Dexter Bligh and Kat Kennedy discuss their journey from athletes to coaches

How did these students become maestros of their crafts?

photo of Dexter Bligh
PHOTO: Jacob Hall / SFU Athletics

By: Simran Sarai, Sports Writer

At the beginning of September, SFU Athletics announced the hiring of two full-time assistant coaches — Dexter Bligh for the men’s and women’s swim teams, and Kat Kennedy for the men’s and women’s golf teams. The Peak reached out to both Bligh and Kennedy to find out how their coaching journey began, and how they ended up at SFU.

Kennedy picked up golfing when she was eight-years-old, and started competing when she was 13. She began to seriously think about pursuing golf at the collegiate level in high school. “By the age of 15 or 16, I knew of other girls I grew up with getting scholarships to university. So by that age, I focused on getting a scholarship to a university.”

Kennedy would go on to compete for the UBC Thunderbirds golf program, where she won 11 individual titles. Today, she is a Class “A” Professional member of the Professional Golfers Association of Canada.

While Bligh also grew up swimming as a child, his entrance to the coaching world was a little different. His mother enrolled him in a handful of sports growing up, hoping he would land on one he both liked and excelled in. Bligh didn’t have much difficulty choosing. “I was pretty bad at almost every other sport, so swimming was just kind of the one that stuck around,” he joked.

Bligh would go on to swim at a national level, competing against fellow Olympians Ryan Cochrane and Hillary Caldwell. However, his path took a bit of a turn as he began his post-secondary studies. “I would say I probably have a non-traditional journey to college sports, because I didn’t swim in college. I went to UVIC, and I decided at the last minute that I wasn’t gonna swim on the team. I decided I was gonna just lean into my academics a little bit more.”

Despite not competing, Bligh would find himself in a small teaching role. “I got a part-time job in the water, teaching little kids how to blow bubbles and stuff, which was a lot of fun. I just got lucky with a lot of opportunities that led me to coach at the next level.”

Kennedy similarly embarked on her coaching career through her employment at the Point Grey Golf and Country Club. “I had the opportunity to instruct some players at the facility, and that grew into something I was interested in, helping individuals get better. From that, I kind of knew a coaching path would be something that I had a love and passion for doing.”

So how did these two dedicated coaches end up at SFU? For Bligh, it was a journey a few years in the making. He started as the head coach at the Victoria-based Tyee Aquatic Club and Richmond Wayland Swim Club

“I was still looking forward to, what’s the next thing? What’s gonna keep me motivated? What’s the next level of swimming? Obviously, college sports are that. Professionally, I wanted to make sure that I was progressing as a coach.” Bligh felt like learning under SFU swim coach Demone Tissira was the next step.

Kennedy described her path to SFU as “a funny story.” She previously got to know SFU head coach Matthew Steinbach during her time playing at UBC. “Earlier this year, I was in the Lower Mainland playing a tournament, and Matt was caddying for a girl that I was paired up with,” she explained. “We started chatting through the rounds, and I asked him how the season went, and I kept asking questions. From that conversation, we kept talking, and somehow, the opportunity of assistant coach came up.”

As a former Thunderbird, we asked Kennedy how she felt now working for the cross-town rivals. “I will always love UBC, but now that I’m at SFU, connecting with all the players and the coaches, I am falling in love with the team.”