QUITE A SPLASH

Lin­coln na­tive Phillip Wright in­ducted into Rhode Is­land Aquatic Hall of Fame

Woonsocket Call - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSEPH FITZGER­ALD jfitzger­ald@woonsock­et­call.com

LIN­COLN — When for­mer Lin­coln res­i­dent Dr. Phillip G. Wright was a 16-year-old in 1964, he landed the kind of sum­mer job most boys that age dream of – be­ing a life­guard at Lin­coln Woods State Park.

“If there’s a better sum­mer job for a kid, I don’t know what it is,” says Wright, a 69-year-old op­tometrist who now lives in Charlestown.

In those days, you needed to know some­one to score a life­guard job at the state beaches. Wright, who grew up in Lin­coln, didn’t have any con­nec­tions, but he was hired any­way be­cause of his nat­u­ral abil­i­ties as a swim­mer. As a young­ster, Wright learned to swim at the Fuller Memo­rial Pool in Lin­coln, and he was a stand­out swim­mer for the Tol­man High School var­sity swim team in Paw­tucket.

In 1965, dur­ing his se­nior year at Tol­man, Wright, the youngest son of Mil­dred and Gor­don Wright, swam with the Paw­tucket Boys Club Swim Team. coached by El­lis Mayer. The team won the state swim­ming cham­pi­onship that year.

Wright would end up be­ing a Rhode Is­land state life­guard for 15 years. After his stint as a life­guard at Lin­coln State Beach, he be­came a life­guard at the state beaches in 1967, in­clud­ing Scar­bor­ough and Misquam­i­cut State Beaches.

In 1966 he was named to the Rhode Is­land Life­guard All-Star Team, rep­re­sent­ing Rhode Is­land at the Na­tional In­vi­ta­tional Life­guard tour­na­ment in Mon­tauk Point in Long Is­land.

“Most im­por­tant to me was be­ing on the beach when swim­mers got into

trou­ble and help­ing them to safety,” Wright says. “What I en­joyed the most was work­ing with other life­guards and beach per­son­nel to help make the beaches as safe as pos­si­ble.”

That early ded­i­ca­tion to the sport of swim­ming, which con­tin­ued with com­pet­i­tive swim­ming later in his life, has earned Wright a spot in the Rhode Is­land Aquatic Hall of Fame. Wright was among the six-mem­ber Class of 2018 in­ducted on May 4 at Quid­nes­sett Coun­try Club.

The Rhode Is­land Aquatic Hall of Fame, in­cor­po­rated in 1981, hon­ors in­di­vid­u­als for their out­stand­ing achieve­ment and ser­vice to aquat­ics in the state. The main dis­play is housed at the Tootell Aquatic Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Rhode Is­land.

“It’s such an honor to be in­ducted,” he said. “For me it’s sort of life­time achieve­ment award be­cause I’ve been swim­ming all my life,” he says.

Wright says he was en­cour­aged to ap­ply for in­duc­tion to the Rhode Is­land Aquatic Hall of Fame by his late friend Bruce Calvert, who coached the Cum­ber­land High School Clip­pers swim team for more than 40 years.

“We swam to­gether at the Paw­tucket Boys Club,” Wright says. “Bruce was the one who in­spired me to do this and my only wish is that he was here to see this.”

The Rhode Is­land Aquatic Hall of Fame in­duc­tion cer­e­mony noted Wright’s litany of awards com­pet­ing in U.S. Mas­ters Swim­ming events, where he was a fix­ture since its early for­ma­tive years in the 1970s and 1980s, and es­tab­lish­ing him­self as one of the top New Eng­land swim­mers in his age group.

After high school, Wright at­tended the Uni­ver­sity of Rhode Is­land, earn­ing a a de­gree in an­i­mal sci­ence. He then at­tended New Eng­land Col­lege of Op­tom­e­try in Bos­ton, earn­ing a Doc­tor of Op­tome- try de­gree in 1976.

He has been prac­tic­ing op­tom­e­try for 41 years, in­clud­ing 20 years at Har­vard Pil­grim Health Cen­ter and 21 years in pri­vate prac­tice in Prov­i­dence and War­wick.

