For seven years, Mike Taylor stood on the shore of Lake Havasu and watched as the kids he coached swim three miles from the California side to Lake Havasu State Park.
This time, the swim was in his honor.
Taylor, coach for the Havasu Stingrays Swim Team, died suddenly on the night of May 31 while in Flagstaff for a meet. The cause of the 67-year-old’s death is still unknown. A Los Angeles native, Taylor is survived by his wife, Simone, two sons, a daughter, stepson and stepdaughter.
“He will be missed,” said Nancy Johnsen, a board member for the Stingrays and mother of a team member. “I know he was here in spirit. He was always very concerned about the kids.”
It was Taylor who came up for the idea of the lake swim in 2005, two years after he began coaching the Stingrays. Taylor had come to Havasu from a coaching background in California and worked steadily to improve his swimmers’ performances.
“They were a fledgling team when he arrived,” said Annette Johnson, assistant coach. “Now they are known all over Arizona.”
Signs of Taylor’s efforts were evident during Wednesday’s lake swim, with all 14 participants completing the strenuous trip. The fastest time belonged to Caden Carver, 15, who took 1 hour 12 minutes to cross the lake. Second place winner Nolan French had a time of 1 hour 21 minutes, while third place went to Michael Johnsen at 1 hour 30 minutes.
Carver, who has been on the swim team since he was 7, first completed the lake journey at age 9 and has done it every year since, getting a little better with each attempt. This year, he was four minutes faster than last year.
“I was more relaxed because I’ve done it for a longer time,” the 10th-grader said. “I was hoping for a good time.”
Carver credited Coach Mike with getting him onto the swim team in the first place and remembered him as “a great guy.”
“He was funny — there were a lot of inside jokes,” Carver said. “It was a good relationship. He was in my thoughts today.”
Kaaren Little was also thinking about Taylor as her 12-year-old daughter, Irene, completed the lake swim for the first time.
“He was doing what he loved (when he died),” said Little, who was at Taylor’s final meet in Flagstaff. “He was a person of not too many words but a lot of action. He was a wonderful coach.”
Johnson, the Stingrays’ assistant coach, praised Taylor’s passion and noted that condolences have streamed in from swim teams all over Arizona since his passing. The coaches from Kingman and Bullhead City were particularly helpful, taking over the Stingrays during the Flagstaff meet and helping them finish the last two days of competition. During those events, many of the Stingrays swam their best times.
“The kids that were up there (Flagstaff) really swam their hearts out for him,” said Little.
While the Stingrays now have a new coach, Sam Perez from New York state, Taylor will never be forgotten. From now on, the annual trip across the lake will be known as the Coach Mike Memorial Lake Swim.
“We will carry on the legacy,” Johnson said.
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