Winand Williger and his family live in the Netherlands, where he owns and manages swimming pools. Williger was the Mid-American Conference Swimmer of the Year in 1987 and was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001. Winand Williger // Photo Provided
FOR THE RECORD: Former Ball State swimmer brings American coaching techniques to Holland
Editor's note: "For the Record" is a weekly series featuring former stand-out Ball State athletes and their lives after college.
Winand Williger had a simple instruction when he hopped on his plane from the Netherlands in 1985.
Sport: Men’s Swimming and Diving
Years at Ball State: 1985-1989
Hall of Fame Class: 2000-2001
When he landed at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, he was supposed to find the man wearing a hat with a "B" on it — Ball State swim coach Bob Thomas, whom he had never met.
Then 18 years old, Williger had never been outside of his home country but was willing to venture anywhere in the world for his love of swimming and to get an education. He just didn't think that venture would begin in Muncie, Indiana.
“Our television is all about America,” Williger said. “The big country. The big cities in New York or Los Angeles. When I came to Ball State it was a little bit conservative, and old.”
Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Europe, but when Williger was 6 there was no youth soccer program in his town of Eijsden. That year, a swimming pool was built in Eijsden so he jumped in. When he was ready to start swimming competitively, Williger joined a club in a neighboring town.
“I swam from 1972 to almost now, almost every day,” Williger said.
David Costill, director emeritus of the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State and an avid swimmer, was in the Netherlands doing research at the University College Maastricht and swam at Williger's swim club. Costill asked Williger if he was interested in swimming at Ball State after he graduated high school. Williger received a full scholarship to swim and a chance to come to the country he had only dreamed about before.
“I had a dream like it was on television,” Williger said. “But when I was in the Midwest I didn’t feel like I was in the right place at the moment.”
Williger made himself known at Ball State — and Thomas took notice.
"Over the years that he swam here it was like having a player/coach," Thomas said. "Winand was a man among boys. He wasn't your typical teenager. He was so much more mature when he came here."
Williger stamped his name in the record book. His 200 individual medley time of 1:50.76 is second all-time at Ball State and he ranks third all time in the 200 Freestyle and 1000 freestyle. He was named the Mid-American Conference Swimmer of the Year in 1987 and won the MAC Championship in 1987-1988 in the 100 and 200 Freestyle. After winning his fourth championship, he was favorited to win two more but on the second day of the tournament he came down with a kidney stone and was too sick to compete.
"He just was an incredible competitor," Thomas said. "He made a major impact not only on our team but in the conference."
The physical education and general business double major never really left the pool after his days at Ball State. He moved back to Eijsden and after working his way up the ranks, now owns and manages swimming pools.
The 52-year-old is married and has four kids who all swim competitively: Clara, 20, Ina, 19, Toine, 18, and Loes, 16. Toine recently beat his father's time in the 100 freestyle.
“We are very competitive," Williger said. "So I told him that these are my standards and he beat my time by six seconds."
Today, Williger stays very involved with the sport that is rapidly growing in the Netherlands by coaching.
“What I did when I was an athlete in the swimming pool, I do it on deck now,” Williger said.
His Ball State roots even come out when he is coaching. His time with Costill heavily influences his coaching style.
“I learned a lot about swimming training wise, methods and strength training," Williger said. "Now that I’m a coach I try to bring over what he did on his research."
He frequently comes back to the United States and still keeps in contact with his teammates. He made the trek back to Muncie in 2001 when he was inducted into the Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Williger is thankful for his time at Ball State. He got to experience American culture all while competing in the sport that would become such a great part of his life.
“Sports are by yourself, but when you’re in the pool you’re one team," Williger said. "Also, after you’re done with swimming, you feel you are part of the team. That’s the real nice thing."