Passages: Robert Trotman, Diversity Advocate and Club Founder, 82

Photo Courtesy: Chandler Brandes

Passages: Robert Trotman, Diversity Advocate and Club Founder, 82

Robert Trotman, who spent six decades coaching swimming and extending swimming opportunities to historically underserved communities, died on March 22. He was 82 years old.

Trotman founded Nu-Finmen Swim Team in 1959, with Charles Simmons, with the aim of, “provid(ing) opportunities for children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to swim.” From the original location in Brooklyn, it expanded into Nassau County and Newark and Jersey City. The team is currently based in Cambria Heights, Queens. It has developed swimmers who would become all-state and NCAA All-American swimmers as well as numerous coaches. Trotman’s family estimates that more than 2,000 of his student-athletes graduated from college.

Both of his children, Jennifer and Todd, swam at William Paterson University. Jennifer is a swim coach, including at York College in Queens, where Robert was her assistant for 14 years. Todd is a swim official. Also among his pupils is Paulana Lamonier, the founder of Black People Will Swim.

Trotman grew up in Harlem and swam at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx in the 1950s, as the school’s first Black swim team captain. He worked for most of his life to dispel myths about the ability of Black people to swim and to extend opportunities to young Black children to access swim facilities and instruction. He also competed in AAU swimming and became a New York City lifeguard as a teen, then enlisted in the United States Army in 1962. He coached with the Finmen, which were variously called Trot’s Finmen before becoming Nu-Finmen in the 1990s, while working for the New York City subway as a motorman.

Trotman founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Swim Classic in 1981, which annually brings more than 1,000 swimmers to Long Island for a multicultural meet that attracts swimmers from the U.S. and the Caribbean. He was profiled for his work by the New York Times in 1973 and again in 1998. He won the 2014 USA Swimming and Diversity Inclusion Award and was the first minority coach to train age-group swimmers at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, as part of its outreach program.

“He wanted to get rid of the myth that Black people can’t swim,” Jennifer Trotman told the New York Times. “He grew up in swimming not seeing someone who looked like him. He felt it was important to see an example of what you can be.”

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x