Jeff Julian is the head coach at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. He helped coach Jason Lezak before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In 2015, Jeff Julian was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
While going to different doctors, he was losing hope because all they saw was a dead man and wouldn’t consider a treatment beyond the standard care. He about lost all hope when he finally found a doctor who gave him hope and helped put him in a clinical trial for immunotherapy drugs.
Now, with his cancer gone, he shares his story of hope and enjoys life even more than before.
“To everyone going through a tough time, I want to tell you to never give up hope,” Jeff says. “Hope is never a bad thing. Hope is the foundation on which we get back up and the belief that something better can come tomorrow.”
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Jeff was born in Germany, but he moved to California at a very young age, and pretty much his entire life has been spent in San Gabriel Valley. Jeff grew up in Arcadia, went to high school in Walnut, and attended college at USC. Now, Jeff lives and works in Pasadena.
Jeff studied exercise physiology, and he is an experienced swimming coach. Swimming is Jeff’s world. He has swum his entire life, went to school on a swimming scholarship, and loves coaching.
His exercise physiology background is helpful, plus he loves motivating and leading dedicated swimmers. He claims there is nothing like it.
Jeff has been swimming since he was five years old. His mother was big on swimming; she even swam Lake Michigan twice.
Jeff was a natural swimmer, and he found that it was easy to get into it. Jeff’s father was in the military, so that is a secondary source of where his ability to stay disciplined comes from.
The irony is that now, in his older age, Jeff wants to be able to unwind and relax more. However, his upbringing won’t let him. He needs his own structure and set times when he will accomplish tasks.
Otherwise, he finds himself hyper-focus on one thing, and everything else will slip away.
Jeff has been at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center for 17 years and is the head coach of all swim team programs, which includes club programs with about 450+ swimmers from ages 5 and 18.
Programs include pre-teen (rosebuds, as they are called), which are still developing swimmers.
At this stage, they learn their passion for the sport. Then, they have the Master’s Program, which Jeff oversees. It is great for competitive swimmers.
The swimming program has tripled or quadrupled the size of the program, but the main focus is always on focusing on the team aspect.
The sport is unique because it takes time to learn how to create speed and power in an unstable environment.
So, it is critical that swimmers spend a lot of time in the water.
Sometimes, they do doubles, but as Jeff has gotten older, he understands the need for sleep and recovery and has tried to develop a balance between work and rest.
It is a commitment of about 20 hours or so a week. It isn’t the 9-5 lifestyle. Coaches must be passionate about what they are doing.
A significant portion of Jeff’s ability and inspiration to teach came from his mother.
Jeff’s mom built the love of swimming in Jeff, and she would take him to the clinic. But as he got more involved in swimming, he became a demo for clinics, and during summers in college, he worked at swim camps.
During the last three years of swim camp, he was the video analyst, so he went through hours of swimming future.
This taught him many of the best practices and tendencies.
It took time for Jeff to develop his leadership style. He had to create the culture and the competitive style he preferred. He tries his best to share his passion for swimming, and he believes his students can see that. But he also lets them know that he is there for them.
He is there to help them grow and help them take ownership of their abilities and goals.
Jeff is incredibly proud of the swimmer’s workouts on a daily basis. Watching swimmers push through and knowing that they are dragged down and tired. He’s proud of those days and being able to be there for them.
One of Jeff’s favorite moments in coaching is when a swimmer comes into the wall and looks back at the clock, and he knows that they hit their goal time, and they are absolutely elated.
Also, they do a fundraiser when they highlight seniors; all the families are there, and the seniors have speeches.
This is another unique time when Jeff feels immensely proud and even tears up from time to time while listening to the students speak.
Trenton, Jeff’s son, has big shoes to fill with all of Jeff’s accomplishments in swimming and his mother, who has won a gold medal in the Olympics.
Jeff believes he is on his way to surpassing himself, but it is something Trenton has to decide for himself. Up until he was 13 years old, he was just an okay swimmer and wasn’t very focused on it.
Around 12 years old, Jeff told his son that he didn’t have to do swimming, but he had to commit to something and work hard at it.
Early on in Jeff’s career, he started getting distracted by others and felt like he needed to change his leadership style and coaching.
In the end, he was trying to make everyone happy. But that was causing his coaching abilities to suffer. It’s much better to focus on what you’re doing and what you can control.
On the personal side, 5 1/2 years ago, Jeff was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and was given six months to a year to live. That understandably destroyed his world.
He was never a smoker, very healthy, and very active. He just kept getting pains in his back. One of the hardest conversations was sitting down with his wife and explaining to his son about his health condition.
It was tough to hear and completely changed Jeff’s world. But, it strengthened his passion for coaching.
It was very discouraging for Jeff at first because multiple doctors he spoke with were apologetic and empathetic but didn’t give him any hope. They tried convincing him that getting a few months of his life back would be okay.
It led to Jeff not even wanting to go to the appointments. Eventually, he went to a doctor at USC, and she was there for Jeff. She gave him hope.
The swimming community came together and created a Team Jeff in support of him. Jeff even got a tattoo of it to always remind him to give back and to inspire.
For Jeff, living with cancer is a stressful and exhausting journey and requires hope. Without positivity and optimism, it is hard to push through. Life is hard, and it’s hard daily.
Jeff finds that he actually handles big hurdles better than small hurdles. But, he always strives to find the positivity in life, and it is how you react to hurdles that changes everything.
1. The Rose Bowl Aquatic Center – This is where Jeff works and has spent the last 17 years of his life. If you’re a swimmer, this is where you need to be.
2. Smitty’s Grill in Pasadena – They have fantastic food, and he has a specific memory of being there with his wife during his battle with cancer.
3. True Food – Healthy food that avoids sugars and inflammatory ingredients.