George Fox University took a major step in shaping its nascent swimming program by hiring Spokane Waves Aquatic Team head coach Natalie Turner to lead the program, which will begin competition in the 2018-2019 school year.
"George Fox University's intention is to compete immediately within the Northwest Conference and to run a championship caliber collegiate swim program," athletic director Adam Puckett said. "I am thrilled to name Natalie Turner as our first-ever swim coach as she brings immense knowledge of the northwest swim club environment, an intense competitive spirit and a love for Jesus."
A California native, Turner was a four-time Northwest Conference swimmer of the meet, 12-time individual NWC champion and 10-time NCAA Division III All-American at Whitworth from 2006-2010. She still holds the individual NWC record in the 200 free, 500 free and 1,650 free and was named Whitworth University female athlete of the year as a senior.
"I really feel like it's a unique position that I don't think many coaches get at all, being able to start a new team and set the culture of that team with recruiting," Turner said.
After graduating with a degree in sociology and criminal justice, Turner taught English to pre-school children in Korea for a year and started coaching club swimming part-time on the side in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, after returning to work in psycho-social rehabilitation.
After joining the Spokane Waves as a full-time assistant, it became clear it could be a career and when the then-head coach left just a few months after her arrival, she was named interim coach for a few months before getting the permanent position.
"I just ended up realizing that I was starting to do my passion again, which had always been swimming," Turner said. "Getting to be involved in that was really cool."
She said her favorite part of coaching is relationship building, but that was also the hardest part of leaving her club in Spokane.
She added that she's already begun recruiting as she works to get the word out to coaches and swimmers that George Fox is now an option. GFU will be the last school in the NWC to add swimming and one of just a handful in Oregon, so Turner said there is already a lot of interest in the program.
She will also recruit current students with swimming experience to join the team for a "zero" year this winter that will involve practice, but no competition.
"Our plan is to get as many kids in the water as we can," Turner said. "I really want to make sure the kids that we do bring in are kids that are going to fit in really well to the culture that we want to build at George Fox."