A well-known, retired Colby College track and field coach who was the father of Olympic snowboarding champion Seth Wescott died Tuesday when he suffered a medical emergency and fell into Megunticook Lake in Camden, according to the Maine Warden Service.
James B. Wescott, 71, of Belfast was rowing a single scull boat about 8 a.m. Tuesday when he fell into the water and did not resurface, said Cpl. John MacDonald of the warden service.
Wescott’s body was recovered at 8:34 p.m. Tuesday after a team of divers from the warden service spent most of the day searching for him.
MacDonald said Wescott was accompanied by another rower, Jeff Foltz of Camden, who told authorities that Wescott suffered some type of medical problem.
Seth Wescott, 37, is a two-time Olympic champion in the snowboard cross event. Contacted Tuesday night by email, he sent a photograph of his father rowing in his first Head of the Charles race in Boston last fall.
“I can’t say anything more at this moment,” Wescott wrote.
MacDonald said divers from the warden service began searching the lake soon after James Wescott was reported missing. The water in the search area was 60 to 65 feet deep. MacDonald said divers and side-scan sonar were used to locate Wescott’s body in about 60 feet of water. Wardens were assisted by the Camden fire and police departments as well as members of the Megunticook Lake Patrol.
Megunticook Lake is a picturesque body of water that stretches for several miles between Routes 105 and 52 in Camden. The lake, ringed by a number of year-round homes and camps, is visible from overlooks, trails and cliffs in nearby Camden Hills State Park.
Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley said Wescott was rowing a single-person sculling boat when Foltz turned to see him clutching his chest. Wescott fell into the lake.
An individual scull is a long, narrow boat that gives the appearance of gliding over a water body. A person powers the boat by rowing oars on either side.
Stu Miller, treasurer of the Maine Rowing Association, said Wescott was known by many in the sport as an avid and experienced rower.
Wescott supported Megunticook Rowing, a small community rowing program on Megunticook Lake, but he rowed out of a different location on the lake than the one used by the group, according to Ry Hills, the nonprofit organization’s director. Hills said in an email that Wescott rowed almost every morning on the lake with two other avid master scullers.
“All I can say is that Jim Wescott was a very highly regarded man, who had a fairly new and growing passion for the sport of rowing,” Hills wrote.
Colby College released a statement Tuesday after learning that Wescott was missing. The statement said that Wescott served as track and field coach at the Waterville college for more than two decades, retiring in 2003.
“We were deeply saddened to learn of the presumed drowning of Adjunct Professor of Physical Education and Athletics Emeritus James B. Wescott,” Lori Kletzer, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, said in a statement.
“In his 25 years as men’s track and field coach at Colby (1978-2003), Jim challenged and inspired many hundreds of student athletes. A tremendously successful coach, Jim helped 11 athletes reach All-America status, some multiple times,” Kletzer said. “While Jim recruited and trained great athletes, he insisted that they place academics at the center of their Colby lives, and many of the students he coached excelled in the classroom.”
In 1999, an alumnus created the James B. Wescott Scholarship Fund in his honor. In 2003, when he retired from Colby, Wescott was named New England Division III Coach of the Year.
Wescott served on college committees and attended lectures and arts events.
“Over the last decade, he remained actively engaged with the life of the college. Jim was a lovely man with a warm, generous spirit. He will be greatly missed,” Kletzer said.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:[email protected]