Eric Namesnik, former Michigan swimmer, assistant coach and two-time Olympic silver medalist, died at 10:11 a.m. yesterday morning at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Superior Township from injuries sustained in a serious car accident last week.
“Snik,” as Namesnik was affectionately called, was 35.
“There’s something special Snik had,” said retired Michigan head coach Jon Urbanchek, Namesnik’s mentor and close friend. “He set the bar of excellence. Excellence in the pool, excellence in the classroom, excellence in community service, excellence in the way he handled himself. He put the bar up there. It doesn’t matter who you talk to. That’s exactly what they say.”
Namesnik was hospitalized with two punctured lungs and head injuries after his car slid on black ice and collided with an oncoming car. He remained in critical condition in a drug-induced coma – intended to relieve pressure from bleeding in the brain – for more than three days following the crash. At about 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, Namesnik was pronounced brain dead. He was kept on life support until yesterday morning so that his organs could be prepared for donation.
Namesnik, who swam for the Wolverines from 1989 to 1993, won silver medals in the 400-meter individual medley in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the 1996 games in Atlanta.
But the Butler, Penn. native touched the lives of many other Michigan swimmers after his collegiate career ended. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and his teaching certificate, Namesnik served as the team’s volunteer assistant coach while he swam for Club Wolverine, Michigan’s postgraduate and professional training program. When he retired from competition following the 1996 Olympics, he became a regular assistant on Urbanchek’s staff. He served for three years as an associate head coach until he left the program following Urbanchek’s retirement after the 2003-04 season.
“He had a real good sense of humor,” Urbanchek said. “I think sometimes that’s a real good X-factor in coaching. It’s not all the X’s and O’s. It’s the interpersonal relationships with other people. I think that’s where he had an edge over everybody.”
Even after current Michigan coach Bob Bowman took the reins, Namesnik continued his involvement with swimming in Ann Arbor. He was in his second year as both the head coach of the Wolverine Aquatics Club and a volunteer assistant with the Eastern Michigan men’s swimming team at the time of the accident.
Former Michigan captain Dan Ketchum said he will remember Namesnik as more of a friend than a coach.
Fellow Wolverine alum and Olympic gold medalist Tom Dolan said he will never forget Namesnik’s tremendous work ethic that “set the tone for everyone that followed him,” he said.
But for Urbanchek, the loss was particularly tough.
“In the minds of a lot of people, Snik was the son I never had,” said Urbanchek, now in his mid-sixties. “He was kind of my surrogate son, and I think he looked up to me a lot. – That’s a great personal loss for me. He was the person I really loved and enjoyed working with, and I know he would’ve gone on to great, great success being a coach down the road. (But) I can’t complain. I think he gave more in the short span of time he was here than a lot of people ever give in a lifetime.”
Namesnik is survived by his wife, Kirsten, and their two children, four-year-old Austin and two-year-old Madison.
“I made a promise to myself that I’m going to be there for the children as much as I can be,” Urbanchek said. “They’re going to have a father figure.”
Namesnik did much of the behind-the-scenes work for the Wolverines in his time as an assistant. He put in countless hours recruiting, filling out paperwork and organizing community activities, in addition to the time he spent instructing Michigan swimmers.
“He always gave of his time,” Urbanchek said. “He was very open and willing to talk. The world of swimming lost a great human being. Not necessarily just a swimmer or a coach, but a great human being.”
Athletic Director Bill Martin issued a statement recognizing Namesnik’s contributions to the University.
“We are truly saddened by the loss of one of the great swimmers in Michigan history,” Martin said in a written statement. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and children during this difficult time. Eric was a great student, athlete, coach and Olympian during his days at Michigan. He left a great legacy for others to follow, and he will be missed by all who knew him.”
While official details are still being finalized, Namesnik will be laid to rest on Monday in his hometown. Next Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Canham Natatorium, Namesnik will be celebrated and remembered with a slideshow of his life and career on the video board.
A trust fund has been organized to support Austin and Madison. To donate, make checks payable to “SNIK’S KIDS” or “The Eric Namesnik Memorial Fund.” Donations should be mailed to: SNIK’S KIDS, United Bank and Trust, 2723 S. State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104.