The 1993 National Independent Championship Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina drew the fastest collegiate swimmers in the country including former ORU student Amabilis Sanchez.
Sanchez felt the butterflies and pressure of the big stage, but he put his nerves aside and finished first in the 100-meter freestyle.
ORU swept the podium as Osman Monsalve and Diego Henao took the silver and bronze medals. It was a defining moment for Sanchez. Each had times a little over 45 seconds. The Titan swim team set multiple records and gained national attention.
“We were so nervous and excited, and we did it. We made several golds, like we never did,” Sanchez said. “It was unbelievable. It was awesome. People congratulated us, and we were in the Tulsa news.”
Sanchez came to ORU in 1991 after receiving an athletic scholarship and being recruited for the team by Coach James Kerr.
“[Kerr] had a team of international swimmers,” said Sanchez. “I felt like something special, because he was recruiting all the best, and I was there. Just with that you feel very special.”
The team struggled during the 1991 season. They trained hard to be competitive. Sanchez worked endlessly to improve his technique, and to increase his swim times.
His day typically started at 4 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. The next year brought greater challenges as the Titans faced a higher level of competi- tion. Coach Kerr pushed his team to succeed.
“The great James Kerr was the one who made me improve all my swimming times,” said Sanchez. “I never saw such a fast improvement as I saw in myself. He had a very good plan. He was cheerful all the time, and he really was into it.”
The swim team celebrated their successes, but rumors began to swirl around about the swim team being cut. ORU was making serious budget cuts and the swim team was likely going to be a part of it.
Sanchez wrote a letter to the athletic department voicing his concern. Later the whole swim team decided to visit the athletic department personally.
“They were realistic with us,” said Sanchez. “The budget wasn’t enough to keep the team, as well as two others [athletic teams]. But, they encouraged us to do our best, and if they saw the results they expected, it might change the fate.”
Sanchez knew he and his teammates would have to do better to keep the swim team alive.
“All we wanted was to show how champions get to the top,” he said. “It was a new challenge to be the best, and to prove we deserved to stay in the budget.”
Sanchez went to swim camp Mission Viejo in California to prepare for the rough year ahead.
He came back to campus and posted the best season of his ORU career in 1993, and his teammates did the same. The team won the gold, silver and bronze medals in 100-meter freestyle. Sanchez, Monsalve and Henao posted Olympic trial qualifying times in several events.
The swim team ranked around 200 in ‘91 and rose over 50 spots in the national rankings by the end of the 1993 season according to Sanchez.
It was the successful year the ORU swim team had to have. Despite the obvious success and rise in the national rankings, ORU had no choice but to cut the team.
Sanchez received an athletic scholarship to Florida State University and finished his collegiate swim career with the Seminoles.
Despite not being able to finish his degree at ORU, Sanchez looks back at his time in Tulsa fondly.
“For me it was really great. ORU is a very good school. They have wonderful people, wonderful teammates, wonderful roommates. The whole university was very good for me,” he said.
Sanchez is currently living in his home country of Venezuela. He manages a swimming club and oversees about 120 swimmers of different ages.
“My prayers are that [ORU] gets back that swimming team we used to be,” said Sanchez. “I have always dreamed about carrying the dream coach Kerr left.”
Photos courtesy of Amabilis Sanchez