Coach boosts Homer swimmers to extraordinary achievements
For the past 20 years, Bridget Kuhns has worked hard to ensure that the Homer High School swimming pool provides local youth, adult and competitive swimmers a place to learn to swim, do laps and train and compete.
Employed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Kuhns began as a lifeguard, then taught swimming lessons. For the past nine years has served as pool manager. She also coached the Homer High School Mariners swim team and as the Kachemak Swim Club, from the 1990's to 2004.
At the heart of Bridget's coaching philosophy is a drive to encourage athletes to push beyond being average and instead, do extraordinary things.
"One time, one of my swimmers participated in our two-hour or 5,000-yard swim-a-thon, doing the butterfly stroke the entire time," she said. "I had Nomar make him a t-shirt that said, "I did 5,000 fly."
She also believes in teamwork and in her swimmer's abilities to succeed.
"You can do great things if you have a team that works together," she said. "You work harder when you're working for a group and as coach, if you have an equation for success and everyone buys into your equation, then it's easy to make them work hard."
Competitive by nature and one of eight siblings who were all very athletic, Bridget did not begin to take athletics seriously until she had her first child, Kate.
"When I took Kate to the pool for parent/tot swim, one of the parents saw my potential for being good in the pool and recruited me as a senior lifeguard swimming instructor," she said.
In 1991, Bridget participated in her first triathlon. In 2000, she and her staff created the Homer Mariner Iron Man Triathlon as a way to motivate her high school swim team.
"I think the goal of athletics is to do something and to be good at it," she said. "When you're body is in good health, your mind is as well, and athletics can give you confidence and you become a better you. I love working with kids who love learning and working hard. It's fun to win and to be the best that you can be."
In 2004, Bridget's daughter Kate passed away and Bridget quit coaching.
"One of the nice things about my job was being able to have my kids by my side," she said. "They are all athletically inclined to want to be swimmers, and to have my career and my kids close to me has been great."
Community members petitioned the school district to change the name of the pool to the name it holds today, the Kate Kuhns Aquatic Center.
As pool manager, Bridget oversees all aspects of the pool and has earned the nickname Mean Old Pool Lady.
"I have to be the one to lay down rules and regulations with parents and kids," she said. "My biggest job is keeping everyone safe."
Her other tasks include managing her staff and ensuring the pool is kept to the highest standard of cleanliness. Every two years, Bridget has to recertify in water safety instruction, and every five years as a certified pool operator.
Despite long and irregular hours, a schedule that varies day-by-day, week-by-week, and a tremendous amount of responsibility, Bridget shared that she has always enjoyed her job.
"I serve the community, the public and the school district," she said. "I enjoy people and teaching swimming lessons and have been very fortunate to have an occupation doing something I love."
Bridget is extremely proud of her swimmers.
"Many athletes have come out of this pool and moved on to college with scholarships," she said. "One of my swimmer's parents gave me the biggest compliment when they paid my way to their daughter's college in California. He wanted me to be there to witness her accomplishments. As long as my swimmers work hard and do their best, I'm happy."
Through her many years with the pool, Bridget has recruited several of her regular swimmers to become instructors.
"This aquatic center is more than just a competitive pool, it's a community network and a family of people who stick around and we generationally pass the baton to the next one," she said.
At the end of 2018, Bridget will turn 60. She is planning to retire at that time and as such, she has already begun to put the wheels in motion - this year, the high school swim team has a new coach.
"I have been eating, living and breathing aquatics all these years and it's time to pass the baton," she said.
One of the things that Bridget most looks forward to once she retires is spending more time enjoying the pool.
"When you're in charge, you get sucked in to all the tasks you have to do," she said. "Along the way, I lost my passion for wanting to enjoy it, and now, I just want to get back into the pool."