Montrose Marlins coach Silas Almgren

Montrose Marlins coach Silas Almgren

When Silas Almgren first took over the Montrose Marlins swim team, he thought it would catapult him into coaching at the college level.

That was back in the early 1990s when Almgren was trying to earn a living by coaching while being a student-teacher. Despite of growing up in Montrose, as well as his family residing here, Almgren thought these jobs will be just the start of his career.

But, as Almgren puts it, he “built roots and enjoyed” what was around him and decided to stay.

After roughly 30 years on the job, the man synonymous with Montrose swimming is calling it quits from coaching the sport. Almgren recently announced that he’s retiring from coaching both the Montrose High School and Marlins swimming teams.

Including the girls swim team, Almgren all told has 75 combined seasons under him.

About 30 years of teaching the sport year-round left Almgren not being able to pursue other ventures in life. And he hopes to spend some time with his wife, who’s been more than supportive during his tenure as the head of two different programs, Almgren said.

Currently, Almgren is more of a supervisorial role while he’s had a few coaches take over the Marlins different age groups. But his final days will come up later this fall.

Surprisingly, Almgren swam sparingly growing up as he mostly did club swimming over the summers. He said his background is more based on teaching the sport and not competition.

“There wasn’t enough in this community to springboard anybody to a college program,” he said.

Right after graduating from MHS in 1987, Almgren, then 18, spent his first season as an assistant coach for the Montrose Marlins during the summer. Back then, the swim club — which dates back to 1964 — was a summer-only program before it transformed into a year-long team around 1990.

Almgren helped coach for the next couple of summers before he took time off to get his college degree in engineering.

Once he came back to Montrose to student-teach, Almgren, then 23, took over the program up until today. Shortly after, he became the head coach of the MHS boys swim team later in 1992 and has done so until last spring.

Almgren said, being a new coach, those initial swimmer taught him quite a bit because “you’re learning more than they are.”

It was the little details that Almgren became educated on first. One such key detail was the idea that “if some is good, more is better,” he said.

The long-time coach added making the swimmers train even harder each day isn’t going to improve their abilities. Instead, he learned, it came down to motivation and making small tweaks to the athletes’ technique.

Even though he’s taught for 30 years, Almgren said he’s still becoming aware of new details to help his students this past year.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have so many kids that have put their trust in myself and the program,” he said. “That allowed me to have that learning experience.”

During this time, Almgren discovered he had a love for coaching Montrose swimming so his best avenue to continue to do so was to get his teaching degree.

“I really enjoyed that grassroots coaching,” he said. “... What you end up doing is a lot of teaching and motivating and that was enough to springboard me into thinking this is something I want to do.”

He didn’t stop just coaching both the boys and Marlins programs.

About two years after taking the helm of those teams, Almgren became the head coach of the MHS girls swim program, which he led until the early 2010s. He said he enjoyed coaching the Lady Indians, but in between running three different programs, and trying to have a personal life, something had to give.

“They were just amazingly fun. It was a wonderful experience,” Almgren said. “But ultimately I had to have something after maintaining all of those teams, I just couldn’t keep that up.”

Almgren has been able to run these programs with the help of the Montrose Recreation District.

It all first started at the Aquatic Center, which is now the Montrose Field House.

Almgren referred to the old facility as similar to the gym that the character Rocky Balboa trains in, in the Rocky movies. It’s a little dark, and probably a bit past its heyday but “you came to work,” he added.

But almost three years ago, the Marlins and the high school teams moved to the Montrose Community Recreation District lap pool.

Almgren thanked the MRD as it’s been amenable to allow the swim teams to use the pool for practice right after school. If this wasn’t the case, Montrose would not have such a well-known program, Almgren said.

“There’s no question that the rec, in all of the years, has made this team possible,” he said.

The possibility resulted in Almgren creating one powerful swim program.

During his time, Almgren produced 15 swimmers who’ve gone on to swim at the DI collegiate level, with the last two coming this past year in Maggie McHugh and Ryan King.

Additionally, many MHS swimmers have finished at the top of the leaderboard at the state tournament.

When Almgren tried to think about how many of his athletes won that competition, he tried to rack his brain before saying the number was “a lot.”

A highlight of Almgren’s career came in 2004 when the Indians won their first and, to date, only state title. This came after a year when they came up just short and were the runners-up.

Almgren said that 2004 season was a culmination of a large group of swimmers, competing in the sport since they were quite young. It also didn’t hurt that the roster had a tremendous depth which allowed multiple Montrose swimmers to crack the top 10 in a variety of events.

“We were able to be in a situation for a 10-year period where we didn’t fall out of the top five,” Almgren said.

