by Nate Widom
Between the splashes and kicks, two HAC swimmers in adjacent lanes discovered they knew each other long ago. Retired teacher and swim coach Bob Evancho was swimming next to his former student and athlete, Brenda Denesowicz, who works with the HAC membership team. Once they realized their connection, a remarkable bond was rekindled.
“What are the chances that my high school swim coach and Spanish teacher would be here at HAC, and I’d be swimming next to him in the pool?” says Brenda. “I had no idea about his back story—like we were teenagers [at the time]. We weren’t like, ‘Hey, Mr. Evancho, how did you get this job?”
Brenda is correct about Bob’s backstory. At 76, Bob has a fascinating life involving a lot of determination, dedication, and overcoming challenges. Most importantly, he is thankful for those who have helped him along the way.
Bob worked at William Penn High school and enjoyed a 38-and-a-half-year career before retiring in 2006. Most of his time was dedicated to being a foreign language teacher. Later, he was the site coordinator and principal of William Penn’s James H. Groves Adult High School.
For six years, Bob was a committed swim coach. Although, coaching wasn’t his initial intention. “The first time that I learned that I was the girls’ swimming coach was on the morning announcements,” he recalls. Bob’s own daughters were involved in swimming, and he spoke to the head swim coach at the time, Wayne Giberson, offering to help. Bob offered to be a scorekeeper, timer, or PA announcer at school swim meets.
However, on a typical morning, the school announcements declared that winter sports were beginning, and girls interested in swimming should meet him in room W100. Now, Bob was the coach—but he had no experience or technical knowledge of swimming. He admits that he didn’t know how to get out of his position, so he just went for it. To Bob, it was another challenge, and once he began, the rest was history.
He and his team made states frequently, including all four years Brenda was in high school. One year, the team even placed in the top five. “The second year I coached, my team went 9 and 3. Much to my surprise, I was voted girls coach of the year by the other coaches,” Bob recalls.
“The girls on the swim team, like Brenda, made my life easy because all I had to do was put the swimmer’s name on the lineup card, and they jumped in the water and did the rest,” he mentions. “And she was one of the best.”
“What he didn’t know is that we were sometimes late to practice because we would stop at McDonalds,” Brenda laughs.
In 1990, Bob stopped coaching to accommodate his new job at the adult high school. Still, he remained active in swimming. He was involved in the DIAA High School State Swim Committee for 36 years and even traded his red WP coaching shirt for a white swimming official’s shirt. He also officiated in the summer Suburban Swim League and, for five summers, worked as a supervisor for a local pool management company, Progressive Pools.
As Bob remained involved in these various swim programs throughout the area, he occasionally ran into Brenda at swim events for her own children. However, like most teachers and students, the two didn’t see each other regularly once Brenda graduated.
Later on, Bob retired and joined HAC with his wife, Barbara. And for most of his life, he admits he wasn’t active. “I have no fitness background. I’m totally unfit, and that’s the truth. Until I retired, I did not do very many things physical.” When teaching, Bob even joked with a fitness-obsessed coworker, “My body is a temple, and you know how bad Temple [University] is at sports.”
Initially, Bob only worked with a few machines, enjoyed the club’s former circuit setup, and did personal training with Denise Boyle.
Then on a routine doctor’s visit in August 2019, he received worrying news. “I went to the doctor for my usual visit, and she said that my A1C was too high, and my glucose was too high, and I needed to do something about it.” His doctor noted that he needed to exercise more and suggested swimming. Even though Bob was a successful swim coach with many team accolades, he confesses he isn’t the best swimmer.
“As I was coaching [Brenda] in swimming, [the team] used to ask me if I can swim, and I was like, ‘yes I can, but they don’t use a stopwatch to time me, they use a sundial,” he jokes. “I am extremely slow.” When they discovered they were swimming next to each other in the pool, Brenda was doing two laps for every one of Bob’s laps.
“When I was born, I always walked with a limp. It’s a neurological thing — and I have never wanted to say it’s a disability — it’s a challenge!” Bob mentions. “It hasn’t stopped me from doing whatever I wanted.”
Bob admits that his challenge causes him to swim a little more leisurely and with imperfect form. But for him, speed isn’t the goal. “I persevere, and endurance is my thing,” he states. “I can probably swim as many yards as most people who are 76 years old. I have — and Brenda will tell you this — I have no form, I have no style, but I just go along in the water. I’m a swim coach — I know I have no form.”
Even though Bob’s challenge affects his swimming, he still loves the feeling of the water and enjoys its health benefits. “It’s therapy. I enjoy it because it’s something that I can do by myself. It takes me almost two hours to do what I do. That way, it gives me some time to think and reflect.” Furthermore, according to him, the exercise is primarily upper body, so it’s easier on his legs.
From when he began swimming in 2019 through the end of that same year, Bob swam 51 miles. In 2020 and 2021, he swam 195 and 185 miles, respectively. He even once swam as much as 3400 yards in one session! As of early December, Bob achieved his goal of 200 miles in 2022.
Something Bob prides himself on is that he doesn’t compare himself to others. He stresses that swimmers “go for it” and “swim against themselves.” As Bob ages, he plans to continue this philosophy by lowering his lap time goals.
“It’s the endurance and perseverance that I am interested in. Can I [swim] as well as other people? Probably not, but that’s okay too,” he mentions.
Bob comes to the club as often as he can, usually 3-5 times a week, and still trains with Denise Boyle. He continues volunteering for state swim meets and is involved in other local swim programs. He is thankful for those who helped him during his coaching days, the friendly faces at HAC, his doctor, and his family. “From the time I walk into the club… It’s a great team and a comfortable place to work out,” Bob states. “I want to be healthier. That’s my main thing,” Bob admits. “I think I am probably more fit today than I was 15 or 20 years ago because I didn’t exercise back then. That’s the goal of staying healthy.”
Bob loves the saying, “Success comes in cans, not cant’s,” and insists people shouldn’t be afraid to fail. “Success comes after failure. Most people aren’t successful their first time or all the time,” Bob concludes. “We all have failures that can be turned into triumphs.”
Through the years of coaching and being a HAC member, Bob is thankful for the inspiration and support he’s received from others. Particularly, he thanks the William Penn Boys’ coach Wayne Giberson, Concord Girls’ Coach Carol Wood, Newark Girls’ Coach Marie McIntosh, and Michael Ramone, the head coach at Dickinson. Bob credits the four coaches for their guidance and instruction, which led him to his ultimate success as a swim coach.
His daughters Kathleen and Kristin were instrumental support in his swimming activities and are accomplished swimmers themselves. He is grateful to his wife, Barbara, for being the best supporter of his involvement in swimming and most other aspects of life. Also, he appreciates his doctor, Victoria B. Mawn, who suggested swimming to improve his A1C and glucose levels.
In terms of the HAC staff that makes him feel so welcome, he thanks Brenda Denesowicz, Denise Boyle, Tariq Thomas, Carlos Dominguez, Laura Nagle, Jenna Massi, Jordan Biscoe, Tim Woody, and the entire lifeguard staff.