The headlines read “Olympic Team Coach Randy Bennett”, “Coach of Ryan Cochrane Randy Bennett”, it is appropriate as those are his most notable public accomplishments, but not his most profound. Randy was an inspiration and a mentor to many and most importantly he was an incredible friend, father and husband.
Randy’s entry into coaching was unique. He was a lifeguard in Fort McMurray, a small oil town in Northern Alberta, when Don Wilson, the Head Coach of the local team asked him to join his staff. Wilson told me that Randy often joked that the only reason he got the job is because Wilson needed a warm body on deck.
Randy came into to coaching with the same attitude that he would continue to have throughout his career, an unrelenting, uncompromising commitment to excellence. Wilson said he had that same attitude coaching 10 year olds or Olympic medalists, he believed what he believed and stuck to it.
I met Randy in 1997 when I was a young coach seeking out mentors. I approached Randy, who was coaching at the UBC Dolphins with Tom Johnson. He was the same guy that day as he was 18 years later intense, passionate and dedicated.
He was willing to have me on deck while he coached at UBC, but under his conditions ensuring that I was accountable and committed to learning.
He held me to the standard he set and once he realized that I was serious about the mentorship he was extremely generous with his time and what he was willing to share. He answered all of my questions and took time away from the pool to answer even more.
I learned many things about training, technique and tactics, but what stuck with me was the amount of care he showed all the swimmers in the pool and the environment that he and Tom worked hard to create.
From Wilson I learned that Randy sought out those same experiences throughout his career. He wanted to learn from the best and continued to seek out more knowledge. One of his mentors was Dave Johnson, former Canadian National Team Head Coach, discussed Randy’s rise in the coaching profession with great pride, “Wendy (Johnson) and I are so sad about the loss of a friend and colleague,” said Johnson.
“We first met Randy when he was coaching in Fort McMurray with Don Wilson and remained connected and proud of him as he moved through the steps of his career.”
“We remember his mischievous smile and great insight into performance and working with all levels of swimmers. He began coaching with us at Edmonton Keyano as an assistant with Wendy in the development program and over the six seasons with us watched his experience and passion for the sport grow.”
“He moved on to a head coach role in various programs and then went to Vancouver and UBC and his development and excellence began to shine through. Always inquisitive and somewhat demanding of himself, his peers, and his swimmers the journey to Island and subsequently to the lead role in the centre and then the national team was a remarkable sight to behold.”
“We were super excited and proud of him as we watched Ryan win his first Olympic medal in Beijing. Then he took Canada career the world by storm in terms of his reliability in creating the program for his swimmers and the successes he had with Ryan.”
I will never forget the amount of care he showed me throughout my career.
I stepped off the deck for a year and upon my return I began working with a small club that had struggled for years. Randy and I talked about the situation, he and I both agreed that the team needed patience and time to develop.
A year later when the club was not performing the way I thought it should I was angry and frustrated and it showed. When walking by me on the pool deck at a competition Randy saw how unhappy and emotionally exhausted I had become.
Instead of just walking by and saying hi he sat down and reminded me of the conversation we had a year prior. He asked me again if I thought that patience is what was needed and if so why was I veering from that. Our conversation helped me a lot, it helped my team a lot and it taught me that a commitment to excellence didn’t mean you had to be impatient.
Because he didn’t falter in his belief in his philosophy it was much easier for the athletes that swam with him to trust in what he did.
Mark Versfeld, 1998 Commonwealth Games double gold medalist, swam with Randy in Fort McMurray as an age group swimmer and then once again at UBC, “For me it was tough because I had known him since childhood and it was one of the few reminders of my youth in Fort McMurray that I still saw once in awhile,” said Versfeld.
“I began and finished my career around him. For many others it was the respect and appreciation for his ability to tear through any crap and work hard with people who wanted to succeed.”
“Many of those people were the less promising ones handed to him in years of assistant coaching who were appreciative of his ability to teach them that they could also be the best,” commented Versfeld.
The last time I saw Randy he was extremely generous once again, this time away from the pool.
I had not seen him for more than a year, I needed a place to stay when taking a course in Victoria. Randy and his wife Leslie opened their doors to me. In fact they were only going to be in town one of the nights I was in Victoria, but had no problem with me staying in the house with their two boys Kyle and Brett.
Watching him interact with his family you could see how important all of them were to him.
The first morning I woke up and had breakfast with Randy who stayed true to character. We spoke about training and the state of swimming in Canada. He made his opinion known loud and clear many times over. He challenged me with questions and never let up.
When I asked Wilson about Randy away from the pool he told me he was exactly like he was at the pool, he stood for what he believed and he was a committed friend.
It obvious to anyone how much Bennett loved his family and how much his family loved him in return, “While he was certainly tough as a coach he was also caring and wanted to see the best results possible,” said Olympic finalist Mike Mintenko.
“I especially remember when his wife Les would come by the UBC aquatic center to say hello with his 18 month old son Brett. I remember the smile on Randy’s face as his little guy walked on the deck and interacted giving high fives to his swimmers.”
“Randy was a great coach but and even better father and husband. As a father now myself I certainly can appreciate that moment. My thoughts and prayers go out to Les and the boys.”
Ryan Cochrane’s words in his Facebook statement expresses exactly how much his family was willing to support him in his quest to achieve his goals:
“Coaching was Randy’s passion and his life. He sacrificed an incredible amount to support his athletes over his 30 year career.
“His wife Lesley and boys, Kyle and Brett, knew the enthusiasm Randy held towards the sport, and supported him unwaveringly towards his goals. This was even more apparent when I was able to reach the Olympic podium in Beijing, as it took Randy and that family support to get there. For over 200 days of the year we traveled for training and competitions, time dedicated to sporting excellence.”
“Everyone gave up something on the road to the Olympics, and the Bennetts never once questioned that it was the right thing to do. If I could speak for every athlete coached by Randy, I’d thank the Bennett’s for allowing us to share in his enthusiasm and his passion.”
Randy’s company will be missed, but the positive influence he had on the sport and more importantly many people’s lives will last forever.
“Randy was a friend, colleague and competitor who made us all better. His passion, commitment and dedication made us all better.”
“He showed us and the World that distance freestyle can be produced from anywhere. His love of the sport and his humor will be missed. I wish the best to his family and his team.” – Tom Johnson.
“He has left us way too soon, I will miss Randy!” – Mike Mintenko.
“He loved what he did and his dedication to his athletes will never be forgotten. He is a Legend.” – Mark Versfeld.
“Greatly missed, never forgotten.” – Dave and Wendy Johnson
“Words cannot properly describe how any of us feel at this point. We are lost without our leader, saddened without our friend, yet hopeful that through his passionate work, his legacy will live on indefinitely.”
“I would not be the athlete or person I am today without him and I take comfort in knowing that Randy loved his time as a coach. He really reveled in being better every day, and to honour our friend, we must continue those ideals for years to come.” – Ryan Cochrane.