Sunday, March 8, 2015 | 3 a.m.
By the time the sun peeks through the windows at Desert Breeze Pool, Victor Hecker’s swimmers have logged hundreds of laps.
With a stopwatch hanging from his pocket, Hecker quickly rattles off times for the 30 or so swimmers. He knows each one’s strengths and weaknesses, and he has a plan to make them swim faster.
The Las Vegas Masters adult swim team trains each weekday morning under Hecker’s watchful eye, listening carefully to the man considered one of the nation’s top masters coaches.
Hecker, who has been coaching locally since the mid-1970s when he was hired as UNLV’s first swim coach, recently turned 80. But don’t let his age fool you.
He’s still sharp, partially because he stays active coaching, and is in great physical condition.
“We know he is the best coach in the country, especially for adult amateurs,” said Karin Wegner, the club’s administrative assistant. “He is probably the best in the world. That’s why we come loyally every day.”
Hecker, a volunteer coach, never stops moving around the pool deck, watching each swimmer and documenting times. He gives pointers and offers encouragement. He never yells, because swimmers know what’s expected.
He is so respected that some swimmers move to Las Vegas to be in his program. Club members wear shirts with the saying, “We swim for Vic.”
“They want me here,” Hecker said. “I love that. I consider myself to be young because my swimmers look to me as being one of them.”
The results speak for themselves. At the U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championships in May, Hecker’s male and female teams both placed fourth out of more than 200 teams. In 2013, at the U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championships, Las Vegas took sixth, despite entering fewer swimmers than other clubs in contention.
The masters swim club includes a mix of former high school and college swimmers, late bloomers to competitive swimming, retirees and record holders. There are former Olympians and others who participated in the Olympic Trials. A former Olympian from Turkey posted his fastest time after coming to Hecker’s club.
Hecker demands everyone work hard in training, but there also are plenty of laughs and tremendous camaraderie. Hecker, without question, is the family’s patriarch.
“I can teach anyone how to swim and how to swim properly,” he said.
Take 80-year-old Will Rauch, who is a multiple national champion in his age group. He has been one of Hecker’s swimmers for the past 13 years.
Rauch was in his late 60s when he started swimming but saw his times improve almost immediately under Hecker’s tutelage. Soon, Rauch started winning races.
But, as with most of the swimmers, fast times aren’t his only goal.
“I’m 80 and healthy,” Rauch said. “This is exercise, you know. I owe it all to Vic and his coaching.”
Hecker came to Las Vegas in 1974 to start UNLV’s swim program. He had produced multiple All-Americans at the Lynwood Swim Club and Lynwood High in Southern California.
After a brief tenure at UNLV, he returned to the club scene with the Las Vegas Swim Club. The city was much smaller then, but Hecker’s swimmers competed against the nation’s top clubs.
Hecker spent a few years retired from coaching to build a real estate business but couldn’t resist getting back into the sport. He trained his daughter at the Las Vegas Municipal Pool when she swam for Palo Verde High in 2000. An adult swimmer who was practicing at the facility asked Hecker for some pointers, and soon he was working with a handful of adults.
“Every level of swimming, they come to me, because of what I know and what I can do,” Hecker said.
Hecker typically heads to the gym after practice, then to his real estate office to work. Three times a week, he conducts multiple practices in a day.
He doesn’t plan on slowing down. Neither do his swimmers.
“He doesn’t seem 80, right?” asked Melissa Giovanni, a club swimmer. “He always says we keep him young. I have never had a coach with so much enjoyment and excitement, just love for the sport. He is so proud of everybody. You can’t help but want to work hard for him and train hard. Whatever he says, you do.”