WarDogs swim coach Weir dies

QUICKREAD

KATHY VENTLING/Courtesy Mary Weir

Steve Weir was passionate about coaching the Central/Palisade girls swim team despite his fight with cancer. Weir died Friday.



His first passion was coaching. His final words were “I love you,” spoken to his wife, Mary, before Steve Weir died Friday, having spilled his energy into those he coached and those he loved.

The contradiction is astounding. A state champion in the 100-yard butterfly his senior season at Arapahoe High School. Never breathed with his head up, always to the side. Weir swam at Colorado State University on a full-ride athletic scholarship. Mary Weir said Steve, in high school, could swim five lengths of the pool without ascending for a breath.

“He had a larger lung capacity, we figured, than average,” Mary Weir said. He never smoked.

Yet in September, the coughing and sinus pressure did not ease and the diagnosis was staggering. Stage 4 lung cancer.

Mary Weir said Dr. Mark Twardowski of Western Medical Associates diagnosed Weir. Then she said Twardowski asked Weir what he loves to do.

“Coach,” Weir said.

So before he passed away at the age of 60, Weir, as his energy leaked away, coached.

For the past seven years coaching the Palisade-Central WarDogs girls swimming team, Weir used coaching as an avenue for teaching girls about life, said Palisade Athletic Director Mike Krueger.  In the final months, despite a cough and raspy voice and sapped energy, he coached primarily from a chair.

“He’d be there at a meet sometimes with his head down on a table because he was exhausted,” Grand Junction girls swimming coach Janet Ryan said, “yet he stayed through the whole meet. He struggled through practice. He had to sit down, which he doesn’t like. He’s usually on his feet and he’s usually very involved.”

Yet he stayed. Pain unmasked raging passion.  Steve Weir spoke to anyone who’d listen about his swimmers. During an invitational at Durango on the weekend of Dec. 4, Mary Weir went with Steve in part to drive him to a hotel in case he needed to rest.

“He very much wanted to go,” Mary Weir said. “So we went.”

In a Dec. 11 email to the Sentinel, Steve was trying to gather possible Southwestern League records. He ensured the publication of his swimmers’ results. When people visited, Weir did not talk about his condition or chemotherapy.

“He was more interested in talking about the coaching of his girls,” Mary Weir said.

Melissa Barton, an assistant coach for the WarDogs, will be the head coach the remainder of the season. She will help sell Steve Weir memorial T-shirts for $15 each. Proceeds will benefit the Weir family for funeral and medical expenses. Email Barton at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to order or for more information.

Services are at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Callahan-Edfast Mortuary, 2515 Patterson Road.

“We’re here to swim basically for Steve and his family,” Barton said.

Barton said Weir’s health brought the swimming community together. Fruita swimmers and Grand Junction swimmers often cheer for the WarDogs.

“Support the girls,” Mary Weir wanted to tell the Grand Valley swimming community, “and keep them going.”

Last summer, a trio of Weir’s swimmers would typically meet up with their coach three times a week for weight-lifting, then meet at his house to talk swimming.

“He was like my grandpa in a way,” said Karolina Latek, a junior at Palisade. “He was always there for me. He was a great role model for me. He always had good solutions.”

Mary Weir said Steve’s coaching goals were simple: Work hard and believe. Because if you do ...

“He pushed me to do stuff that he thought I could do, that I didn’t think I could do,” said Palisade sophomore Liz Cottingham, “and I did it. And I can’t thank him enough for that.”

Central sophomore Kyra Newhouse asked Weir two weeks ago for permission to skip the Moffat County Invitational, scheduled for last weekend. Newhouse wanted to attend a Twin Peaks Snow Camp with her youth group. Newhouse said Weir considered her retreat more important than swimming.

“He said, ‘I think that’s more important for you,’ ” Newhouse said. “He knew that’s where God wanted me.”

Even Twardowski was impressed at the passion of his patient.

“He paid attention to kids even from other schools,” Twardowski said. “He knew my daughter was swimming and I didn’t even know he was coaching at that point.”

A month after the diagnosis, Weir took a leave of absence from his job with Power Equipment Company. He’d taken the advice of Twardowski, which was, “take what you love and save your energy for that,” Twardowski said. “Don’t worry about anything else. Do that.”

So from a pool-side chair to his hospice bed, he coached. He watched the team that had six members when he became head coach in 2006 to more than 25 swimmers this season.

He coached them up until he passed away at 5 p.m. Friday.

“I know he did,” Newhouse said. “Because he’s Coach.”


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