Musical diver makes a splash

by Jim Schortemeyer

In the world of diving, only a select few reach immortal heights on the 10-meter platform. Greg Louganis and Mark Lenzi, two of the most recognizable names in diving history, have made it to that level.
But you’ve probably never heard of a third, Dan Kuch. After all, the 37-year-old trains salespeople for a living and has never won a major diving competition in his life.
It’s not, however, what Kuch has accomplished on a diving platform that’s distinguished his career –rather it’s how he has done it.
At nearly every home meet for the past seasons, Kuch has played the national anthem on his trumpet for the Gophers swimming and diving teams, all the time standing on top of the 10-meter platform.
Then, to cap off the ceremony, he dives into the pool.
With all his clothes on.
His ensemble varies from meet to meet — a black sweater with khakis and a pair of tennis shoes for some meets, and a tuxedo for special occasions.
Kuch’s trumpet playing career began back in high school, with the Edison High School band. He was a gymnast for his high school team, but he never got involved in diving. But his diving and trumpet playing soon collided.
“Two guys from the band were on the swimming team, and they roped me into being a diver,” Kuch said.
As a diver, Kuch managed to place third in the city in high school, and helped the team to a few championships. He went on to the University, and gradually forgot about his athletic career while serving as a drum major for Minnesota’s marching band.
After graduating from Minnesota, Kuch occasionally returned to his alma mater to play the national anthem at gymnastics meets. When the time came to open the new Aquatic Center in 1991, Kuch got the call to play the inaugural national anthem at the Junior Olympics.
It all started off innocently enough. He brought his bathing suit to a practice for the opening ceremonies, and there was a group of swimmers in the pool.
“They’d have a meeting at the other end of the pool, and I’d do dives off of the board,” Kuch said. “This woman came up to me and said, ‘What dive are you doing tomorrow?’ I said, ‘I’m not going to dive, are you crazy?'”
But Kuch ended up taking the plunge, and The Associated Press picked up the story and distributed it around the nation.
Now, Kuch’s playing and diving are a part of just about every Gophers home meet. This year, there are just two more events for the musical diver, but they’re certainly important: the men’s Big Ten Championships and the women’s NCAA Championships will be in Minnesota this year.
“I have an old tux that I dive in at the end of the year,” Kuch said excitedly.
Members of the Gophers swim teams love having him around because of the atmosphere he helps generate. Women’s swimming and diving captain Gretchen Hegener has witnessed Kuch’s dives for four years.
“When he does it, the other teams don’t expect it,” Hegener said. “It’s really fun.”
But despite some of the acclaim he’s gotten, Kuch doesn’t want the real stars of the meets to be overshadowed.
“Everybody always thanks me, but I say, ‘Thanks for letting me play,'” Kuch said. “All these athletes are just amazing. It’s my honor to play for them.”