NEW PORT RICHEY — Casey Claflin knows the look.
It intrigues him, sometimes overwhelms him. He loves that look.
The longtime competitive swimmer and coach knows what the face of a swimmer looks like when he or she did well, maybe even got a personal best or record.
"I coach because of that look on a kid's face that they look at the clock and think 'I can never go that fast,' " said Claflin, who has been swimming since he was 8. "They look around for validation of it, and I love being able to tell them, 'Yeah, you can and did.' "
Claflin is the Gulf High swim team coach. He also coaches the Tampa Metro Masters New Tampa branch and helps out part time with the Tampa Bay Aquatics branch based at the New Port Richey Recreation Center.
As a coach, his knowledge is as deep as the far end of the pool, so much so, his girlfriend says, that people are always seeking his advice.
"He knows everyone's ability," said Lisa Sinclair, Claflin's girlfriend of 31/2 years as well as his pupil. "He will push you, but he'll also make you work. He has so much experience in swimming and coaching swimming that people will come to him for advice. They'll seek him out to see what he thinks."
Still, Claflin, 55, is a swimmer at heart; water runs through his veins. So in his free time, which he says is very limited, Claflin still competes, usually in the masters divisions in the 55-59 age bracket.
Claflin excels here. He had already broken three world records, and though those have since been broken, he recently broke another: the 50-meter backstroke short course, coming in at 30.15. The previous record was 30.25.
It was his fifth attempt to break the record, and Claflin wasn't certain he wanted to try it. He debated with himself, finally determining he would because "who's knows if I'll be alive next year."
He told Sinclair not to tell anyone, that he'd just go for the record, knowing if he couldn't get it, he'd could try again more than a year later.
"I had to try," Claflin said. "I didn't tell anybody, not because of pressure, but I was ready as I'd ever be.
When he raced, "I thought to myself that I had (it), but it was (on) my face, too. I made that face," Claflin added. "When I figured out I did it, I kind of levitated out of the water, I didn't feel much, and Lisa got a big sloppy kiss, and I gave myself a big high-five."
Now he wants to see that face on his swimmers. Claflin knows that coaching is basically a give-push relationship.
"That's it — he's dedicated," New Port Richey Rec Center aquatics manager Linda Cassidy said. "He's so focused to bring competitive swimming to light in this area. He's totally dedicated because he tells you: 'The only I won't be here to coach is (when) I'll be dead.
"He concentrates on the kids, and that's what's important."
Sinclair knows the dedication. The couple might see each other twice a week, if they're lucky, and that includes pool time. She relents because of his dedication, seeing — and knowing — his coaching firsthand.
"I've certainly gotten faster, but he can be very low-key," said Sinclair, who swims the women's masters 45-49 bracket. "He's tough but quiet and patient, though he'll be firm with his swimmers. He's all business and straightforward, but still has a soft touch.
"He combines old time and new school (coaching) very well. You have to learn his method and personality and get used to it."
The records, though, serve a purpose for Claflin. Despite the publicity that swimming has gained thanks to Michael Phelps, Claflin thinks that more exposure is needed locally and that doing something different, such as breaking a world record, might do the trick.
For now, he'll continue to coach, seeking out the next new face.
"I wasn't the best swimmer, not like those Olympians," said Claflin, who always stuck to the shorter events. He suffered a heart attack when he was 19 after inhaling too many chlorine fumes while working at a pool. "I love coaching."
He throws some philosophy into the mix.
"Swimming can always be more than just swimming. It can help with troubles in life because once you get in the pool, some things just wash off.
"We teach about life, talk about those things, and, in the end, coaching is more than just getting laps out of them."
Community sports editor Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.