AMES, Iowa — When Dustin Rhoads found out he qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, one of the first people to call him was his beloved high school swimming coach, Dan Flannery.
“I wouldn’t have accomplished the things I have in the past decade or so without him,” the Ames High School alumnus said. “He was always there for me and always supportive and whenever I needed something, he was there.”
Rhoads described Flannery as the kind of coach of every kid dreamed to have. The number of lives Flannery touched, in-part evident by the outpouring tributes to him on social media. It’s a loss shaking the entire Ames community, Rhoads said.
Flannery, one of the most successful swimming coaches in Iowa history, died suddenly on Tuesday from a brain anyuerism. He was 44-years-old.
His predecessor, Mike Wittmer, said turning over the swim program to someone of Flannery’s calliber was extremely “gratifying.”
In his 20 years as head coach, Flannery guided Ames to nine total state titles in boys’ and girls’ swimming.
Wittmer got emotional speaking about how Flannery treated his three grandchildren, who he coached in swim.
“He took great pride in anybody that improved their timeit would be kids from the slowest heat to the fastest heat and he knew when they improved their time,” Wittmer said. “He always had something positive to say. In most cases the kids would walk away from him just absolutely beaming.”
Both Wittmer and Rhoads said the expansion of the program and number of students on the team spoke to the kind of coach Flannery was; his team averaged from 60 to 80 kids, well above the average size of a high school swim team.
“Kids don’t stay with it, they don’t come out in those numbers if they don’t feel valued — if they don’t feel they’re going to be able to make a contribution,” Wittmer said. “He was just really, really good with that.”
It’s an impact Rhoads has felt well into adulthood. He said he went on to be a coach himself because of the difference Flannery made in his life.
“If you knew Dan, you loved him — and he loved you. He could relate to anyone, [was] fun to be around, easy to talk to, would always give you the time of day if needed,” Rhoads said. “He’d also go out of his way to make you feel special. And that’s what I think he’ll leave behind.”
Both said it pains them to realize Flannery will never see the new swimming pool part of a revamp of Ames High School. There’s a petition to name the pool after the beloved coach.