Moving From Sea to Land: UVAC Swim Coach Raynolds Faces Retirement

  • Dorsi Raynolds, head of the North Country Aquatic Club, in Hanover, N.H., on Aug. 20, 2008. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Aquatics Director and head coach of the North Country Aquatic Club Dorsi Raynolds, of Woodstock, Vt., instructs her team during morning practice at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on August 7, 2009. Allie Reeder, 17, of New London listens at the pool's edge. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, April 02, 2018

After 32 years as a swim coach, the realization that it was the right time to retire dawned on Dorsi Raynolds much more swiftly.

“You just know,” said Raynolds, 54, the Upper Valley Aquatic Center’s swim team coach since its 2009 inception and a longtime college coach before that. “You wake up in the middle of the night, or you have that rare quiet moment, and you just feel it. It’s time to hang up the stop watch and pass the reins.”

Raynolds is officially retiring Saturday and will be honored by UVAC staff and swimmers with a video-and-photograph tribute during the team’s end-of-season banquet. Meanwhile, the non-profit White River Junction swimming facility is conducting a national search to try to replace a world class mentor.

A 16-time All-American and butterfly specialist as an athlete at Ithaca College, Raynolds held various collegiate coaching posts, including the head job at NCAA Division I University of Buffalo and as assistant at Boston University, concurrently obtaining her Master’s in education and sports psychology at the latter.

Raynolds has led what is now the UVAC swim team since before the facility opened, when the team was known as the North Country Aquatic Club and trained in other Upper Valley pools. Over the last decade, she has guided UVAC’s team into one of northern New England’s most sought after and successful programs, drawing athletes from across central Vermont and New Hampshire and routinely scoring highly at state and regional competitions.

While loaded with technical knowledge, Raynolds’ greatest strength was her ability to convey her passion for swimming and inspire athletes to work toward maximizing potential.

“She’s an incredible motivational speaker, and you hang on her every word,” said UVAC assistant coach Signe Linville, who worked with Raynolds throughout her UVAC tenure. “She has this natural ability to teach life lessons through the sport of swimming.”

Putting her sports psychology training to use, Raynolds helped countless athletes overcome performance-related fears, Linville said. She was also keen in identifying early potential — and insisting young swimmers joined her in striving to realize it.

Kristian Hansen, of Hanover, had a lukewarm attitude toward competitive swimming after joining UVAC as a fifth grader. He went on to earn regional championships in the 800-meter swim and mile, among other competitive accolades, and is now a freshman mid-distance specialist at the University of Minnesota. 

“When I was about 12, I was thinking about stopping swimming,” said Hansen in a phone interview. “Dorsi saw a lot of promise in me and kept on pushing me. I kept coming to practice. I'd say when I was 13 or 14, I really hit my stride.”

Another of Raynolds’ charges, Hartland’s Hannah Cox, competed in three events at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing eighth in the 400-meter freestyle, and is now a sophomore freestyle swimmer at the University of Arizona. Cox already holds the fourth fastest school times in the 500-yard freestyle (four minutes, 38.38 seconds) and 400 individual medley (4:06.62). 

Some of Raynolds’ most involved training with both Hansen and Cox came while the coach was in the midst of breast cancer treatment following a September 2015 diagnosis. Raynolds has since been deemed cancer free and her decision to step down is unrelated to treatment for the disease, she said.

“It was a big year for me in the pool when Dorsi (underwent cancer treatment) and she was amazing during the whole process,” Cox said in a December 2016 interview. “I knew the most important thing was that she take care of herself. We were able to work through it together.”

Work was the operative word when Raynolds coached, according to UVAC executive director Rich Synnott. “Coaching was her life’s calling, and she wanted to be perfect at it. You’d see her every weekend doing extra stuff with the kids. You’d say, ‘Can’t you take a day off?’ and she’d say, ‘No, I need to be here for the kids.’ It was her life.”

Brian Dirrane, UVAC’s acting coach, found Raynolds’ passion for coaching contagious. “You see her dedication and commitment and it makes you want to coach that way,” Dirrane said. “The most dangerous aspect of coaching is apathy, when a coach loses interest or attention to detail. She had attention to detail for every athlete, always willing to stop and fix what someone was doing wrong, whether it was technical or an error in effort.”

Those technical pointers made an impact on Karen Cox, Hannah’s mother and UVAC’s swim school director. “She’d relate swimming to what fish do, talk about things like body balance and ways to press the hips,” said Karen Cox, whose programs train both children and adults. “I took those lessons to heart and brought them with me. So her impact is also felt at the swim school level.”

Raynolds, a Woodstock resident, intends to take a full year off to travel, she said in February. She also plans to transition to work in the fields of sports performance and sports psychology. Raynolds’ mother, Ann, is a clinical psychologist based in Quechee. 

As for finally walking away from the pool, Raynolds doesn’t foresee any regrets. “After 32 years of coaching, I’m perfectly satisfied with what I was able to do. I feel very fulfilled,” she said. “It’s time to pass the buck. Sometimes in your heart, you just feel it.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.