Right-hand woman

By Gus Bode

Though Tiffany Gowen is 800 miles away from where she grew up, she is right at home when she is near a swimming pool.

Gowen was hired during the summer as an assistant coach for the Saluki swimming and diving team. Gowen is the first woman to hold the position of assistant coach in the SIU swimming and diving team’s history.

Head coach Rick Walker said Gowen has already earned the team’s respect.


“She brings everything that we need as a team,” Walker said. “She is beginning to get more comfortable in her role, and both the men and women are accepting her as a coach of authority.”

Gowen began her swimming career at the age of 5 in Georgia. She started to swim with a summer league, and the competition and friends she made kept her coming back for more, she said.

At 13, Gowen decided to put all her focus and energy into swimming, and she gave up dancing and softball. Gowen and her family moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where she went to the college preparatory Bolles School.

Gowen said her swimming instructor in Georgia suggested the school to her family.

“My instructor told me Bolles would be a great opportunity, especially if I wanted to swim at the college level,” Gowen said. “Bolles had won plenty of state and national championships and produced some Olympians. It was a great opportunity for me.”

Gowen continued her career at Texas A’M where she was an NCAA All-American. Gowen won two Big 12 championships and broke a school record in the 400-meter freestyle.

Bolles School offered Gowen her first coaching job out of college. Gowen instructed 8- to 10-year-olds, what she said was a great experience.


“The kids found all my results from college after my first day coaching,” Gowen said with a laugh. “It meant a lot to me because it showed me they cared and looked up to me.”

Gowen left Bolles and put her kinesiology degree to work when she served as a coordinator at Velocity Sports Performance Institute, also located in Jacksonville, Fla. She handled day-to-day operations at the complex, which offers exercises to improve speed, power and agility for athletes.

Gowen decided to apply for the assistant coach position at SIU after her husband started working as an equipment manager at nearby Murray State. Gowen said she has developed a passion for coaching she did not expect.

“I tell my friends I don’t even feel like I am going into work,” Gowen said. “This is a great experience for me and I want to keep coaching. I never thought this is what I would be doing while I was a swimmer, but I love it.”

Gowen has already made a positive impact on the team.

Sophomore Jameson Kuper said he finds it helpful that the coaches switch off and work with a different group of swimmers every week because it keeps things fresh. As a medium-distance swimmer, Kuper said Gowen is able to give him guidance on how to approach different sets.

Junior Isabel Madeira said she enjoys having a woman coach because she can relate to her easily. Madeira said road trips have also become easier with Gowen getting her in the right mindset for the race.

Gowen’s aspiration to become a head coach is something Walker said he sees her accomplishing in the future.

“Right now she has the chance to get experience and get prepared,” Walker said. “She knows what she is talking about because she has been there. I think she will be a great head coach one day.”

Jeff Engelhardt can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 238 or [email protected].