Courtesy: Kelly Lennon

Passages: Dick Fadgen, NCAA Champion and Long-Time Swim Coach, 86

Richard Dennis “Dick” Fadgen, an NCAA champion and American record-holder before a long coaching career, died on May 7 at age 86.

Born in Rhode Island, Fadgen made a long career in the South, as a distinguished swimmer at NC State, then as a coach at the University of Memphis.

Fadgen was a six-time All-American at NC State, graduating in 1958. He won NCAA titles in the 200 breast and 200 fly at NCAAs in 1956, just the second and third in program history. He’s also one of just 11 Wolfpack swimmers to win American championships, winning seven in total across all sanctioning bodies (NCAA, AAU, etc.).

Fadgen won eight ACC championships: The 100 breast in 1957 and 1958, plus three-peating in the 200 breast and 200 fly from 1956-58. NC State won the ACC team title in 1956. He was a 1957 nominee for the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete. He set a world record in the men’s 220-yard breaststroke in 1954 at a meet at Yale.

In the pool, Fadgen came within a tenth of a second of being an Olympian in 1956, officially listed as an alternate for the Melbourne Games. He set an American record in the 200-meter breaststroke in prelims of Olympics Trials in Detroit at 2:44.0. But in finals, he finished a tenth of a second behind Robert Hughes in 2:44.5. Only Hughes made the Olympics, “selected as member of three-man group to represent the United State sat Olympic Games, in Breaststroke-Butterfly.” (It’s worth recalling that breaststroke and butterfly were still diverging as strokes in that decade.)

Fadgen represented the United State at the 1955 Pan Am Games in Mexico City, finishing eighth in the 200 breast, one of several international delegations he was part of.

Fadgen touched numerous lives as a coach for decades. A teacher at the University of Memphis starting in 1963, he founded the school’s varsity swimming program in 1970. He spent more than two decades at Memphis before the program was discontinued in the 1990s, though Memphis Tiger Swimming lives on as the YMCA level as a top club in the region. Fadgen previously coached at Appalachian State and High Point North Carolina Swim Club.

Fadgen was inducted to the Rhode Island Swimming Hall of Fame in 1983 and the North Carolina Swimming Hall of Fame in 1988. The Southeastern Swimming LSC, which encompasses all of Tennessee and Alabama plus part of the Florida panhandle, bestows the Dick Fadgen Coach of the Year Award. Memphis is planning to name the pool at the new Mike Rose Aquatics Center in Fadgen’s honor.

Dick Fadgen was predeceased by his wife of 58 years, Polly, in 2018. He is survived by five children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. The family is planning a celebration of life. In lieu of flowers, the family has established an honorarium through the University of Memphis.

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Hunter Bradshaw
8 months ago

An absolute legend. Coach Fadgen was my mother, Gaylor Ryan’s and my uncle, Holmes Peacher-Ryan’s coach in the 1950s and 1960s – and my uncle went on to be an All-American at Princeton. Coach Fadgen was also my first coach at what is now known as Memphis Tiger Swimming, where he was the mentor to my powerhouse coach, Rich Suhs. I was honored to have Coach Fadgen as my coach for nearly a decade and to have followed him after he left Memphis Tiger Swimming, to Barracuda Swim Club – which he founded in 1995. He was so incredibly generous and gave me many rides to and from practice. I will always cherish the times away from training that we spent together. Coach Fadgen was a powerful leader as well as a sage of the pool and of life. I’ll always hear his Rhode Island accent cheering my name – he loved his swimmers and we will always love you, Coach, thank you.

Last edited 8 months ago by Hunter Bradshaw
Philip Nenon
8 months ago

Coach Fadgen was a legend consistently producing national caliber swimmers from an area not as famous for talent as many others like CA, FL, TX, IN or OH. Also produced great coaches at local and elite-level who carried on the legend with Olympians & national champions. Coach Fadgen supported and encouraged but never bullied. Taught you lessons on effort, self-motivation and improvement over focusing on just awards or winning. And was so durn funny, and authentic, and took the extra effort when traveling to meets to take swimmers sightseeing, taste local culture, teach them to body surf in the ocean, and enjoy life outside the pool as well. Great coach and life well-lived.

Henry Bragg
8 months ago

Coach Fadgen was a great coach and his years of experience dripped on the pool deck. He along with his son Danny coached me during my high school years on the Barracuda Swim Team. As a miler, I was first in and last out of the pool, so I got to spend many hours with him between sets of repeating 100s. “Coach” didn’t have to ask you to swim hard for him, but you just did. I wish I had gone back to say thank you, and will always remember him. Easy Speed.