Despite that successful, Almgren said his “great memories” don’t just include the 2004 state title run. He noted there were cherished moments when the Indians cracked the top 10 or he watched a kid grow into a strong swimmer.

Almgren added some of his favorite swimmers weren’t the ones who came with the top accolades but the “unheralded” athletes.

“They may not have made the headline or the photo in the paper but they were the blue-collared kids that not only make your program but make me excited to go to the pool every day,” Almgren said. “I’ll miss that.”

Suzi King, who’s helped coach, run stats and volunteer for the Marlins, said Almgren hasn’t just created a program that rivals the others’ in the state, but he’s also built a positive environment for youths.

“He’s been incredible for the swim program here in Montrose,” said King, whose sons, Connor and Ryan, competed under Almgren. “He’s been able to provide so many young people with a program that meets them where they want to be.”

She added no matter if children want to do the sport recreationally or at a lower or higher competition level, Almgren will accommodate to those swimmers’ needs “within all of the same pool.”

King has known Almgren for about 15 years, dating back to when Connor took up the sport at the age of 7. As time has passed, she said Almgren has been a crucial force in several swimmers’ young lives.

“He’s been an incredible mentor for so many kids,” King said. “Other than (her husband) Mike, and myself, he’s had such a positive impact on my boys more than almost anybody. I’m just incredibly grateful for his time, effort and dedication.”

The swimmers appreciate this from Almgren. King said when her boys come back to visit, a top priority is to see their former coach.

MHS and Marlins swimmer Danny Bynum also expressed his appreciation to his coach. Bynum, a senior, said Almgren has helped his swimming abilities improve exponentially.

“He’s always helping everybody on the team out no matter what level that they’re at,” said Bynum.

He added the long-time coach is also quite supportive, saying he’s constantly asked Almgren for guidance for other details pertaining outside of swimming.

“He’s definitely taken on that mentor role,” Bynum said. “I’ve asked him for letters of recommendation. He always has great life advice outside of practice.”

With that in mind, it makes sense that Bynum was disheartened when he heard Almgren was retiring.

“I was a little bummed out. But I understand and accept it,” Bynum said. “He’s been coaching for (awhile) so I can’t say that I didn’t see it coming.”

Almgren’s colleagues praised his work and longevity as the Montrose swim coach.

MHS volleyball coach Shane Forrest said Almgren has built a program that rivals some of the best in Colorado.

“He’s created a dynasty. He’s created such a positive environment for swimmers to be in, and has a standard of excellence that’s really hard to match,” said Forrest, who’s known Almgren since they went to Montrose High together in the 1980s.

Almgren has seen the sport grow over the years, crediting the rise of popularity to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps winning so many gold medals on the national stage.

“Multiple talented athletes came in and raised the excellence rate,” Almgren said. “Our program had to change with it.”

He added before then, kids mostly did the sport for fun because they had family who competed in it or had easier access to the pool.

Swimming’s competitiveness also made kids have to train even harder because to be a successful swimmer means spending 11-11.5 months out of the year training, Almgren said.

“That’s just what it became,” he said.

But also due to the year-long demand for swimming, the long-time coach hasn’t been able to have much time outside of practice. He said this hasn’t been a sudden decision. He’s been thinking about retiring from coaching over the past few years.

Almgren will continue on as a Montrose High School educator while spending his spare time doing some activities he’s not been able to pursue as much.

“I’m fortunate to live in such a beautiful, wonderful area,” Almgren said. “I’ve always been an outdoor person but I’ve always had to shoehorn it in with all of the other little things that I do.”

Travel is high on his list, and though he’s visited must-see destinations, there are still some more, he hopes to enjoy. Additionally, he’s looking forward to fitting in some more skiing, hunting and fishing outside of work.

Almgren also wants to take up surfing more, adding jokingly he’s looking to be “proficient” but not necessarily “good.”

On top of all that, Almgren’s main hope is to spend more time with his family and his wife KJ. The other Almgren has also worked developing the Montrose youths as the owner of Black Canyon Gymnastics.

“She’s been understanding and willing to put up with my hectic schedule for the last 20 years,” he said. “She gets a tremendous amount of gratitude and credit from me.”

King said Almgren deserves this new venture in life as he has “unselfishly given up his time.”

“He’s so very, very humble,” she said. “He’s also taught our kids to be humble and made that really important.”

Almgren was humble again when he thought about what has made his program successful.

He credited the parents who have helped him be able to run multiple teams.

“Without those volunteers, it just can’t happen,” Almgren said. “Because it’s a small team and at an economic area where you can’t ask for a huge dues structure. So it just takes a lot of volunteers.”

Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.

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