With a passion for life defined through family, swimming and his legacy as a swim coach, Bill Powell copes with the possibility of these memories fading as he grows older.

At twelve years old, Bill Powell knew exactly what he was going to be when he grew up. Powell's heroes were his father, a sailor-turned-swim coach, and his late uncle, a cop; and Powell was going to be one or the other. Because he had lost his uncle in the line of duty, Powell explains his mother made his choice clear, "My mother looked at me and said, 'You're not going to be a cop,' Powell said,"we had one cop in the family and that was one too many."

And just like that, Powell's legacy as one of the greatest swim coaches that collegiate athletics has ever seen got its footing. 72 years later, Powell has never second-guessed his decision to be a coach.
Powell got his start as a coach along the idealistic shores of Lake Michigan in St. Joseph, Mich. where he had his first coaching job at the local high school. It's "the most romantic town in America," Powell said. It's where him and his wife Joey, both Michigan natives, first started their family, "just a fantastic place," Powell adds.

Not long after he began coaching, people in the swimming community started asking when he was going to start coaching college. "I was stunned!" Powell said, "I said, 'I'm perfectly happy here, I love this, you know?'"

But eventually, Powell gave in, "I had that itch to coach in college, I had kind of gotten to the top in high school," he said, "So I took the job and started from scratch, there were no swimmers here."

A persuasive professor at Western Kentucky University talked him into moving from the postcard-esque St. Joseph to take a chance on Bowling Green, Ky., where Powell would build his very own swim program.

Over half a century later, Powell's positive impact on the greater swim community, WKU and Bowling Green is indisputable. He is better known to many just simply as "Coach." If you ask him whether or not he knows anyone in Bowling Green, odds are he'll respond, "Yes, and I taught them how to swim," and at this point, he often adds, "and their kids!"

Over his 46-year coaching career, Powell has been awarded Coach of the Year 11 times, once as the Michigan High School Coach of the Year in 1968, and three times as the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year. Powell amassed the second-highest win total ever in NCAA Division I men's swimming with four hundred and twenty-five total victories and led the women's program through similar success after it was founded in 1997. Powell's career as a coach is nothing short of legendary.

On April 20, 2005, after 36 seasons as Head Coach, Powell announced his retirement. Since then, swimming has remained a foundational part of his life. "I try to swim two or three thousand yards every day. And it's good for you. Everybody should do it," Powell insists.

Since his retirement, Coach Powell still teaches a beginner's swim course each semester at Western, "I love teaching. I love teaching kids to swim. I love teaching adults to swim," Powell said, "I love just plain teaching."

Immediately, Powell instills in his students the importance of swimming, "You need to swim every day," he said during their first class of the semester, "Because I mean, running is great, but swimming is better."
Powell's love for the sport gets him up and in the pool each day, but the health benefits of swimming are an added bonus.

On the first day of class, Powell handed his students an article that shared a study that swimming may increase your life expectancy. An article from AARP states, "In a study of more than 40,000 men ages 20 to 90 who were followed for 32 years, swimmers were 50 percent less likely to die during the study period than were walkers or runners."

As he grows older, Powell has become extra cognizant of how his body and mind are beginning to change. He hopes swimming really does help him live longer. While his doctors assure him he is still in great health, Powell finds his anxieties about old age creeping in.

"I'm worried about being eighty-four because [my dad] was eighty-four [when he died]," Powell said, "I want to be like my dad but not too much, not perfect."

Specifically, Powell's worries about the longevity and reliability of his memory — his family has a history of Alzheimer's, so he is extra wary of signs of forgetfulness.

"I'm getting forgetful, and every time I get forgetful, it scares me," Powell said, "My mother's side all had Alzheimer's. They never knew who I was or who anybody was, you know? God, it was terrible."

To cope with his anxieties about developing Alzheimer's, Powell "exercises" his brain every day, he says, by playing Sudoku every morning and naming his four kids, their four spouses, and his twelve grandchildren every night before he falls asleep. This ritual helps him ease his mind.

"But it's getting bad, I can see it coming," Powell said, nervously, "But I am a lot older than most of them were when they got bad. So I have some hopes. And I also hope that swimming is going to keep me a little clearer."

people aged 65 and older living with Alzheimer's in Kentucky

family caregivers bear the burden of the disease in Kentucky

of people aged 45 and older have subjective cognitive decline
I love life, so I want to stay alive as long as I can. Every once in a while I think, man, I wonder if I could make it to 100?
— Coach Bill Powell
"There are some studies that say that swimming will keep your mind clear for longer than most people, so I'm hoping for that. But I got it in my genes. So if the next time I see ya I don't know ya, have faith in me. Play along with me," Powell laughed.

Coach Powell's love for life and the people in it are all the resolve he needs to keep holding onto as many memories as he can. His wife, Joey Powell, assures him he is hyper-conscious of his forgetfulness because of his family's history, not because he is actually showing signs of Alzheimer's.

The Powell's life is "rich with people," Joey says, they both consider their family to have grown exponentially because of their swim team, they consider their previous swimmers to be honorary children and grandchildren. And people, at the core of it all, is what matters most in this world to Coach Powell.

"I love living life because I love meeting people," Powell said, " I'm happy… I just love living and want to keep on if I can, if the good Lord sees fit for me to. I want to keep going and keep meeting people."

Director, Cinematographer, Writer, Producer — Sam Mallon
Special thanks to The Powell's