When John Lindquist took over Kodiak High School’s swimming and diving program in 2001, his top priority was to turn a middling program into a regional contender.
The longtime Alaska resident had his work cut out for him.
Swimming sprouted as a sport at Kodiak in 1976 — two years after the pool opened. It didn’t take long for the pool to be branded the “The Dungeon” because of its windowless location inside the school.
In the pre-Lindquist era — from 1976 to 2000 — Kodiak floated along, not producing a Region III or state title (individual or team). There were a few stars, like Tianna Wood, Kodiak’s first state girl qualifier — nearly two decades after the team was established— and holder of all the school records.
Most students joined the swimming team for a free trip off island for a weekend of shopping in Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest hub with malls scattered all over town.
Lindquist changed the culture from the get-go, squashing mall outings on his first off-island meet to Anchorage and introducing two-a-day practices — before and after school — and structured and disciplined practices.
“I looked at them and said, ‘you are probably going to be really lucky to even see a mall; you are probably going to see one, but you better have quick eyes because it is going to be at 55 (mph) when we go by Northway,”’ he said.
Lindquist’s goal when he inherited Kodiak’s program from longtime coach Pete Van Rossen was to win a regional title — boys and girls — in four to five years. He retires on Saturday with 22 Region III titles.
He adopted that goal from his high school swimming coach Dick Green, a man who built the Chugiak High School swimming program from scratch in the 1970s. Green’s teams routinely were at the top of the state and the Cook Inlet Conference.
Green, a retired 20-year coach, who now resides in Seattle, played a pivotal role in Lindquist’s life, and will be in attendance at this week’s state meet, his first since leaving Alaska in 1980 to pursue collegiate coaching. The two get together and share memories to this day.
“There is no other swimmer that I could think of that I have any fonder memories of than John,” Green said. “He was the ultimate swimmer. He gave you everything he had all of the time, and yet was the most fun of all the swimmers.”
Lindquist’s family moved from Florida to Chugiak in 1972. His parents — both from Chicago — were looking for a fresh start and packed up their three kids in a Ford van and drove 5,000 miles to the Last Frontier.
Sports was an important part of Lindquist’s childhood. Lindquist, the youngest in the family, dabbled in swimming, football, wrestling and track. When he entered high school, it was Green, also his youth club swimming coach, that pushed him to focus on one sport.
“My coach said to me that you need to pick something. You need to choose what you are doing,” Lindquist said.
Lindquist selected swimming, a sport his older brother excelled at. However, the sport would have changed if another coach would have approached him before Green.
Green left Chugiak after Lindquist’s junior season, but the two had already connected. Between his junior and senior year, Lindquist and two of his teammates, spent the summer training with Green in Hawaii. Weekdays consisted of 12 hours in an outdoor chlorinated pool — four hours of practice and eight hours of teaching swimming to little kids.
That summer paid off for Lindquist, who came back to Alaska and won the 200-yard individual medley at the 1980 state championships with a state-record time of 2 minutes, 2.24 seconds. His mark was topped a year later.
“It made a huge difference in my swimming,” Lindquist said. “I went from the middle of the pack to a state champion.”
Nearly a decade after moving to Alaska, Lindquist set off to swim for Central Washington University, an NAIA school that Green competed and coached for.
While at the Ellensburg-based school, Lindquist was part of two NAIA national championship teams — one as a swimmer and another as a coach — and was a member of the school-record setting 800-freestyle relay team.
Most importantly, it was at Central where he met his wife, Tari, a star swimmer for the Wildcats. The couple returned to Alaska in 1987, a year after graduating college with a teaching degree. Lindquist coached the Knik Swim Club for a year, while piecing together funds by being a substitute teacher and a lifeguard.
Needing to find stable jobs, the two headed to the Yukon to become teachers in the Lower Kuskowim School District. They stayed there 11 years, and expanded their family with two daughters — Jori and Tahna — and one son — Talon.
With no swimming pool in sight, Lindquist satisfied his urge to coach by leading a variety of teams — basketball, Native Youth Olympics, volleyball and speech and debate.
“We would come into Anchorage with second-language students and place in the top three in an English-speaking contest,” he said. “Nothing that practice cannot make you good at.”
It’s weird, but he didn’t miss being in the water.
