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Emblen retires after 26 years in physical education

October 08, 2001

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    Gary Emblen led 90 athletes to compete in national championships during his 15 seasons as head swimming and diving coach.

During his 15 seasons as head swimming and diving coach at Lewis & Clark, Gary Emblen rarely broke a sweat. But behind that calm, low-key demeanor beats the heart of a true competitor and a master motivator.

Emblen led 90 athletes from the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams to compete in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national championships.

“The ’80s was our banner decade,” says Emblen, former associate professor of physical education and athletics, who retired after 26 years at the College.

During Emblen’s best season, he led the women’s swimming team to a seventh-place finish at the AIAW small-college national championships in 1981-82. Five of those women earned All-American status in eight events, including Karin Deck ’85, national champion in the 200-meter butterfly. The men’s swimming team placed ninth at the NAIA tournament that season, and two individuals earned All-American status.

“Each person is unique. Sometimes you have to push several buttons until you find one that works,” Emblen says. “For every athlete who responds to constructive criticism, there is one who won’t. That’s when I’d appeal to an athlete’s innate competitive instinct.”

After the 1989-90 season, Emblen stepped back from coaching to devote his time to teaching aquatic classes.

“Gary provided leadership and stability in the development of a comprehensive aquatics program at Lewis & Clark College,” says Dell Smith, registrar of the undergraduate school and former chair of the Department of Health and Physical Education.

“He was a superb teacher with great patience and sensitivity toward students who struggled in the water. He had a significant effect on hundreds of students who spent time in the pool under his watchful eye.”

Emblen earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from the University of Montana and a master’s degree in health and physical education from the University of Oregon.

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