Making Waves

Head swim coach Sion Brinn has returned to Indian River State College – the school that first gave him the support to become a national record-winning swimmer.
Head swim coach Sion Brinn has returned to Indian River State College – the school that first gave him the support to become a national record-winning swimmer.

If you ask Indian River State College head swim coach Sion Brinn what’s new, the unassuming and humble man will probably shrug and say, “Another victory on the wall.” You see, for the past 41 years, IRSC has reigned supreme at the National Junior College Athletic Association’s (NJCAA) Swimming and Diving Championships.

“Indian River was where it all started for me. I had always maintained my ties here, and came back to visit my mentors and those who made a positive impact on my life,” he says, standing by the wall at the IRSC pool that lists every championship earned by swimmers for the past 41 years.

What the unassuming Brinn will also shrug off is the national acclaim he received from the NJCAA as Men’s Coach of the Year. The two-time Olympic contender is so quick to move the spotlight to his students that it’s difficult to gather information about his own athletic accomplishments.

Born and raised in Jamaica, Brinn says his father promoted sports as a way to burn off youthful energy. Brinn says he tried soccer, but growing up in Jamaica, swimming was a no-brainer. When IRSC recruited Brinn’s older sister, who thrived at the college, his dad suggested that IRSC might be a positive environment for his rebellious teenage son, too. But unfortunately, the school didn’t recruit Brinn.

“My dad essentially bought me a one-way ticket to Florida, and I was given a chance to try out for the team as a walk-on,” says Brinn, recalling the pressure of being a teen trying to make the grade and not having a backup plan. “I worked hard, and I got great support here from the college, faculty and my coaches, Chris Ip and Brooks Teal,” he says.

Brinn graduated in 1993 from what was then Indian River Community College and headed to Louisiana State University, where he majored in kinesiology. There, he continued to grow as an athlete, and was honored as a national record holder in several events. He went on to compete for both Jamaica and Great Britain in the Olympics. Unfortunately, his father passed away a few months before the 2000 Olympics.

Brinn dove into a position as an assistant coach at Wright State University, eventually moving into the head coaching spot before hearing two years ago that a position was open at his alma mater.

“I realized that I was given a chance at Indian River when I came here, and as a young athlete, you learn to remember everything you are taught and pass those lessons on to others. As a teacher, you learn that it’s not just about teaching a student, it’s about educating a whole person,” he says. Brinn encourages academic progress for the diverse students under his direction.

Taking the helm of a team that has not lost in four decades would seem to be a tremendous amount of pressure for some, but Brinn takes it with ease.

“Yes, there is pressure, but it comes from me, not IRSC,” he says. “I have tremendous support from the school and the administration at IRSC. They give me all the tools I need – I simply have to get the job done.”

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