Justice: Quick left lasting impression in and out of pool
By RICHARD JUSTICE Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle
June 14, 2009, 1:39AM
Richard Quick’s words ring in their ears four decades later, and perhaps that’s the lasting tribute to this remarkable man.
He lost a brief, hellish fight to brain cancer Wednesday at age 66. He’ll be remembered as one of the great swimming coaches ever because it’s simpler to add up the numbers and evaluate people that way.
Yet numbers don’t begin to tell how many people Quick touched, or how deeply he touched them.
“I carry him in my life every day,” said Jennifer Webb, who swam for Quick at both Dad’s Club in the 1960s and at SMU in the ’70s. “He was the male role model for my life, for helping me find a wonderful husband.”
Quick was 21 years old when he pulled a battered Volvo into the parking lot at the Dad’s Club in 1965, beginning a career that would take him to the top of his profession.
He won 13 national championships at Texas, Stanford and Auburn and six consecutive state championships at Memorial High School. He led the U.S. Olympic team three times and was an assistant three other times.
One of his swimmers — Jenny Thompson — won eight gold medals. He also coached Dara Torres, Janet Evans and Rowdy Gaines.
Those elite athletes give his career substance, but Quick did great things with thousands of others who couldn’t begin to dream of the Olympics. They, too, tell stories of the values he instilled and the lessons he taught.
In the final days of his life, he heard from hundreds who thanked him for some small act of kindness or for some accomplishment that seems magical even now. More than 59,000 tributes have been posted on a Web site dedicated to his life.
Quick had more energy and more passion for his job than 10 other men. He would show up for a 5 a.m. workout singing country songs and trying to convince every kid that this day was the most important of their life.
At one meet, he celebrated each good race by loudly singing “Hello Mary Lou.”
A shoo-in for shoe job
Quick ran up and down pool decks around the world, and to this day, his swimmers can still hear that voice and feel that passion. They see him chewing on those tattered heat sheets and twirling that stopwatch, and mainly they see him waiting there at the end of the pool with a hug and a smile.
Only the really great coaches, the ones who are as motivated by practice as the big game, the ones who care as much about the kids at the bottom of their roster as those at the top, can touch kids the way Quick did.
Not just swimmers, either. When he interviewed for the Dad’s Club job, the guy who ran the Florsheim shoe store in downtown Houston was so impressed that he offered him a job selling shoes.
“Listen,” he said, “I don’t know if you’re going to get this coaching job or not, but you can always come to work for me.”
Webb laughed Saturday morning when she remembered how he helped her become one of the world’s great distance freestylers.
“I started to cry when he told me he wanted me in distance events,” she said.
Three years later, Webb was an 800 free finalist at the Olympic trials.
“He made you believe you could do anything,” she said. “That’s part of his legacy.”
Twin s Brent and Kent Parker passed a cell phone back and forth Saturday morning as they remembered their coach.
“A lot of us didn’t care about medals and ribbons,” Brent said. “We swam to please him. I think of him every day.”
‘Loved the underdog’
A few weeks ago, Brent Parker, now with Anadarko, sat down and wrote Quick.
“He instilled a competitive spirit in my body,” he said. “He’d drive the bus to meets, and if we didn’t do well, there wouldn’t be a word said on the bus. When we got home, he’d stand on the bottom steps, and you had to make eye contact with him as you were getting off.
“He had some great swimmers, but he was equally excited by the guy that had to give it everything just to, say, qualify for consolation finals. Richard loved the underdog. He’d organize these water-polo games, and he’d jump in there with us. He was always on the short-handed team.”
Kent Parker spoke to Quick 10 days before he died.
“I told him he’d been like an older brother to me,” he said. “He laughed and said no one had said that.”
There was the time Quick decided to start a weight-lifting program for Dad’s Club swimmers. He didn’t have the money to buy real weight-lifting equipment, so the swimmers sawed up some rusted pipes and filled coffee cans with concrete.
A great motivator
He once promised to swim a 3,000-yard butterfly — a nearly unthinkable accomplishment — if his swimmers raised a certain amount of money.
They did, and he did.
Brent Parker visited one of Quick’s Stanford swim camps a few years ago and saw the same passion he’d seen all those years earlier in Houston.
“He was down on the cement showing these kids how to do a backstroke flip-turn,” he said.
Leilani Hurles also swam at Dad’s Club for Quick. She was a Texas breaststroke champion when Quick told her she was good enough to go to nationals.
“I did it, and to this day, I don’t know how,” she said. “It was all that man. He could get that little extra you didn’t know you had. He’d give pep talks to 100 people, and you were convinced he was talking to you. I’m sure the other 99 people felt the same way.”
Brent Parker remembered the time he and his brother went into Quick’s office at Dad’s Club to tell him they were going to take a summer off and work as lifeguards.
“When we left his office, we were ready to do two-a-days for the rest of our lives,” Brent said. “He kept saying, ‘You owe it to yourself.’ ”
Deeply touched by coach
Brent paused and laughed.
“I could talk about him all day,” he said. “He had a profound influence. I always think I can do better today than I did yesterday, and that’s a lesson from Richard. But the best thing about him was his heart and spirit.”
Brent and Kent kept coming up with things they wanted to say. They want me to understand how important Richard Quick was in the hearts and minds of so many.
“One day, he asked the two of us to help clean up the pool after a meet,” Kent said. “We didn’t say a word. We would have cleaned up the sewers of Paris for that man.”