Well-Known Aquatics Coach Dies in Tragic Accident in Cayman Islands

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STOCKTON — The Stockton and Lodi communities said goodbye to a beloved aquatics coach Thursday.

To say Tom Downer enjoyed the water would be an understatement.

“He taught all the lifeguards, did all the lifeguard training for virtually every pool in Stockton,” said Herb Vochatzer, who coached with Downer.

Whether it was water safety, water polo, first aid or scuba diving, Downer spent his life teaching others about having fun and being safe in the water.

“He did CPR, first aid, scuba and he had an after-school program and he coached high school up until last year,” Vochatzer said. “He stepped down just because he had so many things going on.”

The 63-year-old was killed last Thursday while kitesurfing in the Cayman Islands after the wind picked him up off the water and slammed him into a building adjacent to the beach.

“It didn’t surprise me that he tried it, that’s how he was, you know, he was adventuresome,” Vochatzer said. “But never reckless I wouldn’t say. Just a tragic accident.”

“It’s devastating for a man who’s touched so many lives to be gone,” said Julie Butler, who also coached alongside Downer. “But, on the positive side, he was doing what he loved and that was being an adventurer.”

Downer not only enjoyed the water but he also thrived in it.

“It was a sporting accident but again it was something that he loved to do,” Butler said. “He was having fun and God said it was his time.”

Thursday night, generations of the people he shared his love for aquatics with paid one last tribute to the man who taught them so much about the water.

“We’ve already heard much support from parents, from other coaches that if there is anything we need that they are there to help us pursue Tom’s continued dreams,” Butler said.

The vigil wrapped up with a moment of silence and donations to the family. If you’d like to donate you can contact the Bear Creek High School Educational and Athletic Foundation through Facebook.


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