Passages: Masters Champion, Coach Geoff Mykleby Leaves Legacy

geoff-mykleby
Photo Courtesy: Adam Mania

Passages: Masters Champion, Coach Geoff Mykleby Leaves Legacy

By Adam Mania

The swimming community lost a legend over the weekend. Dr. Geoff Mykleby, also known to some as Molar, The Party Planner, Wolfpack, Dr. Deluxe (I’m sure there are more nicknames) succumbed to a long battle with cancer wrapped in his Big Shoulders Open Water swim shirt that would be his last race. He was 70.

To know Dr. Mykleby’s dying wish, was him in a nutshell– He wanted as many of his Schroeder YMCA and Cedar Rapids YMCA friends to come out and race together at YMCA Masters Nationals in his honor. He tirelessly called to try to get as many people to come out and do what he always did. Bring swimmers together.

We FaceTimed him from the pool deck. We texted him our splits. We bombarded him with lots of selfies from the bar. With a Seagrams VO&7 in hand, his fave drink.

Mykleby was the reason I kept swimming after college. I had just competed at World Championships and had graduated college at Wisconsin, but was unsure if any more racing would be in my future. I was feeling pretty burnt out– doubles every day and ~7000 yard sprint practices will do that to you. Coincidentally however, Mykleby happened to be the dentist to some of my friends in Milwaukee and he got in touch with me for some private lessons for a high school swimmer he was mentoring. After a couple pasta dinners he convinced me to move to Milwaukee and train/coach at the Schroeder YMCA with Dave Anderson and Matt Miller.

That decision changed my life. But not just the competing. It was how I would treat swimming in my heart. A gift. An opportunity. A family. Anytime you meet a swimmer, prepare to get sucked into a long conversation. There is a profound bond when you have a shared trauma of staring at that black stripe on the bottom of the pool for endless, painful hours.

As I got to know Mykleby more and more I realized that he was in the business of helping swimmers everywhere. He would volunteer his time giving free clinics in underwater dolphin kicking all over Wisconsin and Illinois. He donated time and money to get the Westgate Pool in Omaha going again, one of his childhood summer league pools. He would go to all the national meets and take pro swimmers out to fancy dinners and ask how he can help them continue swimming. He knew that pro swimming was not easy, nor lucrative. He frequently helped recent college swim grads make connections to kickstart their careers. Even convincing quite a few swimmers to become Dentists themselves. He frequently visited the swimmers at NC State, his alma mater, and gave pep talks, spreading the gospel of the meaningful togetherness that swimming brings. He would give pep talks to the kids at Schroeder as they prepared for YMCA Nationals. He would arrange for young swimmers to enjoy the ISHOF museum with a guided tour from Bruce Wigo. In return for free dental work from him, he would request us to give lessons to those who didn’t have the financial means to pay for them. Mykleby didn’t have children. So swimmers everywhere were automatically his family.

His social circle was unparalleled. I’ve never seen someone shake so many hands on a pool deck. He was also the dentist for the Milwaukee Brewers, frequently giving his season tickets away to swimmers. Sometimes they would even be a bribe. “If I give you these tickets, you have to come to masters practice tomorrow, and bring a friend.” You’d be surprised how many couples he introduced to each other because of their swimming backgrounds. If he found out you had once been a swimmer in your past, he was 100% determined to get you back in the water. “Swimming doesn’t have to be what it used to be for you,” he would say.

team-mykleby

Photo Courtesy: Adam Mania

He coined a term that I hope everyone adopts regarding swimming in adult life. He called it the “Executive Taper.” In high school and college– as we all know– swimming means serious business. But after that, as real life ramps up, swimming should stay on taper. If you’re gonna go to an evening masters practice, make time to grab drinks afterwards. If you miss this week, no big deal. Just try again next week, life will be ok! Only got 20 minutes? That’s 20 more minutes of aqua therapy that you wouldn’t have had. Being in the water should be a spiritual experience no matter how many yards you do. And intervals? Forget it! We called that “Going on the Molar.” Because that time you spend on the wall chatting and waiting for the next interval,   is just as valuable as the yardage. He believed that whatever you’re in the water for, do it because you want to, not because you have to. And if you feel you have to, figure out how to change that to want to.

Mykleby never let his diagnosis keep him out of the water. If he couldn’t swim, life wasn’t worth it. His last race would be at the Big Shoulders Open Water in Lake Michigan where he was carried out to the lake’s edge. I talked to him on the phone after that and would be hard pressed to remember him happier. That includes after he broke the USMS National Record several years back.

Setting a US Open record. Making the US National Team. Winning a National title. Going best times after college yet swimming a fraction of the yardage. Being a masters coach. And giving countless lessons to aspiring swimmers everywhere. Making the best damn friends imaginable. All never would’ve happened if not for him. I’m sure there are plenty more of you whom he has had a tremendous impact on. And countless more hilarious stories. And whether you knew him or not, I hope you make your way back to the pool, and do a couple extra dolphin kicks for our departed friend Dr. Geoff Mykleby.

RIP old friend and may the swim gods let you go past 15m for eternity.

Adam Mania

 

There will be a service in Milwaukee for Mykleby on June 30.

Subscribe
Notify of
avatar
9 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
avatar
eric jernberg
27 days ago

thanks adam

avatar
Lindsey King
27 days ago

Beautiful tribute Adam. Thank you for sharing with those of who knew him and the few who did not. He certainly left an impact and his loss is profoundly felt. But his legacy and spirit, which you capture so eloquently hear, is greater. What a life.

avatar
Jeanne
27 days ago

A great tribute to Geoff by Adam. Geoff set two USMS records at age 55 in the 50 and 100 yard backstrokes. What a great swimmer and it’s been a privilege to have known him. And, yes, a few times he gave me backstroke pointers after the Schroeder Masters workout. He will be missed.

avatar
Stephen “Sid” Cassidy
27 days ago

Tears in my eyes … I joined a masters team this spring to honor that exact aquatic love Geoff spread so generously ….a Wolfpack brother from way back and you hit so many deep chords there Adam … I do have some stories… we will share one day …. Extreme gratitude from all my heart for sharing ❤️

avatar
Bobby Wu
27 days ago

A wonderful tribute

avatar
Cyndy Raatz
27 days ago

Geoff was the reason my kids joined Schroeder. Coach Dave had asked a couple months earlier and didn’t want to be a pest by asking again. But Geoff noticed them being trained by their dad and asked instead. The family had just discussed at dinner that night before we went to the pool about how the kids wanted to be on the team, so Fred said if they get asked again he would say, “Yes.” Lo and behold, a couple hours later Geoff was the pest in Dave’s stead. Geoff knew my boys–and later Abi–would be good matches. My oldest made his first Y Nationals cut his very first year on the team! All because of Geoff’s eagle eye and audacity.

avatar
Nick Gearhart
26 days ago

Awesome article, Adam, you caught the Molinator to the “T,” thank you. I met Geoff in the summer of 1968 when his family moved to Cedar Rapids from Omaha and he joined our already powerful and multi defending state champion high school swim team at Cedar Rapids Washington. What a great addition and Geoff and I became fast friends, double dating in college, enjoying many great ski trips in Colorado plus YMCA Masters Nationals and being part of OTHG. I have a whole bevy of stories to share someday…..RIP my friend.

avatar
Robert Strand
26 days ago

He was “bigger then life” such a great character!!!! and so much fun!

avatar
Thomas Mole
23 days ago

A great man, with a great legacy to unfold the future.

9
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x