HASTINGS-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. - An accomplished high school and college swimmer, Hastings-on-Hudson native Lance Thornton joined the Air Force in 2011 and he has again found the pool as a YMCA club swim coach in Montgomery, Ala..
Stationed at Maxwell Air Fore Base in Montgomery, Thornton, like many members of the military, has reached out to his adopted community to mentor young people.
"Once I got settled, I thought, as a military member, ‘What better way to give back to the community than doing what I love anyway?’" Thornton said. "Coaching isn't like doing a job for me. It is the most rewarding experience I have ever been a part of."
Thornton, who also played football for Hastings High School, went on to SUNY's University of Buffalo where he holds the school record in the 200-yard individual medley and received a Robert Kissinger Swimming and Diving Award for student-athletes who exemplify outstanding work ethic and commitment.
He was a four-year all-conference collegiate swimmer competing in the the 100-yard butterfly, 100-yard breaststroke, 50-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley, racking up numerous accolades and experience he now uses to mentor the Montgomery YMCA Barracudas.
"There came that point where I knew I was done swimming competitively," Thornton said. "But, I always knew I would be around the pool in some capacity. The Air Force offered me the greatest opportunity to pursue a career field that I was interested in -- computer programming -- with a high quality of life."
Thornton, an operations and communications technician, started his first job in the Air Force as a programmer and began searching for community involvement opportunities shortly after arriving here.
"I figured I had something to give back to the community, and my experience gave me an outlet to become involved," he said. "A vast majority of my weekends and evenings are spent volunteering, and I wouldn't trade that opportunity for anything."
After six months of volunteering with the Barracudas, Thornton became the head coach for the YMCA's entire swim program. In this role, Thornton leads the instruction for 130 swimmers ages 6 to 18.
"I spend about 12 hours a week at the pool with these kids," said Thornton, who also is a physical training leader with his Air Force unit. "We want to empower them to be successful both in the pool and, more importantly, in life. Our program aspires to foster an atmosphere for kids to make friends and their parents to get to know other adults. The camaraderie that comes from sports brings them together and benefits the entire family."
During Thornton's first season with the Barracudas, the team set 48 personal records out of 56 swims. Seven former team members are on current Division I college scholarships. In the past three years, the Barracudas have produced an Auburn University swim team captain and four 2012 Olympics trial swimmers.
"I lean on the lessons I learned both in the pool and thus far in my military career to stress dedication and discipline to my team," he said. "My goal is to prepare them for swimming and college with emphasis on proper work ethic, discipline and dedication to best prepare them for the next level."
"For me, a child achieving a goal is what coaching is all about," he said. "It is way more rewarding when the kid succeeds than when I did as an athlete. If you're not coaching to see the smiles on the kids' faces, you aren't doing the right thing."
From a report submitted by By Air Force Airman 1st Class William J. Blankenship