When Matt Dyer was 6 years old, he joined his first summer league swim team. Now, 20 years later, he is using the knowledge he gained throughout his swim career to coach young swimmers in Greenbrier County.
Dyer, a West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) student who is expected to graduate in May, has spent nearly two years volunteering with the Greenbrier Valley Aquatic Center’s swim team.
“I thought I had a skill that could be beneficial. It wasn’t just signing up to volunteer in the community, but something I knew I could do well,” Dyer said. “I have a 20-year-plus history of swimming, at a high level, and now I have to teach at a level with kids who have never swum a day in their lives. I have to learn how to teach, and that’s also valuable as a medical student or resident.”
Dyer spent much of his childhood in pools in Ohio where he grew up.
“I’ve always loved the water and the idea of being in the water. It’s a completely different medium and you have to move your body in a different way. You have to figure out ways to move through the water faster, which is interesting to me,” he said. “Swimmers traditionally wake up early for practice and work hard year-round to swim fast about twice a year in races. That work ethic and long-term planning helped me develop motivation that has helped in medical school, too.”
Dyer swam competitively, putting in about 20 hours a week during his four years of undergraduate school for Xavier University’s varsity Division 1 team. He won the 100- and 200-meter breast stroke and the 200- and 400-meter medley relay in the Big East Conference Championship during his sophomore year, with wins in the 100-meter breast stroke and the 200- and 400-meter medley relay again in his senior year.
He took a break from swimming after he graduated from college, and got his feet wet again when the aquatic center opened.
“In my first two years of medical school I found out I didn’t like running or cycling, but I wanted to do some form of aerobic exercise. The pool opened at the end of my second year, so I was able to do that again,” Dyer said. “Swimming helps me clear my head. I have a clearer mind when I go back to studying. From the coaching perspective, it gives me something else to critically think about so my brain is not just all medical, which isn’t productive after a certain amount of time.”
When he doesn’t have clinical rotation obligations, Dyer coaches a group of nearly 50 swimmers up to 10 hours a week.
“For the size of the county, that’s a pretty great number. To have only had this swim program for about two years and have this many kids involved is pretty good. I think this program is only going to grow, and that’s valuable because this is a somewhat isolated area for swimming,” Dyer said.
When the swim team first formed, Dyer taught youths the basics – how to swim the four competitive strokes, how to jump off the starting block and how to turn in the water. For the past year, he has focused more on training, aerobic and anaerobic energy techniques and how to swim faster for races.
Dyer is working to prepare the swimmers for a statewide meet in Morgantown this spring, but above all he wants practice to be fun.
“We are trying to build this program, and the best way to build it is for kids to want to be there. At the same time, there are kids who are starting to get serious about swimming and want to get faster and better. We want to push them, but there needs to be a balance. With the older kids’ group, we are working hard but we are having fun, too,” he said.
Darcie McCraw, the aquatic center’s general manager, said Dyer’s knowledge and experience have been a great addition to building a swim team.
“We have loved having him, first as a member and now as a coach,” McCraw said. “It is cool to have a swimmer of his caliber involved. People love seeing him in the pool, and it’s exciting to see living proof of what these kids on the swim team can achieve if they continue to work hard. Coaches like Matt are imperative to that process.”
With a handful of months left until he graduates from medical school, Dyer knows it won’t be easy walking away from a group of young swimmers whom he helped grow interest in a sport that has meant so much to him.
“I like the idea of being a founding member of a successful swim program in an area that hasn’t had access to indoor swimming,” he said. “I have been trying to recruit other medical students to help with the program after I leave.”
Six first-year medical students at WVSOM have agreed to help with the team next year.
Dyer plans to apply for internal medicine residency programs, and hopes that wherever he becomes a physician, he can find a pool to let the water clear his mind.