It’s nearly 6am on a Monday and Frank Wylie is poolside at Wakatipu High.
Stopwatch in hand, he waits patiently for a group of dedicated Queenstown kids to come through the doors to start their demanding weekly training session.
Wylie greets them then gets down to business.
His swimmers, aged 13 to 18, complete lap after lap against the clock while Wylie calls instructions and offers technique tips during the two-hour session.
“I constantly try to find ways to challenge the swimmers and if at times I’ve been a bit prickly or blunt, it’s simply been to try to get the best from the individual,” he explains.
Wylie’s been up since 5am and has downed about three coffees before training finishes. After swimming about 5km, the teens get themselves ready for school and Wylie heads home to complete paperwork, work on the club’s swimming programme, attend emails – and to his own personal exercise – before heading back to the pool for more than three hours of afternoon training from 3pm.
The 61-year-old repeats this routine four days a week, year round.
Wylie never imagined he’d end up a swimming coach.
The former teacher with a passion for snow spent several years in the 1980s chasing winters in Queenstown and Colorado as a ski instructor.
In 1987, he was offered a job by his brother-in-law to manage the Southport Olympic swimming pool on Australia’s Gold Coast.
“I didn’t know anything about swimming,” Wylie recalls.
It didn’t take long for him to get into coaching.
“I learned a lot from my brother-in-law. He later went on to become the Australian national development officer for swimming so he was a good mentor.”
Wylie, wife Brenda and then-five-year-old son Andrew returned to Queenstown in 1994. Andrew’s involvement in swimming renewed Wylie’s interest and in 1997 he took a job as manager of the Queenstown and Arrowtown pools.
At the time, he was coaching kids’ competitive swimming for Queenstown’s two clubs – Remarkables Aquatics and Queenstown Amateur Swimming Club. The two merged as Queenstown Swimming Club in 2002.
With Wylie at the helm as the resort’s first paid swimming instructor, local youngsters have gone from strength to strength.
He now has a team of volunteer assistants and wife Brenda – also standing down – coaches the juniors.
The club boasts about 90 members, 30 of whom swim competitively.
Wylie expects a lot of his proteges and they produce results to prove it.
This season alone, five teens attended the Junior Nationals, eight qualified for National Age Group Champs and eight qualified for National Division Two events.
Wylie-trained swimmers have racked up more than 50 national medals and several have attended the prestigious South Island and national development camps.
“We’ve got a really good swim team that’s nationally-recognised,” he says.
Personal career highlights include Annabelle Simpson making a New Zealand age group team in 2007, and Wylie himself being selected as assistant coach for the NZ age group team attending the NZ-Pacific School Games in 2008.
But Wylie admits he’s getting tired and the demanding split-shifts are taking their toll.
“I’ve sensed within myself that my passion is starting to wane and I’m very keen to leave the club in good health, with a strong swimming group and a very capable and strong committee,” he says.
“It’s been a privilege and an honour to work with the young people of Queenstown and to see their development – both as swimmers and as young people.”
Club president Tracee Harris says the club supports the couple’s decision to stand down but adds they’ll both be sorely missed.
“Frank and Brenda certainly leave behind a legacy,” she says.
“For a small country club, Queenstown punches well above its weight on a national scale. The amount of swimmers Frank has – the ratio who attend national meets compared to city clubs – is actually quite high.”
The decision to resign was tough but Wylie is confident the club’s in good hands: “I’m sure [the club] will be an attractive proposition for a very capable coach from somewhere in NZ or Australia. I’m optimistic a new coach will bring new ideas, new enthusiasm and lift the current group to even higher achievements.”