As a swim coach (first for Nation’s Capital Aquatic Club), Joe Pascale has a simple rule: “I don’t demand. I guide my athletes with an open forum with their thoughts and opinions as well as mine. We troubleshoot through processes of trial and minimal error.” The minimal error part of the equation derives from Pascale being a self-avowed “stickler for technique and the fine details — breathing patterns, race strategy, technique, starts, and turns. You have to be meticulous at practice and then try to hold it all together while racing. But efficiency is the key to faster swimming.”
This approach allows Pascale to develop mature athletes and connect with–and ultimately gain the respect of–athletes of any age. A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Pascale’s own swimming career began at Nation’s Capital, where he trained at the same site as 2000 Olympic breaststroke medalist and world record holder Ed Moses. Because Pascale came to the sport later than many of his peers and “lacked the aerobic base”, he stuck with the sprint free events. But he got up to speed in record time, managing to claim DC All-Metro Swimmer of the Year honors in the 50 and 100 free by his junior year of high school. He would graduate with a 21.5 shaved and tapered and a 48-something in the 100,” he later recalled in an interview with USA Swimming.
Pascale’s meteoric rise got the attention of college coaches, but he was still so new to the sport that he didn’t recognize the cachet of the powerhouse programs courting him, especially the NCAA championship team he eventually joined. “I’d never heard of Auburn,” he confesses. “My father had me fill out their questionnaire. Soon I was talking to (then assistant AU coach) Dave Durden.” Now he finally understood the magnitude of what was happening to him. “I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity once I read up on the Auburn tradition and coaching staff.”
Pascale describes the transition to Auburn as “hands down, the most humbling and toughest experience of my life.” He was a newcomer to the sport on a team where “everyone was an Olympian.” But things eventually began to click, if only briefly, for Pascale during a dual meet against Michigan. “I was on fire that night and came in second behind teammate Fred Bousquet (AKA “the Fastest Man in Water”) in the 50 free.”
He swam as a varsity athlete for two years before quitting the team in 2005. In hindsight, he realized, “I don’t think I was mature enough to be a student athlete at that level. I didn’t get it. I regret quitting to this day,” he told USA Swimming in 2012.
He regretted it so much that six years later, he got back in the pool and began seriously training in hopes of making a run at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Part of the motivation for his comeback was atonement. “This was my apology to guys like Dave Durden and Dave Marsh.” He finally understood “what they were trying to teach me.” Luckily, he was still in shape, if not swimming shape.
After leaving Auburn, he found himself in California, where he got in the budding sport of mixed martial arts. Once again, he found himself in a “little fish in a big pond” scenario, slated to fight the No. 2 welterweight fighter in the world. He lost badly. He suffered a broken jaw and needed a low impact form of cardio during his rehabilitation.
He knew just what to do: swim.
During a weekend visit to see his family, Pascale got back in touch with his club coach from NCAP, Pete Morgan, who encouraged him to recommit to the sport. He moved back to Virginia to train full-time. Eventually, Pascale found himself on the deck of the 2012 Olympic Trials, where the atmosphere wasn’t so different from a big MMA match: “It was one of my greatest experiences in life. It was a lot on the senses with the fire and laser shows plus the roar of the crowd, and I loved it all.”
His bid to make the 2012 Olympic team fell short, but he kept training through April 2013 before retiring for a second time. And after a few years on the MMA circuit, he was back on the pool deck, this time as a coach.
As a coach, he combines the lessons he picked up from both swimming and MMA, paying close attention to his swimmers’ training-to-rest ratios and weight training sessions.
Pascale is still active in both the pool and the octagon. He swims for fitness while training in Muay Thai kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In June 2015, he competed at the IBJJF World Championships in Long Beach, Calif.
He describes coaching as a natural progression. “In hindsight, swimmers are coaches in their own right. We push each other in workouts and give one another tips for a better training session or race. It was always in me, I guess.”
Pascale combines his superior dryland and weight-training knowledge with a can-do, detail-oriented focus to work with athletes at the Fitter and Faster clinics.