Longtime Y swimming coach leaves
Rob Gould had just finished four years service with the United States Marine Corps as a combat instructor of water survival when he took a job as a lifeguard at the pool of what is now the Hazleton YWCA.
“That was one of the things I was qualified to do,” Gould said, thinking back to 1993.
Since then, Gould has trained a generation of young swimmers on the Y’s team, started a master’s team for adults and organized and competed in running races, triathlons, bicycle time trials and open-water swimming races.
His role at the Y ends this weekend when he and his family will move to Jacksonville, Florida, where he has taken a job with Second Wind Race Timing, a company that stages and times races.
In summers, Gould expects to return to Hazleton to work for Second Wind at local races.
Throughout his life, Gould has shuttled between Hazleton and Florida.
After he was bor n in the Hazleton area, his parents moved to Florida, where he grew up and graduated from high school in Oviedo.
Because his father, Robert, and grandfather, John Gould, who started a super market in Conyngham, had been Marines, Gould followed them into the service.
“I think I knew I was going into the Marine Corps even as a freshman” in high school, he said.
After his discharge following service in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Gulf War, he started working at the Y in Hazleton because his parents had returned to the area, although they now live in Florida again.
Gould said he stayed at the Y for 24 years, even after fin- ishing college studies in criminal justice, because he liked being around people with positive outlooks.
“I just got hooked, working with the kids,” he said. And adults.
Mar lin Duncan, who swam in college, had been out of the pool for years when a doctor recommended that he start exercising to strengthen his hip following a car accident. Gould noticed him swimming at the Y, invited him to join the master’s team and then provided encouragement that helped Duncan follow his workout routine.
“I’m kind of on and of f again,” he said. “Doing a lot of swimming with Rob over the years, I found him to be a fantastic inspiration for us in the masters and, of course, the children as well.”
Swimmers performed under Gould’s coaching.
Most years, the team sent swimmers to state or national championships.
“The results were there … Rob just has a way of gently pushing people in a positive direction and somehow making it fun for everyone,” David Kisenwether, a bicycle racer from Sugarloaf Twp. and training partner with Gould, said.
Although Gould had no experience in competitive swimming when he got out of the Marines, he started racing himself so he could coach his swimmers better.
“He’s so involved. He will do absolutely anything for his swimmers: take time out to do something little, perfecting a stroke, turning, anything ,” one of his former swim team members, Shaina Grego, said.
Grego and her sister Felicia learned to swim from Gould, and after that she raced for 10 years at the Y and Hazleton Area High School.
She said Gould’s lessons had value outside the pool, too.
“He got us into the whole community service” of volunteering at triathlons and other races .“He would always recruit all his swimmers. Sometimes (we) didn’t want to do it, but we did it for Rob,” Grego said.
She and other swim team members followed a routine when volunteering to help with one of the races, which raised money for the Y or charitable causes.
They filled bags with snacks and handouts for the racers during the week, loaded the truck the night before and arrived at the course early on race day to help with refreshments and other duties.
“Those are the fun times,” Gre go said. “You’ re with everyone, with all your friends.”
At a triathlon Grego met her boyfriend while she was in high school — after Gould played matchmaker.
For the race, Gould wanted to do the run but needed teammates so he coaxed Grego into swimming and invited a high school wrestler, Timmy Samec, to ride the bicycle stage of the race.
“Rob was actually the person who got me and Timmy together,” Grego said. “He knew Timmy from biking and me from swimming and (said) ‘OK, we’re going to do a relay together.’”
She and Samec have been together seven years and both graduated from Slippery Rock University. Currently she is doing a rotation for her physician’s assistant certification in Panama City, Florida, and said she is willing to help Gould at races in Florida if he needs a volunteer.
Samec, meanwhile, is in his first year of graduate school at Clemson University.
Last month, he finished second overall in the Southeastern Conference triathlon. For the past three years, he has been overall champion of the NEPA Endurance Fest series of triathlons and duathlons. While at Slippery Rock he competed in national collegiate triathlons and represented the United States in races of the International Triathlon Union.
Samec said he might only have ridden bicycles to keep in shape for wrestling at Hazleton Area High School, where he won 100 matches and two district titles, if he hadn’t met Gould.
“He’s done everything a single person can do to get me to a place that I am, especially athletically. My triathlon career would not be the same if not for Rob,” Samec said.
Gould’s mentoring, Samec said, has a ripple effect. The athletes that Gould trained keep providing role models for younger athletes.
“I would be amazed if one person could put into words everything he’s done at the Y,” Samec said. “He’s really going to be missed in the area.”
Like Samec, Gould became a triathlete by happenstance.
He began organizing triathlons and open-water swimming races to provide his swim team members with different training activities. The Beware the Barracuda Triathlon that he started 14 years ago has a shorter race for children and teenagers.
While Gould had run in the Marines and started swimming in races after becoming a Y coach, he said “biking became third and last.”
After Gould took up the three sports, he usually placed near the top in local triathlons. He finished an Iron Man Triathlon where the races swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and run a marathon or 26.2 miles.
In 2013, he was considered an All-American by the United States Triathlon Association when he ranked in the top 5 percent of his age group nationally.
When moving to Florida, Gould said he hopes to start some endurance races in addition to overseeing and timing established running races on behalf of Second Wind, a company that he hired to time rac- es that he directed and then started working with part time.
“Second Wind Timing brought in the latest technology in race timing, and other services that you might only expect to see in larger events. Athletes and race directors in our area loved all of the new race amenities Second Wind brings, and as a result I’ve become very busy with this side work,” Gould said. “So busy that I can make it full time.”
The first weekend that he arrives in Florida, Second Wind scheduled Gould to work at three races.
Before leaving the Hazleton area, however, Gould has one more task.
On Saturday, he will be timing the Hazleton Town and Trail races, which feature Hazleton’s only half-marathon, plus 5- and 10-kilometer races that start at 9 a.m. as well as a children’s fun run at 8:20 a.m. and a youth mile run at 8:30 a.m.
Runners can still register for any of the races at town ntrail.com.
Rob Gould competes in the Black Bear Triathlon at Beltzville State Park near Lehighton in 2016.