As a 10-year-old boy, Frank Burlison had to be rescued by a lifeguard on three different occasions twice at a lake front and once at a community pool.
His parents decided to enroll him in private lessons, setting the foundation for what would become Burlisons life passion.
For more than 40 years, including the past 26 with the Boise YMCA Swim Team, Burlison has given coaching, direction and encouragement to thousands of young swimmers.
His retirement on Aug. 24 as the Boise YMCA head coach marks a bittersweet end for many of Burlisons peers, and current and former swimmers.
Hes had swimmers who have gone on to become teachers, coaches, doctors, lawyers, business executives and judges. Thats what its really all about, YMCA CEO Jim Everett said. Any activity that we do, including sports, the primary motive is to develop great citizens, people that are going to do great things in the world.
Frank never forgets that first and foremost and swimming just happened to be a tool.
Burlison walked on to the University of Idaho swim team in 1964, where he became a team captain and Big Sky champion in the 200 breaststroke.
He spent more than a decade teaching and coaching throughout Oregon and Washington before landing what he thought was his dream job as the head mens and womens coach at Idaho. He held that post from 1982 until the program was dropped in 1986.
In August of 1986, Burlison was lured to the Boise YMCA, a competitor which he refered to in his youth days in Moscow as the evil empire.
It ended up being the perfect fit.
It is one of those things where by accident you find a great place, and thats what happened, Burlison said. I can give you a whole list of all the woes and things that Ive endured, but they dont compare to all the good things.
When Burlison took over the Boise YMCA program, there were about 40 swimmers. That number has grown to as many as 300 over the years.
The three-time Snake River Coach of the Year led the Boise YMCA team to its first regional championship in 1991, and the program has won the event 18 more times. Six Boise YMCA swimmers have won national titles, and Burlison was named the YMCA National Coach of the Year in 2003.
None of that matters to Burlison as much as watching the individual growth of his swimmers.
To see a child really make that breakthrough and really have the race and know that theyre swimming beyond what even you thought they could do, you have one of those a year sometimes. But it is enough fodder to keep you going for the next year, Burlison said.
Jenni Bradley was one of those swimmers Burlison helped step beyond her self-imposed limits. Bradley competed at YMCA Nationals (1989-92) and swam for one year at Cornell. She is now an OB-GYN in Boise, and both of her daughters are enrolled on the YMCA swim team.
I would say growing up I was a pretty decent swimmer, but when I started working with him I went from being an age-group level swimmer to realizing if I really worked hard at this that I could do well, Bradley said.
Over the years, Burlison said he has made it his focus to share the YMCAs core values with his athletes: care, respect, responsibility and honesty.
The thing that stands out to me about Frank is he was really focused on developing the whole person, not just in developing fast swimmers, said former athlete Rob Saldin, now a professor of political science at the University of Montana. He had a real long-term focus on helping young people grow personally in addition to growing as athletes.
The life lessons learned through swimming have helped many of Burlisons former athletes forge successful college careers both athletically and academically.
Many of those people are now choosing to enroll their own children in the same Boise YMCA program they grew up in.
It is a neat thing to see, Everett said. Probably the best demonstration of a good program is that they want their kids to experience what they got to experience.
Though Burlisons absence will take some getting used to, YMCA officials are confident they can keep the tradition of excellence alive.
Frank has a heart of gold. He absolutely loves these kids, and everyone of these kids feels like his own child, Everett said. We are going to miss him a lot, but he has created a real legacy and a great foundation.
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422,Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX