Tom Downer loved water and gladly shared his passion with others, especially young people.
Last Thursday, the 63-year-old water sports enthusiast, trainer and instructor died in a tragic kitesurfing accident in the Cayman Islands. According to the Cayman Compass, Downer was blown away in a building at Colliers Public Beach in East End Village in Grand Cayman and later died in a local hospital.
“It was a real shock,” said Herb Vochatzer, who has known Downer for many years and coached with him at Bear Creek High School. “He was always in good shape and taking care of himself. It happened doing what he loved to do.
Downer’s last Facebook post, December 27, shows him walking towards the ocean holding a kitesurf board: “I’m trying to kitesurf. This may be my last post before landing in Venezuela.
Downer, who worked in the home loan business in Stockton, ran Bear Creek Aquatics, a program in which Downer invited “everyone to the exciting WORLD of swimming and all the cool things you can do, IF you can swim” , according to a passage he wrote on the Bear Creek Aquatics website.
Downer coached swimming and water polo at Bear Creek High School and helped lead the boys’ water polo team to two consecutive unbeaten San Joaquin Athletic Association titles and a first round playoff victory of the Sac-Joaquin Division II section in 2016.
In 2011, Downer and local parents continued Stockton’s summer swim program when it lost town funding. In 2013, Downer began his role as director of the Stockton Summer Swimming League meet, an annual event that brings together hundreds of kids from Stockton’s recreational swimming leagues for a three-day extravaganza. As a child, Downer swam around town to meet for the West Lane Tennis Club.
“A group of parents got together and decided, ‘we can do it,'” Downer said in a Record article in July 2014. “It was a group effort with the hard work of all parents and the financial management that made it possible The kids didn’t even notice it It’s a tribute to the swimming community We’re a tight-knit group.
Through Bear Creek Aquatics, Downer has offered competitive initiation and development programs in swimming and water polo, water safety, lifeguard, first aid, CPR, open water training and advanced, including nitrox and SCUBA certification and training. In 2012, Downer swam from Windmill Cove to Ladd’s Marina in Stockton, about two miles away, in less than 90 minutes to raise money for the organization.
“He’s Bear Creek Aquatics,” said Vochatzer, who took over as the Bear Creek boys’ water polo coach in 2018, when Downer resigned to devote more time to Bear Creek Aquatics and d ‘other interests. “He’s done so much. I don’t know who is going to step in and do it.
Downer has traveled frequently to Hawaii and other places to lounge and play in the beautiful waters of the area. Some of his favorite activities outside of diving included whale watching and blue water rafting during the winter months in Maui.
“The most important thing about Tom was his outlook on life,” said Mike Heberle, women’s water polo coach at Bear Creek High and frequent collaborator with Downer. “He was just one of those people who was able to be in the moment but could also plan.
“He was a very active person, who shared his passion with everyone.”
A Memorial Vigil will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Bear Creek High Pool.
Contact reporter Bob Highfill at (209) 546-8277 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bobhighfill.