Your Neighbor: Meet Ryan Michel

Published 12:05 am Thursday, January 25, 2024

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By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier

The culmination of months and months of hard work and training paid off on Friday for Coach Ryan Michel and his Reagan Raider swim team. With the looming excitement and hype over the winningest coach at Reagan High School, Michel’s swimmers came out victorious for both the girls and boys in the Central Piedmont 4-A Championship (CPC).

“It was really exciting to see everyone meet their goals as a team,” Michel said.

With the added pressure of having coached the girls to 19 CPC wins since the opening of Reagan in 2005, and the boys in back-to-back CPC victories, the formula for success has been working for Michel. While Coach Michel has been synonymous with success, he has also garnered respect from his athletes both in and out of the pool.

“Growing up in sports myself, I recall the impact my high school water polo coach, Bob Lawrence had on me,” Michel said. “He was also my English teacher. I started playing water polo for him my freshman year after experiencing burnout from years and years of travel soccer. I quickly learned how having an invested coach and educator in me as a person motivated me and helped my self-confidence.

“My junior year, he awarded me the Coaches Award, not because I was the fastest swimmer or scored the most goals, but because he recognized work ethic and leadership, and it meant so much to me. I learned the importance of recognizing all of those intangibles and aim to share those valuable lessons with my students and athletes, too.”

Michel also knows what it is like to experience disappointment and how critical it is to be able to shift one’s mindset.

“The summer before my senior year, I had a crushing injury in my L5 spinal nerve,” Michel said. “For a period of time, I lost feeling in my legs, and no one could figure out what was wrong. I spent the next six months wearing a body brace. It was devastating not to finish out that year with my water polo team (which was a year-round sport in California).”

Michel’s water polo coach continued to support and encourage him.

“He made sure that I still felt part of the team and made me feel included,” Michel said. “It was really hard not being there physically, but knowing he still valued my participation and wanted me to be a part of it was very compassionate.”

With lessons from his ups and downs in sports and a solid academic performance in high school, Michel was encouraged to head from the west coast to the east in order to experience college.

“I saw firsthand how educators and coaches really make a difference to students,” Michel said. “I wanted to do that, too. I studied chemistry for my undergraduate degree and minored in political science at Wake Forest University. I started coaching during my sophomore year in college at the Central YMCA with Robin Jacobs. She was very nurturing during that time, and we had a lot of fun at the meets. I also enjoyed getting to know the families and swimmers during that time.”

After Michel’s senior year at Wake, he was offered the head coaching job at the Jerry Long YMCA and became the assistant aquatics director.

“I went to graduate school at Wake to get my master’s in education not long after I graduated,” Michel said. “Dr. Evans, a professor at Wake at that time, had encouraged me to consider a fellowship program.” The program was awarded to only two candidates each year, and Michel learned that those awards had already been given out.

“Thanks to the encouragement of Dr. Evans, I was given the opportunity to still receive the fellowship if I maintained certain academic grades throughout my summer classes. I was excited when they extended an additional fellowship to me to attend their graduate program.”

Because Michel had stayed busy during his undergraduate and graduate studies in the community, he was heavily recruited by Stan Elrod, who was then principal of R.J. Reynolds High School in 1996.

“Mr. Elrod knew coaches were hard to find, and he supported me every step of the way while I was at Reynolds for nine years,” Michel said. “I began coaching their swim team and taught chemistry.

“Mr. Elrod even credits himself with introducing me to my future wife, Kathryn, who was also a teacher there. He would joke with others that we met in high school. Although, former Wake Forest Basketball standout Ralph Kitley, who shared a classroom with Kathryn, likes to take credit for introducing us. I will always be grateful I was at Reynolds because of her.”

While Michel immersed himself in high school chemistry and swim team, he appreciated that the community was so welcoming.

“One of my YMCA swimmers’ dad was also the Mt. Tabor Coach, John Giles. Although Reynolds and Mt. Tabor were rivals, as soon as I started coaching over there, he talked to me about coaching strategies and was very helpful. I just wish he hadn’t retired so I could have had the chance to beat his team,” jokes Michel.

When Principal Elrod left Reynolds to open Reagan High School, one of his immediate calls was to Michel.

“He offered me the science chair position in addition to teaching chemistry and also coaching the swim team,” Michel said. “It was really tough to leave because I had met so many wonderful students and their families. They took both Kathryn and me in like we were family, too.

“People like him and Dr. Harold Pollard were always there to offer support both personally and professionally. Harold delivered both of my children (Simon, 22, and Sam, 14). He even came home from the beach early to deliver Sam for Kathryn and I. It was hard to leave families like that.”

However, Michel quickly made meaningful relationships within the Raider community, which was the mascot name bestowed upon the school with his recommendation. Michel has even had the opportunity to coach his own son Simon when he was a student there. In the fall, Michel’s youngest son, Sam, will be a freshman.

“When I became a teacher and a coach, I always wanted to have a flexible schedule, too, so I could spend the summers with my kids,” Michel said. “I’ve been lucky I’ve been able to do that. Even though Sam and Simon are eight years apart, swimming has been the one sport that we’ve been able to do together as a family during summer league. It also has the community element, which makes the sport even more fun.” The Bermuda Run head coach has earned the Small Division Championship Award for the last two years.

“The years I have been able to coach with Simon and have Sam on the team have meant so much to have those memories together,” Michel said.

Family and community will always remain a theme that resonates in Michel’s life.

“I’ve realized as I get closer to retirement age it’s important not to wait to do the things that are important,” Michel said. “My family and I have started taking more trips, and I credit Kathryn for planning some really educational and fun trips for us, which started in all of the bigger American and Canadian cities to Iceland and Finland this spring break. I don’t want to have any regrets with my family.”

That same philosophy was also felt by his swim team on Friday.

“I am still excited for all of them,” Michel said. “And hearing from so many former swimmers and their family members made it even more special. I was blown away by the support, and even from families whose children had graduated 10 years ago that came to the meet. Family and community makes moments like those as good as it gets.”