Second-year psychology major and UCSB water polo player Nicholas Johnson died after three members of the Santa Barbara High School swim team found him unconscious in the high school pool during a workout with the high school swim team around 9:45 a.m. Monday morning.
The swim team members, who have been trained as lifeguards, administered chest compressions to Johnson but were unable to revive him. He was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital but pronounced dead soon afterward.
The Santa Barbara County Coroner’s Office has yet to determine the exact cause of death or what caused Johnson to initially lose consciousness.
According to the UCSB men’s water polo coach Wolf Wigo, Johnson, who graduated from Santa Barbara High School and competed on the boys swimming and water polo teams there, did not participate in the Monday morning swim as part of any scheduled workout with the UCSB water polo team, but rather as an outside workout which happens “all the time.”
Wigo also described Johnson as a “tremendously hard worker.”
“He was always putting in extra effort. Even after a really hard training he would stay and do extra work … in the weight room,” Wigo said. “He played some for us last year as a reserve, and he really would have gotten a lot more playing time in the next couple years because he was improving a lot, so it’s a shame that he didn’t get to reach his full potential.”
UCSB Intercollegiate Athletics director Mark Massari released a statement regarding the incident in support of Johnson’s family. He also announced that the department has set up counseling support for students and staff close to Johnson.
“The campus and athletics family are saddened by the news today of the passing of Nick,” Massari stated. “Our thoughts are with his entire family, parents Karen and Augie, and everyone who knew and loved Nick.”
Johnson’s father, Berkeley Johnson, announced the death of his eldest son on his Facebook page on Monday.
“It is with infinite sadness that I let everyone know that our oldest son, Nick Johnson age 19, passed away this morning while doing a hard swim set at Santa Barbara High School,” Berkeley Johnson stated in the post. “Karen and I simply do not know what to do. We want to thank all of you for your heartfelt condolences and we’ll go to ground at home and try to regain our equilibrium. Nick was a sweet boy and I cannot tell you how much we all will miss him.”
Third-year sociology major and water polo team goalkeeper Chris Whitelegge described Nicholas Johnson as a friend and said his work ethic was “second to none.”
“He was one of the hardest workers on the team and his sharp wit always kept me on my toes,” Whitelegge said in a text message. “I couldn’t have wished for a better teammate and brother. I will cherish our friendship forever.”