By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, November 1, 2018
Andrew Barranco – this year’s James “Jimi” Raymond Flowers Disability Coach of the Year – owes his introduction to Paralympic coaching to Jessica Long.
He encountered a then-10-year-old Long when she came to swim at his club – Merritt Swimming in Baltimore – in 2002.
Within two years, Barranco guided his disabled but determined pupil to a spot on the 2004 Paralympic team headed for Athens.
Long went on to swim in three more Paralympics, win numerous gold medals and set many world records and become the face of Paralympic swimming.
Over that time, Barranco has continued working in the Paralympic swimming world as a coach and supporter, and he was honored with this year’s award – named posthumously for longtime Paralympic coach James Raymond Flowers.
The award honors coaches with outstanding inclusion of swimmers with a disability under the nominee’s direct coaching assignment and/or promotion of swimmers with a disability and disability swimming with the nominee’s sphere of influence.
This demonstration of inclusion and influence should be evident as a part of the nominee’s ongoing coaching philosophy.
“Our coaching styles and personalities are different, but I have always had a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for Jimi and the work he did with disabled swimmers,” said Barranco.
“Winning this award is indeed an honor. I knew Jimi – we shared a room together at Golden Goggles one year – and I admired his passion and enthusiasm for swimming and Paralympic swimming particular.”
A former competitive swimmer himself, Barranco got his start in coaching when he was 17 and was quickly hooked. He started his own swim club – Merritt Swimming – three years later.
Today, his club is 230 swimmers strong and includes a few with a variety of disabilities.
Barranco said he sees the same level of determination and drive in his swimmers with disabilities as he does with the rest – and it’s one of the reasons he’s stayed involved with the Paralympics after Long moved to another team.
“I love coaching, and being able to build my own club team full of awesome swimmers has been a privilege,” said Barranco, who was an assistant coach for the 2008 and 2016 Paralympics and co-head coach for the 2012 Paralympics.
“Being involved with the Paralympics has been an amazing experience that I never really expected. I can’t imagine not being part of it.”
The James Raymond Flowers Coach of the Year award is named for the former USA Swimming National Team coordinator (1989-93). Flowers died while mountain climbing south of Aspen in July 2009.
Flowers began his swimming career as a competitor for the 1979 YMCA National Championship team in Cleveland, Tenn. He was an All-American swimmer at Tulane University where he set multiple school records and was Athlete of the Year for 1982-83.
After graduating from Tulane in 1983, Flowers competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 1984 Olympics and worked as an assistant swim coach at Auburn University.
Following his stint coordinating the National Team with USA Swimming, he served as an assistant coach for Auburn University in the mid-90's. He returned to the USOC in 1999 as the Aquatics Center Manager.
Before his death, he worked as the National Team Manager and Head Coach for U.S. Paralympics Swimming, directing that team to success at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
As a swim coach, pool director and mentor, Flowers impacted the lives of thousands of young swimmers and was instrumental in enhancing the Paralympic movement – qualities that Barranco strives to exhibit every day in his work as a coach and why he was chosen as this year’s James “Jimi” Raymond Flowers Disability Coach of the Year.
“I knew I was nominated, but I was surprised when I learned that I had won,” said Barranco, who has also coached Connor Gioffreda to the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Trials and a spot on the 2017 World Paralympic Championship team. Gioffreda is now a freshman at Frostburg State University.
“I received my glass award in the mail this week, and it’s quite an honor. But I’ve always felt that my real award comes every day when I get to work with the young swimmers – abled and disabled – every day at my club and with the Paralympics.