By Brad Rock, Deseret News
Published: Saturday, May 28 2011 11:09 p.m. MDT
SALT LAKE CITY — Through 36 years, 3,500 players, 20 national championships and a motion picture, Highland rugby coach Larry Gelwix taught — and learned — numerous life lessons, not the least being this: "I found that sleep is overrated."
Good thing for him that sleeping and dreaming aren't always related.
Gelwix wrapped up his long pro bono coaching career on May 21 with a win over United, giving him a national championship send-off. You can't say it was a fluke. Two titles are a confirmation, three are a statement. But 20? That's a decree. If it hadn't been for divine intervention, he says, "I might be going after (title) No. 21 and year 37. But no regrets."
It's hard to regret a dynasty.
From now on, he will be teaching and preaching the word, which is what he's been doing on a different level for nearly four decades. Gelwix leaves in June to become an LDS mission president in Fresno, Calif. The only difference now is that he'll have to avoid referring to zone conferences as scrums.
"I did not see the mission call coming," he says.
Hence, the rugby part of his life is done. He started out by throwing together a team just for fun, and ended up with a 418-10 record and enough championship rings for each of his fingers and toes.
Would he do anything differently? That's like asking DaVinci if he'd like to touch up the Mona Lisa.
"I don't think the basics would change," Gelwix says.
Strange part of this story is that it lasted. He had no clue when he began that it was a decades-long commitment. He thought it was something to keep the kids occupied. The one thing he did know was that it wouldn't make him rich. Being an LDS seminary teacher wasn't lucrative, but it paid more than coaching rugby.
Only six boys showed up for his first practice, five with no athletic ability whatsoever. (Now he has 200 players a year try out.) The talented one, a football player, had already sustained several concussions and had to quit on doctor's orders.
Along the way, rugby and Gelwix gained momentum. He went on to own one of the top travel agencies in the West and his club went from nothing to the subject of the film "Forever Strong," starring Sean Astin and Gary Cole. It was the inspiring tale of a devoted coach, a troubled kid and the struggle to live by principles, yet still succeed.