It wasn’t always the person who won the race who swam the best race.
Understanding that principle can create a championship culture. It also creates a legacy.
Enter Gary Grant.
His philosophy as the swim coach at Alden was simple – expect the best from everyone. But everyone’s best didn’t always look the same.
If you were lucky enough to be around Grant, your milestone was celebrated – whether you were a champion sprinter or came in last but hit your personal best.
“He loved coaching,” said his wife, Elaine. “He enjoyed the interaction with the kids and helping them to excel and reach their personal best. That was important to him. He celebrated the best times with every student. He kept every time for every distance and knew when a student reached their best time in any event.”
Grant died in September at age 46 from injuries to his head and spinal cord incurred after a bike crash at a triathlon in Dunkirk.
Besides his wife, he left behind three sons — Dylan, 16, Jakob, 14, and Samuel, 10.
And, Grant left a legacy of commitment to high school athletes and coaches demonstrating the power of interscholastic sports not just in individual lives but in the life of a community.
“Gary was extremely competitive, however he wasn’t focused on championships and sectionals but more on individual growth and improvement,” said Alden athletic director Adam Stoltman. “He would celebrate those little milestones as much as the big ones. If someone had a time that was a career best, he would take the time to let them know. It was that type of stuff endeared the kids to Gary.”
And not just his swimmers, but swimmers on other teams and other coaches. Grant left his mark not just on the athletes he personally coached at Alden for 20 years, but on the entire Western New York swimming community.
Swim teams from across Section VI will be wearing green Grant’s Gang swim caps at meets throughout the season. Provided by members of the local triathlon community – Score This!!!, The Buffalo Triathlon Club and Riverside Federal Credit Union, the caps are being sold for a $5 donation. The goal is to have the entire ECIC meet in green Grant’s Gang caps while some schools are wearing the caps when they swim against Alden, as a sign of respect, condolence and solidarity.
“My mind’s eye can imagine what it will be like seeing all those green caps and shirts,” said Williamsville North coach Doug Cassidy. “While I believe I share my colleagues’ profound sense of loss, I am gratified that through efforts such as these, that the high ideals Gary embraced and stood for will be on display to encourage and inspire the student-athletes he dedicated his life to serve.”
And those efforts included not just direct contact with the young athletes, but with the coaches who helped shape their experiences.
Colleagues described Grant as a someone willing to make time for a new coach. His emphasis was on the well-being of the athlete and the sport, not personal ego.
“Gary spent several years as the chairperson of our league [ECIC] and was the consummate professional,” Cassidy said. “He was always prepared, enthusiastic and committed to making our championships the best experience possible for our student-athletes. He was always ready to listen to a concern and would do whatever he could to resolve a difficult situation. He was a master of building consensus and keeping our focus as coaches on working for what was best for all of our student athletes.”
“The best way I can describe Gary is that you never meet a nicer guy,” said Cheryl Carpenter, the swim coach at East Aurora. “He was always happy and motivating his kids. ... I used to ask him, ‘Why are you so positive all the time?’ And he would just smile again. That was his answer – to smile and be happy.”