FOLSOM, Calif. — Rob Collins has loved swimming since he was a child, and over the past 20 years, he has been passing that passion on to others.
The 1999 graduate of Pendleton High School is the CEO and head swim coach for the Sierra Marlins Swim Team in Folsom, Calif., and recently was named an honorable mention U.S. Club Coach of the Year by SwimSwam Magazine late last month.
“It’s an honor,” Collins said. “SwimSwam is a big deal. They follow everything, and every swim coach in the world follows that website. I always wanted to be a swim coach. Coaching is the only job I have ever had. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Ron Aitken of the Sandpipers of Nevada was named Coach of the Year.
Collins, 39, shared the honorable mention award with with Ken Heis of the Mason Manta Rays (Mason, Ohio), and Bruce Marchionda of the TAC Titans (North Carolina).
“Ken runs what I think is the best 16-17-18 team in the world,” Collins said of Heis. “They are doing a phenomenal job. I look up to him for what he has done.”
When you consider there are more than 3,000 active swim clubs across the United States, and three times that many coaches, Collins is leaving his mark in the swimming world.
While the honor is nice, Collins is more proud of the program he has help grow over the past two years.
In early December, the program was recognized by USA Swimming as a 2020 Gold Medal Club. It also was listed as the 18th best swim club in the nation, and is one of only three in California with Gold Medal status.
“I am proud of that,” Collins said. “I am proud of the structure of our program. If you have the right group of people, you can create a good program.”
In addition, the Marlins boys team won the 2018 junior national title, led by Colby Mefford and Ben Dillard.
“That was really unexpected,” Collins said. “Colby and Ben were in the top three in their events, and even though we did not win an individual event, we won three of five relays. That was a pretty awesome experience.”
The watery trail
Growing up in midst of a city where rodeo and football are king, swimming had its own small niche among the sports at Pendleton High School, where Collins’ mom, Donna, was a longtime swim coach.
“I grew up with my mom as my coach from age 13 to 18,” Collins said. “Both my sister (Brooke) and I were attached to the Bend program in the summer. We grew up at the aquatic center — that’s where I learned to swim.”
Collins competed at state during his time at Pendleton High. He remembers the relays finishing in the top eight. His top events were the 100 and 200 freestyle.
“It’s so much more competitive now,” Collins said.
From Pendleton, Collins swam two years at Central Washington, then the Wildcats’ program got cut. He then went to San Francisco State University, where he finished his swimming career and earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
During his time at SFSU, Collins’ coach used to make the team compete in the Escape from Alcatraz Swim, an event organized by the city.
“They take you out on a boat and you dive in off the rocks,” Collins said. “I am petrified of sharks, and swimming where I can’t see the bottom. I only did it once. That was enough.”
Collins also earned a master’s degree in sport business management from the University of San Francisco.
“Having a master’s has helped me run a successful swim club,” Collins said. “It has really helped grow the business and put pieces into place to grow a healthy business. It seems coaching is 25% of my job, while 75% is business, recruiting and human resources. Not a lot of people get to just coach.”
Before landing with the Marlins, Collins worked with swim clubs in San Francisco, Pendleton, Boston, Walla Walla, Washington, and Tennessee.
“I had success in Boston, but I really didn’t like living in Boston,” Collins said. “We had four snow emergencies in one month. We had a great club, and it was successful.”
In Tennessee, Collins worked as a senior coach at Tennessee Aquatics, with athletes ranging from local/regional qualifiers to Olympic Trials qualifiers and national finalists.
Up next, the Olympic Trials
Collins has a handful of swimmers who have qualified for June’s 2020 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, and a few more who could punch their ticket in the next couple of months.
“We have six who have qualified, and that’s a big thing for us,” Collins said. “We have two more, maybe four, who could qualify by the first week of June.”
Dillard, Colby and Bryce Mefford, Morgan Gore, Rosie Murphy and Matthew Klotz are among the six who have been or still are part of the Sierra Marlins.
Dillard, whose top events are the 100 and 200 breaststroke, has committed to USC. Bryce Mefford (on the U.S. National Team, and one of their top 200 backstrokers) is a junior at Cal, and Colby Mefford (200 freestyle, 200 back) is a freshman at Cal.
Murphy, 15, swims a multitude of events (200 backstroke is her best event), while Gore, 15, is highly ranked in the 200 butterfly.
Klotz (100 and 200 backstroke) is a senior at LSU, and is one of the top deaf swimmers in the world.
A past member of the program, open water swimmer Haley Anderson, already has qualified for her third Olympics. She won silver in 2012 in London, and was fifth at the Rio Olympics in 2016. She was the first American to earn an Olympic medal in open water swimming.
“The kids like it when she comes to swim,” Collins said.
Away from the pool, Collins enjoys spending time with his family.
He is engaged to Sarah Dunleavy, a former collegiate swimmer at Perdue. She is a former assistant coach at Cal, but now works for the Marlins as their college recruiting director. They are planning an October wedding in Hawaii.
They also have a Jack Russell terrier named Tripp, who can be kind of hyper.
“I have to run him 6 miles a day,” Collins said.
His sister, Brooke, who swam on the Cal Poly swim team in San Luis Obispo, Calif., is a social worker in Bend.
Then, there is his club’s biggest fan, his mom Donna.
“My mom is such a swim geek,” Collins said. “She’s been to the last three meets and wears Marlins gear. All of the kids know who she is. She will be up in the stands at the big meets, and will text me notes. I’m assuming she will be going to the Trials.”