Ken Berg's long affiliation with Fitch swimming nearing an end
Groton — This was one time Ken Berg, awaiting surgery on his torn right meniscus, was coaching sitting down.
Berg, head coach of the Fitch/Stonington/Ledyard/Norwich Tech boys' swimming team for the last 29 seasons and affiliated with the program since he swam for it as a member of the Fitch Class of 1975, was sitting on a bench on the right side of the pool Tuesday afternoon for a dual meet against Eastern Connecticut Conference rival East Lyme.
"I'm so worked up, my heart's going like 100 mph," Berg said during the 500-yard freestyle.
Berg has announced this will be his last season as Fitch's head coach, although he hopes to return in some capacity, perhaps as an assistant. He gave up his position as head coach of the girls' program after the 2016 season.
Yet here's how Berg spent part of one of the final dual meets of his distinguished career. It was during the 500 that Berg, unable to hobble over to lane five — quickly, at least — shouted to assistant coach Katey Kokomoor.
"Somebody's got to go over there and get on Nathanael (Padgett, who would finish second in the race)," Berg said.
And so Kokomoor spent the next five minutes bustling up and down the left side of the UConn Avery Point pool, waving her arms, cajoling Padgett to swim faster.
Fitch won the meet 92-78 to remain unbeaten at 4-0 overall and in the ECC.
"I love it," said Fitch senior John Marcolina of competing under the direction of Berg. "You work hard. Everything he puts in ... there's nothing better than when you swim a good race and look and know he's happy. If I have a good swim, he's just as happy as I am.
"He has so much knowledge of the sport it's ridiculous."
Berg, 62, is the head of his own company, Tormberg Landscapes, a blue-collar guy. He injured his knee, on which he'll undergo surgery later this month, while kneeling to install pavers (or outside flooring). He works just as hard at coaching; Marcolina will often receive a YouTube video, he said, that Berg feels might help him in some way.
Berg has an explanation for his work ethic.
"I had a really good father," said Berg, who grew up in the same Groton neighborhood in which he still lives with his wife Deb. "I didn't have any kids at the time, so I became a coach. ... My dad, (Rudy) worked seven days a week, two days a week in his yard. He was well-respected. I respected the hell out of him.
"You know, you go out for a beer after work. He never went out for a beer. I believe (in coaching swimming), that the end result is how hard you work. If you work hard, you can teach a human being to be fast."
Berg swam the leadoff leg of Fitch's State Open champion 400 freestyle relay team as a senior. He later competed at then-Division III Bryant College, where he majored in accounting.
"I think it probably has to do with my love for engineering," Berg said of his fascination with the principles of swimming. "There are a lot of beautiful, mechanical things in the world. I think of swimming as an opportunity to fine-tune your body. When you swim, your whole body is involved: balance, breathing.
"There's so much to it."