Sam Kendricks: Cancer Won’t Silence The Voice Of Announcer Extraordinaire

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Sam Kendricks at the 2016 NCAA Championships -- Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

Sam Kendricks: Cancer Won’t Silence The Voice Of Announcer Extraordinaire

By John Lohn and David Rieder

His booming voice is known to many in the sport. So is his passion. And, perhaps more than anything, the care he exhibits while performing his craft is deeply appreciated. Sam Kendricks, indisputably, is part of the fabric of our sport, a mainstay behind the microphone for decades.

From the NCAA Championships to U.S. Nationals, and hundreds of competitions in between, Kendricks has long been recognized as one of the main voices of swimming. He has a knack for exciting a crowd, lifting fans to their feet and imploring them to rally those in the pool to the wall. Now, Kendricks needs the swimming community to rally around him, as the announcer extraordinaire is fighting the battle of his life against cancer.

Kendricks is currently battling a rare form of cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma, which affects approximately 2000 Americans per year. The cancer is actually a form of skin cancer, but it is typically triggered by a virus rather than exposure to ultraviolet radiation through sunlight. Kendricks discovered the cancer in September when he observed a growing mass under his arm, and scans showed a cancerous tumor that had spread into his lymph nodes. He had surgery to remove the mass in late October.

However, Kendricks began experiencing back pain in December, and doctors found that the cancer had metastasized (spread into parts of his torso). He is currently undergoing immunotherapy every three weeks, and he is working with a team of doctors based in New Mexico and also a team in Seattle that represent the world’s foremost experts on Merkel cell carcinoma. Kendricks hopes that his body responds to immunotherapy, but it could be several months before it is clear whether the treatment is effective. He and his doctors intend to explore other treatments in the future if warranted.

Given the current realities of the cancer, Kendricks will not be on the pool deck announcing his usual slate of college championship meets, which is a big loss for the swimming community. He has called the Big-12 Championships since the inception of the conference in the mid-1990s, and he has been the announcer at every Division I NCAA Championships for more than a decade.

Despite the difficulties that clearly lie ahead and the less-than-ideal prognosis, Kendricks is doing well, and he remains upbeat.

“It’s not going to do me any good to be morbid or morose. It’s not going to help my wife (Shay) or anyone around me. Anyone who’s had a diagnosis like this who tells you that they don’t have these moments of fear are lying. My wife and I decided as a couple, as a team, that we have those moments, and we move on,” Kendricks said. “You’re going to have those moments as you start thinking about your own mortality. That’s there, but you can’t live like that.”

Kendricks cited several examples of others who have been an inspiration to him in his cancer battle. One is his mother, who passed away from cancer in 2012 but fought to live through the U.S. Olympic Trials so she could hear her son’s announcing on television. Another is Swimming World publisher Brent Rutemiller, who has been undergoing treatment for plasma cell leukemia since June. Kendricks said that to honor those other individuals who have fought or continue to fight cancer, he plans to battle the disease with every bit of energy he can muster.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Kendricks has been best known for his career as an announcer, but he has been associated with elite swimming since 1980. As an undergraduate student at the University of Texas, he was a manager on Eddie Reese’s teams, including the first national-title-winning squad in 1981. He was later an assistant coach for the Texas women under Richard Quick from 1985 to 1987, and then he coached club teams in Arkansas for eight years. After leaving club coaching, he was asked to return to one of his old clubs to announce a meet, and his career in announcing took off from there.

In addition to his recent work on the college level, Kendricks has been one of the primary voices for USA Swimming competitions for more than two decades. He was part of the announcing team at five Olympic Trials (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016). In addition, he has worked for the past 19 years as a residential realtor in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

As an announcer, Kendricks developed a signature style that brought excitement to crowds around all corners of the country. He reserved his primary catchphrase, “BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA,” for the most impressive of swims. His voice is nearly inseparable from the record-breaking moments at the NCAA Championships in the last generation. But Kendricks explained that when he announces, he hopes to showcase each swimmer in a way that will make their experience at the meet as positive as possible.

“My goal is really just to highlight and find experiences and memories and spot situations that really accentuate what is great about that swimmer, that relay, that team, whatever it is, and remember that there are people in the stands that this means so much on behalf of that swimmer or diver that you want to give them as much as you can,” Kendricks said.

Even though he will not be announcing this year’s NCAA meets for the first time in many years, Kendricks has set a goal that he is healthy enough to travel to Atlanta to watch as a spectator.

“When you’re known in the sport by one name, it means you’ve made it, and that certainly can be said for Sam,” said John Lohn, the Editor-in-Chief of Swimming World. “You walk into NCAAs or Nationals and athletes, coaches, parents, media — they all hope Sam will be the guy calling the meet. If he is, you know you’re going to get a passionate call of the action and the utmost respect for the athletes. Sam is always about the individuals in the water, and he wants them to receive all the support the crowd can provide. There is a special energy in the venue when Sam is on the call.”

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Don Henshaw
6 months ago

Prayers and well wishes Sam!

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Huddie Murray
6 months ago

Best announcer ever! Sam, your attitude about this challenge exemplifies your character….strong, positive, realistic….Love and prayers for you always – Huddie