“In the 1970s and 1980s while at­tend­ing grad­u­ate school, prac­tic­ing op­tom­e­try and rais­ing my fam­ily, I con­tin­ued to swim and com­pete when­ever pos­si­ble and en­joyed much suc­cess,” he said.

In his early adult years, how­ever, ca­reer and chil­dren took prece­dent over the pool.

“Dur­ing the 1990s, fam­ily, work and life left little time for the pool and I took a 20-year hia­tus from swim­ming,” Wright said. “But in early 2000 my knees balked at run­ning and I be­gan to swim again for ex­er­cise.”

Within a short time, Wright was in­vited by lo­cal swim­mers at the South County YMCA to swim with them, sub­merg­ing him back into the world of com­pet­i­tive swim­ming.

Since 2010, he has com­peted in count­less events and earned ac­co­lades with his team and on an in­di­vid­ual level. His team was un­de­feated for five years in the mid­size group. Wright’s suc­cess, and that of his team, led to a con­nec­tion with Swim Rhode Is­land, an­other lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion of swim­mers com­pet­ing at U.S. Mas­ters Swim­ming events, where they won three New Eng­land Cham­pi­onships in the large-team group.

In 2013, Wright went to the USMS Sum­mer Na­tion­als in Cal­i­for­nia, which was a chance to not only take in one of the most com­pet­i­tive swim­ming events in the coun­try as a spec­ta­tor, but also to show off his skills as a swim­mer. With one ex­cep­tion, he earned medals in each event in which he com­peted, and en­joyed his best fin­ish, 5th place, in the men’s 6569 100-meter freestyle.

“The best part of the mas­ters swim­ming com­pe­ti­tions was re­con­nect­ing and com­pet­ing again with old friends, meet­ing new friends and im­prov­ing in all strokes and see­ing some of my times ri­val those of the 1970s and 1980s,” he said.

In 2014, Wright trav­eled to Montreal to com­pete in the World Mas­ters Swim­ming Cham­pi­onship, where his best fin­ishes came in the form of a pair of 15th­place ef­forts, 50 meter free and 50 meter but­ter­fly.

More swim­ming and more awards came Wright’s way when he swam at the 2015 YMCA Mas­ters Cham­pi­onships. Among the seven medals he was awarded, the event was high­lighted by a 5th place fin­ish in the 50-yard freestyle. He also took home a 5th place fin­ish in the 50-yard but­ter­fly.

To qual­ify for the pres­ti­gious Na­tional Se­nior Olympics in Min­neapo­lis, Wright com­peted in var­i­ous Rhode Is­land and Con­necti­cut Se­nior Olympic events, dom­i­nat­ing al­most ev­ery sin­gle one he en­tered, and win­ning 22 gold and one sil­ver medal.

In the 2015 Na­tional Se­nior Olympics, Wright, at 67 years old, was awarded medals in ev­ery event en­tered. Among his six awards, he took 5th place in the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 1:03.52, and 5th place in the 100-yard In­di­vid­ual Med­ley, with a time of 1:09.52.

Now near­ing 70 years old, Wright still swims three times while spend­ing time with his two chil­dren, Alexan­der and Stephanie, and his four grand­chil­dren, Caleb, Wes, Lu­cas and Quinn.

While his foray into the world of swim­ming has brought him plenty of at­ten­tion and awards and he is widely rec­og­nized as one Rhode Is­land’s best age-group swim­mers, for Wright swim­ming has al­ways been about ex­er­cise and peace of mind.

“Swim­ming has al­ways been my main form of ex­er­cise,” he says. “Swim­ming builds en­durance, mus­cle strength and car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness and is one of the best things you can do, es­pe­cially as you get older,” he says. “It’s one of the only ex­er­cises that works your com­plete body from head to toe.”

Sub­mit­ted pho­tos

Dr. Phillip G. Wright, top left, was among the six-mem­ber Class of 2018 in­ducted into the Rhode Is­land Aquatic Hall of Fame on May 4. Pre­sent­ing Wright with his in­duc­tion plaque is Rhode Is­land Aquatic Hall of Fame board mem­ber and Mas­ter of Cer­e­monies...

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