Passages: Rusty Owens, Hall of Fame Swim Coach, 84

Rusty Owens Photo Courtesy: Jennifer Pompei

Rusty Owens, an International Swimming Hall of Fame member who coached for more than 60 years and worked with two Olympians, died Sunday at age 84.

Owens carved out a legendary career in his native central Pennsylvania, where he worked with Olympians Anita Nall (who won silver and bronze in breaststroke plus medley relay gold in Barcelona in 1992) and Jeremy Linn (winner of silver in the 100 breast and gold in the medley relay in Atlanta in 1996). Owens was inducted to the International swimming Hall of Fame in 2010 as the recipient of the G. Harold Martin Award.

The cause of death was listed as complications due to dementia.

Owens started his sporting life as a football player at John Harris High School and Lebanon Valley. But after enlisting in the Marines in 1953, he became a swimming instructor, a decision that would alter the course of his life. He returned to Harrisburg in 1958 to start a string of coaching jobs, first at the local YMCA.

Owens coached at Hershey Aquatic Club as well as Harrisburg Swim Club, plus stops at Harrisburg High School, Elizabethtown College and Lebanon Valley College. He was equally devoted to tutoring swimmers on the country club scene as he was in bringing learn-to-swim clinics to inner-city pools. Into his 80s, he was still coaching at the Colonial Golf and Tennis Club and the Lower Paxton Aquatic Club.

“He wasn’t so much about creating Olympic swimmers that he could rack up on his own, he was about seeing you achieve greatness and applying that greatness to the rest of your life,” Rusty Owens’ son, Dr. R. Scott Owens, told “I think his legacy, it was more of a teacher and a molder of individuals. He allowed each individual to pursue their own greatness and helping them achieve that, and that’s what he did, and most people who he coached walked away feeling better about themselves.”

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  1. avatar
    David Hall

    As a local swimmer for a competing team, Coach Owens was one of the first coaches who acknowledged my swimming ability. I’ll never forget the first time he called me over to him by name after a swim meet and gave me pointers. Can you imagine that in today’s competitiveness? An opposing coach giving pointers to a swimmer who just took first place. He was an amazing person.

    You will be missed, sir.

  2. Jenn Aber Korbly

    Rusty Owens had a tremendous impact on the lives of so many families in central Pennsylvania. Whether the goal was learning to swim or learning how to swim faster and with better technique, Rusty made an indelible impact. His unique voice and his ability to make swimming fun will forever stay with every person whose life he touched

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