All is Going Swimmingly Well
Tara Kelleher, Ryann Mungaray, Chloe Yates
October 26, 2015
New to the Nevada Scene, Neil Harper lead the Women’s Swim and Dive Team to a dominating start placing first in Stockton against Pacific, Fresno and San Jose in their first meet this past weekend. With an intimidating 361-point lead, Harper visibly has what it takes to be the new Nevada swim coach.
Born and raised in England, Neil Harper began swimming recreationally at a young age prior to becoming a competitive athlete and coach. Harper gave recognition to his mother, who first dipped his toe into the pool saying,
“Early on my mom was a state champion back in England and my dad didn’t learn to swim until he met my mom. [I swam] from two concerns, from a sport and from fun.”
Although Harper dabbled in other sports in his adolescence, he found that swimming was his one true passion.
“I had a lot of early success with swimming,” he said. “It was fun.” The fun would soon lead him to dominate the rankings in his high school and collegiate swim career where he became one of the top competitors in Louisiana State history.
Eventually, Harper’s achievements led him to qualify for the Olympic trials. Harper competed in the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul, Korea. After achieving his own dreams of being in the Olympics, Harper began coaching other aspiring Olympic swimmers.
“I think anytime that you are fortunate enough to get to swim in the Olympics, then obviously turn around and get to coach in them, it’s a great opportunity. I’m very proud of that.”
Harper describes how his experience competing and coaching in the Olympics has shaped his coaching style over all.
“Once you’ve had a taste of the biggest event in the world, you want to give back and help your athletes…” He is extremely enthusiastic about the sport and helping others to chase their dreams just as he was able to and says “…hopefully our athletes are confident that I’ve done it before and we can do it again.”
After his Olympic career, Harper began to coach collegiate swimming. He coached at LSU, Ohio State, and Florida State for his longest term of 14 seasons all while settling down and starting a family in the South.
Harper is now using his Olympic experience to coach the University of Nevada, Reno’s team for the first time as of the 2015 swim season. Harper compares his surroundings in the South to his new home in Nevada:
“It’s a beautiful place here…being surrounded by mountains is a great change.”
Last year at conference, the Wolf Pack took third place behind San Diego State and Boise State respectively. This season with the help of Coach Harper, the Nevada Swim and Dive Team is eager and hopeful to increase their standings.
“We just need to be focused on what it takes to be a step up from where we were last year,” Harper says.
His further concern for the season is finding the appropriate balance between support and discipline that will allow him to be the best possible coach to the members of the team.
He is able to connect with the younger generation of women on the team due to he fact that he has two young daughters of his own. He believes this connection will be beneficial to his coaching and the outcome of the season.
“My daughters keep me in touch… which helps me to connect with my swimmers. You need to be able to identify with the kids in high school. You need to know what their interests are otherwise you might lose out as a coach.”
Through all his success in life, Harper is most proud of his role as a father.
“When I think about my accomplishments, I think of family and raising kids,” he says in regard to his 19 and 21-year-old daughters. “I measure my success by how successful my daughters are and how they behave in society and how they treat everybody else.”
Neil Harper reflects on his time as a swimmer fondly.
“Well, I was a good swimmer. I could have always done better, but that has helped me become the coach that I want to be, or the coach that I wish I could have had.” The swimming career he had, along with his duty as a father has lead Harper to achieve more than he could have ever expected in his lifetime.
He hopes to continue to exceed these expectations with the University of Nevada, Reno’s Swim and Dive Team, as proven in the score of the team’s first meet this past weekend.