The world lost a legend when William A. Yorzyk, a pioneering Olympic Gold Medalist, creative medical vanguard, Eagle Scout, and cherished husband, father, mentor and friend, died at home Sept. 2. He was 87.
Bill embodied Springfield College’s mission to educate the “sprit, mind and body for leadership in service to others.” Bill’s life was entwined with the college — from his days as a 16-year-old freshman who did not know how to swim, to earning his bachelor’s and his pre-med graduate degree while training there for the Olympics. Yorzyk’s Olympic Gold Medal in the butterfly stroke, which he gave to the college in gratitude and hopes of inspiring other young athletes, still remains there.
As a competitive swimmer, Bill took 20 seconds off the world record in his Olympic butterfly race, set 11 world records and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
It was on his way home from the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia that Bill’s beloved coach Red Silvia— to whom he gave full credit for his swimming success — urged him to continue his swimming, but to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor as well.
Bill enrolled at the University of Toronto Medical School, where he met nurse Carrol - a Canadian! As newlyweds, the Yorzyks spent three years in Japan, where Bill, a captain of the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps, finished his military service.
In the 1970s, Bill assisted in forming today’s widely used dive tables. The endeavor tapped into BIll’s unique combination of swimming skills, knowledge in physiology, and his experience as an avid diver, leading to his deep understanding of blood-nitrogen levels.
Born in Northampton in 1933, Bill was an Eagle Scout, the highest rank of the Boy Scouts of America. His experiences as an Eagle Scout were the impetus for him attending Springfield College, where he earned a degree in Youth & Recreation.
As was true with his “dolphin butterfly”swimming techniques, Bill was an out-of-the-box thinker as a doctor. He simplified epidural techniques to minimize side effects, and pioneered the addition of the ICU and pain clinics at what is now Baystate Hospital.
Throughout it all, Bill’s passion for the things he learned in Scouting never left him. He was an avid outdoorsman who took his family camping, canoeing, fishing and hunting — and who enjoyed a weekend in the woods alone occasionally.
His magnetic, fun-loving character created deep and widespread friendships.
Bill spent the last 25 years of his life living on Lake Quacumquasit (South Pond) in East Brookfield with Carrol. They cherished the lake, their fun-loving friends, and the many people to whom they opened their doors. They traveled, often following and gathering their children and grandchildren around the country and the world — always landing at their lake home for the summer. Their trips included long weeks in Carrol’s native land, Shediac, New Brunswick with their crazy friends, holding sing-alongs, lobsters feasts and Atlantic salmon fishing trips.
Bill was also a prolific reader. In his last few days, he could be found sitting up in bed, facing the lake and reading his granddaughter’s summer reading book — “The Epic of Giglamesh” — to her aloud, and calling out to Carrol “in which country is Mount Anaconda?”
Bill gave his granddaughter advice he gave to his own children: “Dream Big. It will take courage” and “Never be afraid to put in the effort to create your life.”
The Wilbraham Funeral Home is handling the arrangements. A memorial service in the spring will welcome friends. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are welcome at Quaboag Quacumquasit Lake Association, Bill’s favorite lake cause, at QQLA.org, or Springfield College Aquatics (designating both men’s swimming and women’s swimming) at givecampus.com/campaigns/14738/donations/new.
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