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Last Lap


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Jul 1, 2019 8:00 AM

After 38 years at UCLA, Cyndi Gallagher ’83 is stepping down as head coach of the women’s swimming and diving team.

Courtesy of UCLA Athletics.

After 38 years at UCLA — two as a student-athlete, and 36 as a member of the coaching staff — Cyndi Gallagher ’83 is stepping down as head coach of the women’s swimming and diving team. And she’s doing it for a very special reason.

“My daughter has a 1-year-old and recently went back to work. She was so sad that she was going to have to drop her baby off with strangers,” Gallagher says. “It was at that moment I knew I wanted to be there to take care of my granddaughter, just as my mother-in-law had been there to take care of my daughter when I took the UCLA coaching job.”

A member of the USA National Team, Gallagher arrived at UCLA in 1980 and was a highly successful student-athlete, garnering All-American honors and setting several school records. But she also excelled as a coach — starting as a Bruin assistant coach in 1982 — and compiled an impressive 202-107-2 overall record in dual meets, making her by far the winningest coach in program history.

Since becoming UCLA’s head coach in 1988, Gallagher led the Bruins to Pac-12 titles in 2001 and 2003 and steered them to top-10 finishes at the NCAAs in nine separate seasons. She coached 21 Pac-10/12 champions, 91 All-Americans and 11 Olympians, including Marilyn Chua, Malin Svahnström, Kim Vandenberg, Nicolette Teo, Amanda Beard and Rhodes Scholar Annette Salmeen.

“Cyndi’s legacy will be that of coaching swimmers holistically. She not only created elite swimmers, but also extraordinarily strong women,” says senior Elena Escalas, a breaststroker who finished her UCLA swim career this past season. “In keeping with the teachings of John Wooden and [Head Gymnastics Coach] Miss Val, Cyndi worked tirelessly to coach the person before the athlete.”

Naya Higashijima, who has served as the Bruins’ associate head coach since 2012, says, “The leadership Cyndi brings to work every day will be something I will miss. She is intentional and purposeful about having joy, even when things can be tough on a given day.”

In a farewell letter to the campus, Gallagher left one final message: “As I walk away from being the head coach at UCLA, I am humbled. It has been a great run, with lots of fun and joy and amazing people and experiences. I end my career, not always being satisfied, but without regrets. I hope you will always remember: Do your best, and your best is good enough."