Kevin Auger’s parents would probably be surprised at how big an effect something that’s pretty natural for parents to do would have on his life.
They made sure he knew how to swim.
“My parents had a cottage in Southampton and they didn't know how to swim so they wanted to make sure their kids knew how to swim,” the 62-year-old Auger said during a video call. “So myself and my two brothers both took swim lessons.”
That undersells his parents’ swimming abilities as his mother could swim and his father could do the basic learn-to-swim strokes, but Auger, who would have competed in the 200-metre butterfly and 800-metre freestyle relay at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow if not for Canada joining the U.S.-led boycott of the Games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, is to be inducted into the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame for his long-time involvement in the sport.
Kevin and his older brother, Jerry, joined the Guelph Parks and Recreation-managed team that was started by Centennial CVI teacher Dave Clutchey at its pool shortly after the school’s opening. It became the independent Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club after moving its base to the Victoria Road Recreation Centre and its Victor Davis Pool after its opening in 1975.
“(Jerry) started swimming, so I said, ‘Oh, that's cool, I'll start swimming.’ So when the Guelph Marlins started, we started swimming. So when I was seven and he was 10.”
In 1980, Auger moved from the Marlins to the Region of Waterloo Swim Club where he’d be coached by Cliff Barry with the intention of again qualifying for the Olympics in 1984, the Games that were initially his focus.
“I had always thought 1984 would be my year until I was probably about 18 the year before (the 1980 Games) when I made the national team,” Kevin said. “I came third at nationals in the 400-metre freestyle the year before and I made the travel team that then we went to the World University Games.”
A growth spurt between the ages of 17 and 19 helped Auger move up the rankings. In the 1980 Olympic Trials, he destroyed his personal-best mark in the 200m butterfly time to make the Canadian team with a time of 2:01 which was almost two seconds under the national record.
“We had six guys go under that record at the Trials, which was incredible,” Kevin said. “We had six guys in the top 20 in the world at that Trials, which for Canada is unheard of. So, you know, it was a great event.”
And it was a shock, coming four years earlier than originally thought.
“My goal was to make the Olympic team and at the trials after dropping six seconds, I was within a second and a half of the world record so at that time my whole world kind of shifted,” he said. “My thought process shifted but I honestly thought 1984 was going to be my year and that ended up being a very disappointing year because I got hurt and it just didn't work out for me, but it did lead me to coach so, you know, that is one bonus of everything.”
And his experience in chasing his goal of making the Olympics also changed his perspective of the sport.
“I swam all this time to make the Olympic team and I realized that isn't really why I was swimming. I swam because I had so many friends in swimming,” he said. “I got to go on trips that I never would have, I wouldn't have gotten out of Guelph or Ontario if it hadn't been for swimming for the most part, let alone travel to England and to Japan and places like that.
"That was exciting. Being in shape was just an awesome feeling, you know, to be that in shape and to be that good at something was exciting to me. But you realize that it's not necessarily the end result, it's kind of the journey that is the reason that you do it.”
After injuries put an end to his swimming, he started coaching at the University of Indiana where he’d been a two-time Big Ten Conference champion. In 1984, he became a coach with the Cambridge Aquajets and then became head coach of the Marlins two years later, a position he held for a decade before moving to just outside Chicago in Evanston, Ill., to be closer to his wife’s family and to be head coach of Wildkit Aquatics, a position he still holds, and it also included coaching the local high school team.
He originally got the job after responding to an ad in the Swimming World magazine.
“We got married in Evanston, so I kind of had a little idea of what Evanston was like,” Kevin said. “I had looked through the Swimming World magazines and stuff like that and seen that Evanston was what I thought was a growing large club that I could have success with. When I initially contacted people, getting a job as a Canadian in the U.S. in sports is probably not the easiest thing unless it's hockey, of course, because people don't know you.
“But my first contact in Evanston, the person that had put the ad in the magazine was Canadian so that helped a little bit. And then, you know, they looked at my resume and stuff and they invited me down for an interview. I came down for an interview and they must have liked me, but also helping me was that on the Monday after my interview an article came out in Sports Illustrated about Christine Jeffrey (who Kevin had coached with the Marlins) who had just been named Sportsman of the Year at Arizona State University. She was in the running for valedictorian at university so she was both a student and athlete.”
It impressed the swim club when he had been her coach at the Guelph club.
“I coached Christine from the time she was 12 years old,” Kevin said. “Also helping me I think too was the fact that (Wildkit’s) greatest swimmer in history to that point was Christine's roommate at Arizona State University. So, it's a small world once you get into the swimming world.”
While he’s had plenty of his athletes have success in the pool, a big part of the enjoyment coaches of younger athletes have is seeing the people they become, not necessarily the athletes they become.
“That’s absolutely correct,” Kevin said. “That's our philosophy that we talked about on our club team but also I bring to the high school team as well. We're here to try and develop the best people, best athlete, best student-athlete, best well-rounded personality.
“That's one of the reasons I love coaching. For the most part it's always been a good group of kids to be involved with and influence and I've had a number of athletes come back over the years and tell me how great it was to be on the team and how much they enjoyed it and stuff and that's certainly a huge takeaway for me, including my own son.
"My youngest son was a swimmer on the team and it really revitalized my coaching career because I got to see once again, the enjoyment through his eyes of swimming and I was like ‘Yeah, I remember that look and that feeling.”
Auger is to be a member of the Guelph Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 that is to be inducted at Wednesday’s Kiwanis Sports Celebrity Dinner at the Italian Canadian Club.
Other members of the class are softball coach Dave Vallance, marathon runner Elizabeth Waywell, former Guelph Storm general manager Mike Kelly and multisport athlete and owner and team president of the Guelph Biltmores when they won the city’s first national junior A hockey championship in 1950.