“It was easy to step away because I was still coaching, and coaching is what I like to do,” Lindquist said.
With three young kids, the couple felt it was time to move away from village life. Erik Hanson — a college teammate — reached out to Lindquist and told him about a special education teaching opportunity in Kodiak. Lindquist applied, and got the job, a position he held until retiring from the Kodiak Island Borough School District in 2015.
After settling into his new position, two students — Nathan Rose, now one of Lindquist’s assistant coaches, and Jeramy Young — asked Lindquist to apply for swimming’s vacant coaching job.
Green knew when he coached Lindquist that he would excel leading young men and women.
“He had the perfect personality for it, that blend of work ethic and knowing how to have fun,” Green said. “When kids have fun, they swim well, so certainly we saw that when he got into his junior and senior years of high school that he was probably going to be very successful.”
It wasn’t instant success. Kodiak’s girls team netted zero points at the Region III Championships in the first year. The boys did better, but did not meet Lindquist’s expectations.
“We had girls who could do it, they just hadn’t been pushed in the right direction,” Lindquist said.
It took Lindquist only two years to transform the
program, leading the boys to the school’s first regional title in 2003. Since then, the boys have won 13 of the past 15 titles. The girls joined the party in 2006 and had a string of eight consecutive titles until it was snapped in 2015.
After conquering the region, Lindquist shifted his focus to tackling the state. He wanted to be the first Kodiak coach to win both a boys and girls state title. His girls won in 2012 and 13, while his boys won in 2016. It wasn’t fast enough. Amy Fogle, a good friend of Lindquists, won state titles with the boys (2001) and girls (2014) basketball teams.
“I still hold that against her,” Lindquist joked. “It was well deserved. She is a hell of a coach.”
The accomplishments are impressive — 22 regional team titles, three state titles, six state-runner-up finishes, 34 individual state titles and six relay state titles. His swimmers set eight state records and rewrote Kodiak’s record book. But coaching is more than numbers for Lindquist; it is the connections he made with his athletes. Hearing success stories of a former swimmer is more important than the hardware overflowing the trophy case at the Kodiak Community Swimming Pool, a window-filled building that replaced “The Dungeon” in 2009.
“I’ve enjoyed it immensely,” he said. “I love competition. I think I’m good at getting to kids. I have that ability to have them buy in and make them better.”
Lindquist and Dimond coach Scott O’Brien are the longest tenured high school swimming coaches in the state. O’Brien, a former University of Alaska Anchorage swimming coach, started his second stop at Dimond in 2001, the same year Lindquist took the helm in Kodiak. The two programs have mirrored each other since then, duking it out for state titles year after year.
“The main thing between our two programs has always been respect and admiration,” O’Brien said. “We have had battles and we both are very competitive … it has been great that we have had those battles because it makes us better people and coaches and our kids better people and athletes.”
Earlier this season, Homer coach Thaddaues Gunther was in Kodiak for a meet. He had his young team practice with Lindquist, somebody he has known since 2006.
“The thing that I was most impressed of with his kids was their attitude,” he said. “The positivity from the top down, from the fastest swimmer to the slowest swimmer, they were there to support each other and build each other up. I didn’t see one frown or negative thing said for an entire practice with 40 kids in it – pretty amazing.”
Lindquist’s practices are demanding. His program is built on hard work. But like Green said, he enjoys having fun, which is apparent with his popular “Team Tuesday” concepts, an event done outside the pool like ultimate Frisbee or a treasure hunt.
“I probably have been pushing these kids into areas that I didn’t do because they are faster than I was swimming in high school,” he said.
Lindquist’s Kodiak High School coaching career will come to an end on Saturday at the state championship meet. After 30 years of coaching, and Talon being a senior, he said it was time to hang up the stopwatch.
John and Tari are planning on relocating to Wenatchee, Washington — a place where they own a summer home. They have purchased a conversion van and are going to travel across the nation in search of mountain bike trails — riding is one of John’s favorite activities.
First on the agenda, though, is watching Tahna and Talon swim for the University of Hawaii — Tahna is entering her junior season, while Talon verbally committed to the Division I school.
“I’m going to be a dad in the stands,” he said. “I’m going to have to follow my own advice: Coaches coach, swimmers swim and parents cheer.”