The Cortez Leopard Sharks welcomed a new head coach last week after a nationwide search.
Justin Racer recently moved from Shelby, North Carolina, where he was the head coach of the Sharks swim club.
“I worked as the head coach of a program there, and then I just wanted something different and new, and they hired me and brought me on,” Racer told The Journal.
Racer swam competitively during his teen years, then began coaching after an injury.
“I coached for a summer league swim team, and then from there I went to college, and we didn’t have a NCAA team or any type of competitive team, we just had a club team that I swam for,” Racer said. Then I tore my rotator cuff, and that made me stop swimming. I talked to my coach, and she knew I had a passion for it, so she said, ‘Why don’t you come shadow me and be a coach?’ And that is when I started picking up my coaching.”
Racer, a former football player, had already fallen in love with being in the water.
“That is when I really fell in love with the sport,” Racer said. “I was already in love with the swimming part, but seeing everything else behind the scenes – what the coaches do – just made it even better.”
Racer is an accomplished coach who has led at least 50 swimmers to various upper-level competitions, according to a news release from Leopard Sharks president Chris Cutrone, who led the search for a coach.
“I have been very fortunate to have gifted swimmers,” Racer said. “When the swimmers qualify for these higher-level events, I don’t take the credit, I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I trained them.’ But it is their attitude, their mentality.”
Racer did recall the feeling when his first swimmer made her first cut in the junior nationals.
“It was probably one of the best feelings in the world for me as a coach and for her because she gave her all in the water. But to see her achieve that level is amazing,” Racer said.
Having just started as head coach of the Leopard Sharks, Racer has been spending a lot of time reading up on his new team.
“For a local level, we are really good,” Racer said. “I was reviewing results, and last summer they placed eighth out of 17 teams in the Western Slope, which is the league we are in. ...We are still about that level.”
After spending a week with the team, Racer said that the strongest and favorite event of the team is the breaststroke.
“From reviewing results and talking to the kids, I believe we have a great mix of events,” Racer said. “They all bring certain qualities to the team. We try to push them outside their limits so that they can experience other races.”
While reviewing individual swimmers and statistics, Racer was reminded of the duality of the sport.
“There are two ways of looking at how swimming works,” Racer said. “You have the team, and you have all the swimmers come in, and however they perform, you combine for points, and that is how we look at team championships.”
Racer looks forward to coaching the Leopard Sharks to higher levels and numbers.
“As we grow, we want to see our team grow in number. Right now, we are at about 23 to 24 swimmers in the club; we want to be at about at least a 40 or 50,” Racer said. “Of course, it is also qualifying those older swimmers for the higher-level meets and looking at younger kids and getting them into the program and getting them ready to go as well, so that is our goal in the next year.”