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NORTH BEND — Bruce Rasmussen has been around swimming for most of his 68 years.

The sport that got him a scholarship to the Air Force Academy took him from the states to Guam and England, and now to North Bend as the newest Bulldogs swimming coach.

North Bend begins its season at Thurston on Friday and hosts the North Bend Invitational on Saturday, with more than 200 swimmers from seven schools.

“I’m very excited about it,” Rasmussen said. “I think I can help even the best of them improve their strokes. I think I can help ‘em to enjoy the sport.”

Following his daughter, who is the commander at the Coast Guard Air Station North Bend — and whose husband is in the same role at Umpqua River — Rasmussen came to visit from Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, and wanted to escape the encroaching cold winter.

The Bulldogs had a coaching vacancy after Sasha Trichler and her family moved out of the area. Rasmussen applied, was interviewed and was hired.

That’s a simple and rather boring story.

The interesting one is what Rasmussen did before.

Rasmussen swam for the Cincinnati Pepsi Marlins, a swim club still in existence in the Ohio city, and dropped his times sufficiently between his junior and senior seasons to earn the scholarship to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Six years later, Rasmussen was in Guam, flying as a navigator there. He coached swimming there, as well, then came back stateside to Hurlburt Field, an Air Force installation in the panhandle of Florida, then jumped across the Atlantic to England.

There, while coaching his team to second place at the European Championships in the 1980s, Rasmussen and a relay team swam the English Channel.

“As a swimmer, there are only a couple things you can do of any noteworthiness,” Rasmussen said. “One is go to the Olympics and the other is swim the English Channel, which was only about 10 hours away of a drive. So we drove over there and hopped in the water and swam across.”

It was a cold day, 57 degrees in both air and water temperature and the current lengthened the 21-mile swim to 28 miles.

Rasmussen himself swam two miles as part of a six-man team.

“That was quite a challenge,” he said. “My swimmers, being very fit, you could see every striation of their muscles. They just froze. I had to jump in and grab one kid, he couldn’t find the ladder. We all look back on it still with great pride.”

At North Bend, Rasmussen takes over a program with strong recent success, talented swimmers and young, energetic coaches.

North Bend’s girls were Class 4A state champions last year and the boys finished second. Several of the swimmers who competed at state return, giving Rasmussen a better than solid foundation with which to work.

But, given that level of talent, Rasmussen isn’t walking in expecting to win. He’s a little broader than that.

“I really don’t want to push to my swimmers that we’re gonna be greatly successful,” Rasmussen said. “I do think we will, but I think I just want them to swim better every meet, swim within their level of training. My big mantra is, ‘Success is consistency of purpose.’ Never is it more so true than in swimming.”

The coaching staff, too, was attractive for Rasmussen.

There’s the North Bend pool director, KayLee Kocher, and Alyssa Bennett, a former state champion for the Bulldogs and swimmer for Oregon State University.

With his assistants and a quality youth program, Rasmussen is hoping to stick around a little longer than he was able to while he was in the service. Rasmussen mentioned Chris Richmond, who coached swimming at North Bend for multiple decades.

Rasmussen knows he won’t eclipse Richmond’s 20-plus year tenure, but is excited to have more than just a few years to coach in a program.

“I’ve always wanted to settle into a program,” Rasmussen said. “And I hope I get to do that here. In the military I was only gonna be a couple years anywhere I was and I had to let ‘em go.”

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