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Stroke of brilliance

Two former swimming teammates turn to a coach on their big day

The wedding rehearsal was supposed to start at 6:30 p.m. one Friday in September. But the minutes ticked toward the bottom of the hour, then away from it again. Bridesmaids checked the time on their phones. Groomsmen glanced at their watches. Where, they all wondered, was the officiant?

The coach who had witnessed the beginning of many courtships got to play a role in the culmination of one. JEFF SAMPSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Eventually, a man stepped into the garden where the ceremony would take place the next day. He caught the wedding party’s attention, but not because they thought he was the person they were waiting for. “They were a little confused,” recalls the groom, Robb Rotramel. “They were like, ‘Why is Hegle here?’”

Rotramel and Amber Alexander, two former swimming teammates at St. Cloud State University, wed Sept. 5 in Spearfish, South Dakota. Jeff Hegle, the men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach at the school, presided over the ceremony. The couple knew their guests would delight in their choice of officiant, so they kept his identity a secret.

“He’s been to so many weddings because of all the people who met on the St. Cloud swim team and got married,” Rotramel says. “He has been at the beginning of every relationship, so we thought, because he has contributed so much to so many people, what better way to start our marriage?”

Hegle met Alexander and Rotramel before they met each other. He recruited her – a breaststroker who would earn All-America honors at St. Cloud State – out of Minot, North Dakota. And he watched Rotramel grow up: His brother Ryan, eight years older, also swam for the school, and little brother Rob would grow up to be a sprint freestyler who was part of a school record-setting relay team in the 400-yard freestyle.

The couple met in the fall of their freshman year. Both lived in Shoemaker Hall, Robb in Room 103 and Amber in 204, and would walk to their morning classes together. Their similar schedules meant they almost always practiced together, sometimes swimming in neighboring lanes.

“Coach Hegle was not only an integral part of athletic and academic careers, but also our personal relationships,” Amber Alexander Rotramel says. “I strongly believe that when you swim under coach Hegle, you learn not only how to be a better swimmer but also how to be a respectful and responsible person.”

By April of their freshman year, they were dating. Six-and-a-half years later, they were taking vows before Hegle and their family and friends – among them some two dozen former St. Cloud State swimmers. Hegle told the attendees how the couple reminds him of his grandparents, two northern Minnesotans who have been married more than 50 years.

The newlyweds’ next race, after all, will be more about endurance than speed.