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Swim Coach and Rowland Hall alumna Sara Watchorn ’99 is well known among her student-athletes for her caring, personal approach to each swimmer, and her ability to analyze and fine tune technique. Swimmers say her focus on the balance of athletic ability and healthy lifestyle helps each of them achieve excellence in all that they do.
Coach Watchorn, a talented and dedicated swimmer in high school, was a two-time prep All-American in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle. She set records with the Utah High School Activities Association in both of those events and still holds them a decade later. Coach Watchorn swam for the University of Hawaii for two years, then in 2001 transferred to swimming powerhouse Stanford University, where she was a significant contributor to the team in the sprint free and free relay. She has been coaching Rowland Hall swimmers since 2008, first as an assistant coach before becoming head coach in 2010. Named 2A Coach of the Year for both Boys and Girls swim teams in 2013, she also holds the title of 3A Swimmer of the Year in 1996.
This year, Coach Watchorn and her staff helped each swimmer achieve personal best times in individual and relay events at the State 2A Meet—no minor feat—with some athletes shaving up to 10 seconds off their times. Small in number, but big on talent and heart and guided by a top-notch coach, the Winged Lion swim team made a big splash at State. That’s something they’ve accomplished each season since Coach Watchorn has taken the helm. Read on to learn more about this accomplished athlete-turned-mentor.
At what age did you start swimming and at what point did you decide you wanted to be competitive?
I took swimming lessons around the age of six and began competing for Willow Creek Country Club in the summer. My propensity for the water and drive to excel led me into year-round training at the age of eight.
What is your philosophy of coaching and its relationship to education?
I believe every moment is an opportunity to better ourselves. When we act in our highest good, this allows us to contribute most beneficially to the world around us. For me, it’s not about the swimming. It is about what the process can teach us. I want more than anything for people to be happy and healthy, but it’s their journey, and we all have our lessons to learn.
I endeavor to provide the team with a loving, supportive space where they feel comfortable exploring how different topics such as nutrition, meditation, and breathing can influence their daily lives. Each year we revisit certain topics, and I introduce something new. This year, we explored sugar addictions and had physical therapist Dr. Amy Broekemeir come teach us about the Oov, a foam workout and stretching device that fits the spine’s curves.
When it comes to the physical part of practice, my motto is do the least to get the most. I am a big supporter of moving efficiently and not overtraining.
What motivation techniques do you find most useful for your athletes?
I believe the biggest motivational technique is letting them know that I care about them. In that space, I encourage them to explore what could be holding them back, and to go for it. Failure is OK and can be used as a powerful tool for growth.
Who is your greatest role model and why?
This will sound trite, but I greatly admire people like the Dalai Lama, Jesus Christ, and Mahatma Gandhi. I admire pioneers who find ways of doing things that have never been done before, who speak out against injustice even when they are in the minority, or who have found a way to transcend their baser instincts or desires and act kindly.
If you ask the team, they will tell you I am fascinated by Wim Hof—“the Iceman”—and his ability to endure physical feats such as being encased in ice for nearly two hours.
Patricia Montague, a nutritionist and health-care professional who knows the body better than anyone I have ever met, is the reason I am currently alive. I spent over 20 years looking for answers to mystery symptoms and she got me to the point I was physically able to coach.
I have a couple of core values and anyone who inspires me to live those values is a role model.
Tell us about what you like to do with your time out of the water?
Recently, because of fatigue and other symptoms, I’ve found joy in acceptance, writing, and illustrating. On January 19, I launched my first book in a children’s series, Sara Fay and the Elementals. The series reflects how being stewards of the planet and having a relationship with nature are essential to our health and happiness. I know it won’t be long until I’m more active again. I really love anything outside in nature—the feel of swimming in freshwater, and participating in activities such as hiking, climbing, trail running, mountain biking, and more recently photo hikes.
What is one word or phrase that you hope former swimmers use to describe you?
She really cared about me and believed in me.