Superior Aquatics coach has been around the world, trains the Rogue Valley
Behind countless Rogue Valley youth swimming victories is a private pool and a coach with more than five decades of experience.
Teen swimmers in Southern Oregon compete under their high school banner, but they get their laps — and guidance — from Siouxha Tokman, a former Olympics swimmer for his native Turkey whose coaching and passion for the sport have taken him all over the world and made him a fixture in the Rogue Valley.
Since Tokman’s arrival at Superior Athletic Club in 1994, the Superior Stingrays aquatics program has grown to 120 youth swimmers from 11 schools, and Tokman said 2022 was among the team’s best years yet.
At the spring Speedo Sectionals in Phoenix, Arizona, last weekend, Superior Aquatics placed 18th out of 58 teams from 17 states.
The local aquatics program also saw 26 of its swimmers qualify for state in different age brackets this year.
Just meeting the state qualifying times was a challenge few swimmers could accomplish, according to Tokman, but four swimmers he coaches — Brie Chamberland, Genevieve Miller, Eleanor Geraghty and Marcus Reyes-Gentry — won state championships in their age brackets.
Tokman said that’s exemplary, considering that the 11 schools his kids attend don’t have their own pools, and the Rogue Valley is the only community of its size that he’s seen in his travels around the world without a single public indoor pool.
“We suffer for pools here,” Reyes-Gentry said.
Medford is currently down to one outdoor public pool, the Jackson Pool built in the 1960s. A new indoor public pool, at the Rogue Credit Union Community Complex, is expected to be open and complete in the fall of 2023, according to the city of Medford.
Tokman hasn’t been involved with the Rogue X project, but he described the need for public pools as a matter of community safety.
“Swimming is the only sport that saves lives,” Tokman said. “We’re surrounded by lakes and rivers — these kids need to learn how to swim.”
With few other options for swimmers to get their practice laps, Tokman described the swim team operated by Superior as a “ginormous service” to competitive swimmers. The USA Swimming-affiliated program gives swimmers year-round pool access and monthly dues — between $60 and $90 depending on skill level — that are far lower than typical parent- or coach-run nonprofit swimming programs.
“The athletic clubs are very lucky,” Tokman said. “We are so blessed to have this pool.”
Superior’s pool, at 727 Cardley Ave., is drained this week, but according to Superior Athletic Club operations manager Joe Keith, the pool’s refinishing and maintenance is among the first in a series of improvements for the athletic club’s two locations in Medford and one in Eagle Point.
“It’ll be like a brand-new pool in a couple weeks,” Keith said.
In the next year or so, Keith has discussed with contractors plans to expand the area around the pool for added spectator space.
On its own, the aquatics program is “not a moneymaker,” but Keith said the locally owned and operated club knows the importance of its pool and its aquatics club for Southern Oregon.
The aquatics program draws young swimmers’ parents to join the club, according to Keith, who took the operations reins for the club’s three facilities earlier this year. Keith said he strives to use his experience in hospitality and aviation to satisfy the club’s more than 5,000 members.
More than $200,000 in new cardio and weight-training equipment is on order, Keith said, and he’s meeting with architects to discuss renovations and updates to the facility, which opened in 1978.
“I was brought in to take things to the next level,” Keith said. “It’s just going to keep getting better."
Keith said his goal is to accommodate standout trainers whether it’s a strength and movement specialist who offers classes using Indian clubs or Tokman, a domestically and internationally certified Level 5 swimming instructor with 17 years of competitive swimming and 53 years of coaching experience.
“There’s a lot of things you can only get at this gym,” Keith said.
Keith said he admires Tokman’s “old school” coaching approach, which is helping to train “some of the best swimmers in the state.”
“He’s all about accountability and doing your part,” Keith said.
Tokman competed for Turkey in the 200 backstroke in the 1972 Olympic Games, according to Mail Tribune archives. He has been coaching swimmers since 1969.
Tokman arrived in Sitka, Alaska, in 1980, became a U.S. citizen in 1985, and earned a degree in elementary teaching from the University of Alaska’s affiliate Sheldon Jackson College.
He coached Superior’s aquatics program between 1994 and 2006, moved to Istanbul for about six years to help care for family, returned to Alaska in 2012, and came back to Medford about 2015.
He now coaches with his wife of three years, Alexandra. Tokman said he came back in part because Superior treats staff “like we own the place.”
The kids also keep him going. He’s helped coach swimmers to the Olympic level and sees similar potential in Crater senior Marcus Reyes-Gentry, who has signed on to swim for the University of Notre Dame.
At the 5A swimming state championships in Beaverton, Reyes-Gentry shattered meet records in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard medley. Tokman, however, cares more about his trainee’s conduct outside of the pool, such as how Reyes-Gentry refuses to step on the podium without shaking opponents’ hands.
“That’s his thing,” Tokman said. “That’s more important than being a good swimmer.”
Tokman said he's received numerous heartfelt thank-you cards from the kids he’s coached throughout the years, and for him, each one is like opening “a million-dollar paycheck.”
“We just do it for the love of it,” Tokman said. “We go into their lives.”
Reach Mail Tribune web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.