QUITE A SPLASH
Lincoln native Phillip Wright inducted into Rhode Island Aquatic Hall of Fame
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.”
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...