Russell “Rusty” Owens, a man who coached swimmers at all levels for 60 years in the Harrisburg area in Central Pennsylvania, has died at the age of 84.
Owens got his start with the sport of swimming while serving with the Marines in the 1950s. During a nighttime drill exercise in a swamp, six members of a 74-man platoon drowned, which led the Marines to create a learn-to-swim program in which Owens was selected as one of the instructors.
Upon returning home to Harrisburg in 1958, Owens started teaching swimming lessons at the local YMCA and eventually found himself coaching the local swim team.
His teaching ability ranged from preschool-aged children, who he called “Puffins”, up to a pair of Olympic medalists in Anita Nall and Jeremy Linn.
Nall won three medals at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, including a gold in the women’s 400 medley relay and individual silver and bronzes in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. Linn was a gold medalist in the men’s 400 medley relay at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and added a silver individually in the 100 breaststroke.
Owens would coach at all levels over the course of his career, including AAU teams in the Hershey and Harrisburg area, high school teams, summer swim clubs and local Division III colleges. Most recently he coached the Lower Paxton Aquatic Club and the Colonial Clippers.
In 2010, he was honored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF) with the G. Harold Martin Award, which is “Presented for long and exceptional leadership, insight and dedication to the water safety of children and the cause of making every child a swimmer.”
“You always knew that he cared,” Owens’ friend and fellow coach, Mike Mausner, told ABC 27. “Little kids gravitated to him.
“He had that smile. If you knew Rusty, you loved him. He was just a great human being.”
The last line of his bio on the ISHOF website gives a good indication of the legacy he leaves behind.
“Rusty’s proudest moments have not been starting off world-class swimmers, but developing world-class individuals. Taking an awkward, fearful youngster, struggling to take a few strokes and molding he or she into a self-confident streamlined swimmer and worthy citizen has been his forte.” -ISHOF