A familiar face is in the middle of the pool for the United States Marine Corps Wounded Warriors Regiment, and he is filming swimmers from all angles.
Former University of Hawaii swim coach Jan Prins, who has been on the faculty at Manoa for 32 years, was recently appointed head swim coach for the Marines’ Wounded Warriors program.
Prins works in kinesiology and rehabilitation science at UH and is director of the school’s Aquatic Research Laboratory. He returned late last year from Camp Pendleton in California, where he analyzed swimmers in training.
The program provides assistance to wounded, ill and injured Marines and family members to assist them in returning to duty or transition to civilian life. The emphasis is on "ability rather than disability."
There are two more training sessions in the spring, heading into the second annual Warrior Games in May at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Some 200 disabled active-duty service members and military veterans will compete there in shooting, swimming, archery, track and field, cycling, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball.
The Marine Corps will send 50 competitors, including swimmers who have been under Prins’ video microscope. The Army will send twice as many from a pool of more than 9,000 active-duty soldiers recovering in Warriors transition units.
Prins’ background was an ideal fit. His area of expertise is biomechanics, or the study of motion. Recent work involves a new high-speed filming technique that has discovered the fastest part of a swim stroke is in the middle, not the end, as has been thought for 50 years. He has focused on disabled swimmers since 1986 and went to Barcelona and Atlanta as part of the U.S. Paralympics coaching staff.
"l’m looking more at permanently disabled athletes," Prins says. "It was clear they are doing things way different to compensate, very sophisticated things to make up for a lack of arms or whatever. That was very exciting. That background dovetailed well with my coaching. I sent my resume to the Wounded Warriors and they liked it."
He paid $100 each way to get all his bags to California, bringing video equipment so he could film "Warriors" with four cameras — facing head-on, from above and the sides. Many of Prins’ Wounded Warriors had back injuries from stepping on mines. A few suffered bullet wounds and there was a double amputee.
They shared something else along with the disabilities — a serious competitive nature.
"That’s the reason they are there," Prins said. "Some didn’t know what they were getting into when they came to the camp, they were just curious. They realized this is serious stuff and they got excited. They are very competitive."
They were also intense. Each of the three days at Camp Pendleton started in the pool. Every afternoon they analyzed each other’s strokes using Prins’ videos, and he lectured. Then they went back in the pool.
"It was 8 hours a day but the time flew," Prins said. "I think they enjoyed it."