MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - Former swimmer Wayne Swank seems to always be around water in his life. From growing up riverside in Virginia, to being the first scholarship swimmer at West Virginia University, to working in forest hydrology in North Carolina.
A native of Woodbridge, Va., Swank grew up on the shores of the Occoquan River, where he first discovered his love for the water and the outdoors.
“I grew up in Northern Virginia near the Occoquan River, that’s where I learned how to swim,” said Swank. “I also spent my recreation time fishing and hunting there.”
When it came time to decide where he was going to get his college education, Swank wanted somewhere with a forestry program that could help him pursue his dream of working in the outdoors.
“I went to West Virginia because of its accredited forestry program, as a kid my playground was the forest. My first choice was at the University of Montana, and I had been working there for a while, but I decided then to go back east. My brother was in school at WVU and so I decided to join him.”
Swank’s love of the water was able to transfer over to the newly formed WVU swim team. Swank swam all strokes for the team from 1955 through 1958, and was part of their first dual meet win against Fairmont State in 1957.
“The old Mountainlair was quite a facility back then, it was considered new at the time,” Swank said. “The pool was made out of surplus aircraft carrier from World War II that they managed to shape into a swimming pool.
“Our pool was famous for being extremely cold. We were used to it, so at home meets we had a bit of an advantage because visiting teams could not get warmed up in time.”
For his senior season, Swank was awarded the first-ever swimming scholarship at West Virginia. Following his time in Morgantown, he further pursued his education and the outdoors.
“When I graduated from WVU I got married, my wife was also from WVU and was very active on campus in student affairs. I then went to the University of Washington to pursue my master’s degree and had an assistantship.”
During his time in the Northwest, Swank worked in the forests and rivers of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, including maintaining the trails initially used by Lewis and Clark.
“When I finished my doctorate, there were three jobs available for me. One at the University of Arizona, one at the University of Alaska, and one in Franklin, North Carolina,” said Swank. “I took the job back east and began working with the Forest Service at the Southern Research Station. I worked in forest hydrology, so you can say that my life has always been near the water.”
During his career that has spanned over three decades with the Forest Service, Swank has served as an adjunct professor at Georgia for 35 years, as well as several other universities, including Florida, Clemson, NC State, Virginia, and many others, where he has assisted with research and worked with graduate students.
“One motto I live by is that practice makes perfect in everything you do. You have to work at everything, nothing is going to fall into your lap,” Swank said. “Hard work never hurt anybody, but also, never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself.”
One thing is for sure, whether it was growing up riverside in Northern Virginia, was in the pool as the first scholarship swimmer in WVU history, or working with the forest service studying the rivers in North Carolina, Wayne Swank has spent his time following the water.