Shawn Delifus, Head Age Group Coach of the Julington Creek Loggerheads, died peacefully, but unexpectedly, at the age of 30 on April 22nd. Shawn was loved by swimmers throughout the country, and inspired people from all walks of life.
After graduating from the University of North Florida in 2007, Shawn began his coaching journey with the UNF collegiate women’s team and the club team, North Florida Swimming, that trained on the campus. Following his time at UNF, Shawn coached at YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, YMCA of Central Florida, and the Blue Eagle Swim Team (Nazareth, PA) before joining the Loggerheads. He coached swimmers at all levels, from beginners to some of the nation’s top elite athletes.
Coach Shawn’s success led him to an ASCA Level 4 certification, placing him among the top swim coaches in the nation. He led several swimmers to reach goals beyond what they could’ve imagined, including anything from age group titles and state records to qualification for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Many of his swimmers went on to finish their swimming careers in the NCAA.
There were so many things about Shawn that made him special to his swimmers. He was motivated, inspirational, and committed to the work we all needed to do, but he was also fun and friendly to everyone. Shawn perfectly balanced his competitive drive with his love for swimming. He cared about promoting the sport of swimming beyond all rivalries, extending well wishes and friendship to the competition. He would do anything to get his swimmers to go fast, whether that meant putting on a pink tutu, coaching in a Santa suit, or using Star Wars logic in his unique coaching style.
It’s really hard to describe Shawn with words, but it might be easier to explain in terms of walking into practice early and seeing something like this:
I first met Shawn over 10 years ago, when I was 12 years old and started swimming for NFS. Not a lot of people thought I would really make anything of myself, but Shawn did. Growing up, my P.E. coaches told my parents I should never be involved in anything athletic. He taught me how to be strong when nobody thought I would be. When I insisted on learning things the hard way, he never rubbed it in my face or said that he told me so. He taught me how to get up when I had fallen the hardest, how to face challenges that I should never have conceivably been able to overcome, and how to find the fun in things that are hard. Even after he left UNF and I had gone on to swim at Bolles, he was a part of my life. He welcomed me at any of his practices, and I took that opportunity when I had the chance because he made the extra swimming fun.
When people die, it’s customary for others to talk about their memories of that person and reflect on their last conversations. The last words Shawn ever said to me were “Tinder chicks are people too.” Of all the people I’ve met in my life, Shawn would be the one to give me those as his last. When I was swimming at Arizona, I came out as gay. I wondered what some of my old coaches, teammates, and friends would think and how they might react to that. Shawn joked with me. He shared articles to Facebook that mentioned me as an out athlete, and always made it well known to me and everyone else that he was proud of who I had become.
It’s hard to try and grasp the fact that I can never see him again, but I’ll never stop feeling the impact he had on my life. I want to wake up someday and know that I helped someone the way he helped me. I’ll always share the things I learned from him, because the world will be better for it. He was an incredible coach and friend, and he will be missed so much. I am just one of many lives that were changed by Shawn. Below are some more memories and favorite Shawn quotes from swimmers he coached.
All the words in the world, however masterfully-composed, and lists of the accomplishments of each person he impacted, could not serve justice or capture the magnitude of the impactful life Shawn lived. He was always at his best and brought out the best of those around him. A man, who prided himself on swimming against the current, never fell short of impressing those who came in contact with him. He certainly never met a stranger; well-spoken, he engaged anyone for the first time as if they were old friends. All the while, he exhibited profound respect that left you encouraged and motivated to pursue something greater than yourself.
It was sometimes difficult to see the big picture as he saw it; yet faith in his commitment and drive moved the community towards his vision. He sought to better his community by simple actions that would profoundly shape how people would interact with each other. The community’s belief in Shawn, as incredible as it was, paled-in-comparison to Shawn’s belief in the community.
It feels like just yesterday I met with Coach Shawn to learn his style of coaching and to obtain knowledge on how I was going to coach my summer team. He was the one who taught me technique triumphs yardage and that faith would move mountains. He also taught me that compassion is the foundation of being a coach and just listening to swimmers and parents makes the biggest difference in their swimming careers. Shawn Delifus brought me back to swimming 2.5 years after I quit and forced me to swim in a masters meet for fun. He totally tricked me into coming back full time and I’m so glad he did.
Shawn said some of these things to me over the phone this past month:
“Compassion is the foundation of swimming.”
“Why do your goals matter? Once you’ve reached your goals will you be satisfied? The best way to enjoy the sport and make the most out of it is to learn to love the process and have compassion for the people around you. Goals are temporary but the relationships you make along the way last a life time.”
“Humans are all forms of energy. We connect and bond with one another through our energy and as our energy grows, more and more people are impacted and our lives become more meaningful. This is how the sport becomes better.”
After getting heartbreaking news last night, I don’t know how to begin to express how thankful and lucky I feel to have had Shawn around for half my life. I’ll never forget the things he taught me and all of the smiles he brought to everyone around him daily.
His love and passion for swimming and just life in general were truly inspiring and I know he’s changed my life for the better in so many ways. I know he’s looking over us. Whenever I hear “That Girl” by Frankie J., I’ll smile.