When Kevin Strong was a Westport YMCA Water Rat swimmer, coach Bill Krumm asked him to mentor a new team member. Both boys were 11 years old.
They forged a great friendship. Strong — a very talented swimmer — quickly brought his teammate to the Water Rats’ high athletic and personal standards.
Both swam at high level college programs. They were in each other’s weddings. Today, Strong — a Staples High School Class of 1988 graduate, now a pediatrician in northern Maine — calls Krumm’s request to help another boy “an opportunity I’ll never forget.”
Three years later, the Westport Y selected Strong as its representative to run with the Olympic torch on a 1/2-mile Fairfield County leg, from the East Coast to the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He was chosen not only for his swim team accomplishments, but because of the way he lived the Y’s values.
Strong’s run came at night, in the pouring rain. The electric torch was lit. More than 3 decades later, he recalls how thrilling it all was.
Runners kept their torches. Each was also given a gorgeous mahogany case, inscribed with their name and date of the run.
For years, Strong kept his in the basement.
He told both stories last week at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, to an audience of 200 Water Rat alumni, Y friends and admirers of Krumm. They came from as far as Singapore to honor his memory. The longtime coach died suddenly in March, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.
“Bill was a great technical coach,” Strong recalls. “But he was just as talented in helping kids get through that awkward 9- to 14-year-old stage.”
So — at the end of his 5-minute eulogy — Strong tied his 2 stories together. In a surprise, stunning move, he lifted up the Olympic torch he’d brought from Maine — and announced he was donating it to the Westport Y.
Then he asked everyone who knew Krumm to help choose an appropriate inscription.
Strong is not sure where the gift will be displayed. He hopes it’s somewhere near the trophy case, at the pool.
But he knows what it will do.
“I want that torch to inspire some 8-year-old kid to be the best swimmer and person he can be — just the way Bill inspired me, and helped me grow,” Strong says.
“I learned so much from him. Now I can give back to others, just like he did.”
Besides, he says, “That Olympic torch does a lot more good at the Westport Y than sitting in my basement.”