Husson University swimming coach Butch Babin has endured a nightmarish three years.
Last spring, the Bangor native had a heart procedure to insert arterial stents, which came two years after undergoing a quadruple bypass, after he had suffered a heart attack.
If that wasn’t enough Babin, who is diabetic, has had surgical procedures to remove cancerous tumors from his colon and wrist. Most recently, doctors were forced to amputate the lower part of his right leg after he contracted a flesh-eating disease.
The amputation occurred in September, and he previously endured five surgeries in an attempt to save the foot and the lower half of his leg.
In spite of all the health issues, the determined Babin has persevered and maintained an upbeat outlook while continuing to coach a sport he loves.
Babin, 57, returned to coaching on a part-time basis in October and then resumed as the head coach full time after Thanksgiving.
“I need to be here for the kids and myself,” Babin said. “It’s very important to let the kids know I wasn’t going to let this beat me.
“Even though I have only half a leg, it doesn’t affect my coaching. It affects how fast I can go up and down the deck, but it doesn’t affect my coaching,” he said.
Babin has been getting around the pool area using a wheelchair while waiting for his leg to completely heal before he can be fitted for a prosthetic device.
“He’s dedicated. To be here means a lot to us,” sophomore distance specialist Erin Aucoin of Brewer said.
“He’s amazing,” said sophomore Kayla Redman of Waterville, who swims freestyle and breaststroke.
“I don’t know if I could come back after what he’s been through. He’s awesome. I love him as a coach.”
Babin said having such a strong support system in his family, team members and Husson staff have been valuable to him in the healing process.
“They don’t treat me as a one-legged coach. They look at me as coach Butch or coach Babin, the same guy who recruited them,” he said of his swimmers.
His girlfriend, Sue Drake, and his son Brandon also have played huge roles in his recovery.
“Nobody in my life has ever done the things for me that Sue has,” Babin said. “It has been unbelievable. I have to have people lift me, push me around all the time, help me go to the bathroom.”
Brandon is finishing up a Master’s degree at Husson and has been there to help his dad.
“Brandon has been incredible,” Babin said.
“He has taken me to my doctor’s appointments and has been bringing me to school,” he added.
When Babin was not able to work, Husson swimming was in the capable hands of assistant coach Robby MacDonald. Ritchie Palmer and Lilli Wiseman also have been added to the coaching staff on a part-time basis.
“Robby has been a godsend,” Babin said. “He held everything together. With all of his experience, it wasn’t a huge thing for him to step into that role. I’m lucky to have him. And he’s a great friend.”
Babin said former Husson head coach Jeff Wren has also been a key asset.
Babin acknowledged that there have been times when he was discouraged and depressed because the various health issues were taking their toll on him.
“But here I am thanks to the good people around me and my positive attitude. All the support has helped me stay positive,” Babin said.
The challenges continue for Babin, who underwent three months of rehabilitation to learn how to maneuver without the bottom part of his leg.
Even so, he feels better than he has in a long time, thanks to the stents in his heart.
“My heart [function] is up to 40 percent and it had been at 22 percent. I almost started crying when they told me that,” Babin said. “It has made a huge difference. That’s why I feel so much better. I don’t need to take naps in the afternoon anymore. I can work eight hours a day.”
Babin said the ordeal has served as a wakeup call that has caused him to re-evaluate everything he does in his life and to work harder in trying to overcome his health issues.
“I’m exercising a lot more in things that I am able to do. I push myself because if I don’t, I’m not going to get stronger,” he said.
Babin’s strength and resolve have not been lost on the people who have witnessed his struggles.
“Unquestionably, coach Babin has displayed great courage and great resiliency,” MacDonald said. “He has been very inspirational. He always comes in with a healthy, positive frame of mind. He’s very encouraging and is tremendously invested in the team and its success and in the development of each of his swimmers.”
Babin, who is also the director of aquatics at Husson, said his coaching style hasn’t changed, although he does evaluate things more and consider alternative approaches.
“He’s strong. He doesn’t give up. He always supports us. To see him doing what he does is wonderful for me and the team,” said sophomore Jordan McCoy of Old Town, who swims backstroke and butterfly.
Babin started in 2005 at Husson an assistant coach when the women’s swim began. He was the interim head coach for the 2007-2008 and 2010-11 seasons and assisted Wren during 2009-2010.
He was named the Eagles head coach in March 2011, and the institution added the men’s program in 2013.
Babin swam competitively through eighth grade before trading in his swim trunks for basketball shorts at John Bapst High School in Bangor. He also played baseball and football before graduating in 1980.
He earned a business degree at Husson in 1984.
Babin has also coached different age groups for the Hurricane Swim Club since 2005.
The son of Beverly and his late stepfather, Mike Swenson, Babin is the father of four and a grandfather of one with another on the way.
He is excited about getting a prosthetic leg, although he acknowledged that he will have to learn how to walk again.
He previously suffered a broken hip and femur when he slipped on the Husson pool deck in the summer of 2016. He broke his hip again in September of the same year when the team bus was involved in an accident en route to its first meet.
Undaunted, Babin will attack future challenges with the same smile on his face and twinkle in his eye that he has now.
“He is definitely an inspiration,” senior freestyler Kelsey Poland of Levant said. “He gives us extra motivation to work really hard and try our best.”