Passages: Don Lemieux, Coach of Olympic Champion Samantha Arsenault, 65

Samantha Arsenault, left, with Don Lemieux; Photo Courtesy: Samantha Arsenault Livingstone

Passages: Don Lemieux, Coach of Olympic Champion Samantha Arsenault, 65

Longtime club and high school coach Don Lemieux, whose pupils include Olympic gold medalist Samantha Arsenault, died on Saturday, Jan. 29. He was 65 years old.

Lemieux was a much-respected coach in Massachusetts. He coached Gardner High School to 16 state championships, including 15 consecutive titles from 1994-2008. He was also the head coach of Greenwood Swimming, where he mentored 16 qualifiers for U.S. Olympic Trials and helped dozens of swimmers get to college.

Arsenault, who swam at the University of Michigan and the University of Georgia and won a gold medal in the 800 freestyle relay for the U.S. at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, was the best known of the group.

Arsenault (now Samantha Livingstone) posted a memorial to her longtime coach on Instagram.

She wrote, in part:

“There are simply no words that could begin to capture the impact this man has had on my life. And yet, I’m determined to try, in time.

The grief feels a little too heavy tonight. …

I am so damn grateful that we kept in touch and moved through the hard stuff we navigated together as coach + athlete.

We turned toward the tough stuff together and created a relationship rooted in love and deep respect.”

Lemieux was an experienced coach in other sports – he played basketball in college, was an athletic administrator at Cushing Academy and had a career as a bodybuilder – when he became the superintendent at Greenwood Memorial Pool in 1980. Despite limited knowledge of the sport, he proved a quick learner and translated his past exploits to the pool.

“I thought, ‘Swimming? I don’t know,’” Lemieux told Worcester Magazine in a 2020 interview. “I had coached basketball, baseball and football. The more I thought about it, I said, ‘You know what? Here’s an opportunity for me to try something new. If I fail, I fail.’ In 1980, I took that job knowing it would be a big challenge for me.

“I made a promise to myself. At the first parent meeting, I told people I was going to get their kids to nationals. They laughed at me. That was it. It just fueled me. I traveled, met with the best coaches in the world, and studied for hours and hours. I would be at the pool from 4:30 in the morning until 9 at night. It got to a point where kids started coming to Gardner from everywhere.”

Lemieux was an ASCA Level 5 coach and served on the staff of the national junior team and at several Team USA camps.

Lemieux is survived by his wife, Patty, children Tricia and Donny, and three grandchildren.