ST. PETERSBURG — As a coach and friend, Paul Hutinger didn't go easy on fellow swimmers. He never hesitated to tell someone how they could improve. Friends and family who remember Hutinger say he motivated with genuine interest, and that's what made him so special.
"He was always concerned," said Charles Schlegel, head of the Maverick Masters swim team. "He always went a little deeper.
Mr. Hutinger, 89, died July 17 after a long battle with skin cancer. Though he spent seven decades as a swimmer, friends and family say he was, at heart, a coach.
Mavericks remember their longtime leader as caring and concerned, but his soft touch didn't invite those out for a leisurely swim.
Thanks in part to his dedication to improving every member's stroke, his club has the highest percentage of All-American and Top 10 swimmers of any U.S. Masters club, Schlegel said, and between 1997 and 2004 won eight National Small Team titles.
"Everybody became a cousin, an uncle, a brother. It was a great family," he said.
Mr. Hutinger couldn't help but coach, and he didn't limit his pointers to his own team.
"Paul really enjoyed swimming, he enjoyed coaching, he enjoyed helping people, he enjoyed working with not just our swimmers but anybody," his wife, Margie Hutinger, 74, said.
Mr. Hutinger was born in Nashville, Tenn., and grew up in St. Louis. He started swimming during his sophomore year of high school. He studied exercise physiology at the University of Iowa, earning bachelor's and master's degrees, and received his doctorate under famed swimming coach Doc Counsilman at Indiana University.
Mr. Hutinger joined the faculty at Western Illinois University in 1964 as a professor of physical education. He coached the school's swimming and water polo teams to a conference title and championships.
The Hutingers met in 1989 at a meet that Margie was hosting in Wisconsin. They saw each other again the next month at a meet in Indianapolis and spent the day talking on a balcony.
"That was our beginning," Margie Hutinger said.
Mr. Hutinger had two sons, Scott and Chuck, from a previous marriage.
When Paul retired from teaching in 1992, the couple moved to St. Petersburg. They were married in 1993 at North Shore Pool, in their swimsuits. She calls him "my favorite swimmer."
There, Paul Hutinger and a small group of other swimmers saw a need and created a solution. They started their own Masters club, made up of mostly older swimmers who felt ignored by younger coaches.
Most team members were 60 and older, and wouldn't have to live in St. Petersburg or practice with the team to join. Schlegel, 85, is active in the group from the Daytona area.
Doris Prokopi, 78, the team's assistant Maverick, lives in Land O'Lakes. She spends about two hours each day practicing her stroke, and used to check in with Mr. Hutinger to measure her progress.
"I asked him how I was doing in swimming, and he said 'You're doing fine on your own,' " Prokopi said.
But if she wasn't, Prokopi knew, Mr. Hutinger would let her know.
He held backstroke records in every age group he competed in — including the 85-89 age category. In 2004, that feat earned him induction into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
When Schlegel started to struggle and considered giving up, Mr. Hutinger pushed his friend to get back in the pool.
"If you keep active," Schlegel remembers Mr. Hutinger telling him, "you're still alive."
Mr. Hutinger competed in his last meet in June 2013. His swimming regimen stayed strong until last fall, when a doctor discovered skin cancer had spread to the bones in his nose. By December, he was hospitalized.
"He credits his 75 years of swim training to his ability to survive, and he trained hard throughout his long life," Margie Hutinger said.
Contact Claire Wiseman at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman.