Former swimmer making waves by serving others

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Service has been rewarding for former BYU intercollegiate swimmer Bill Betz, but it has also required sacrifice while facing and overcoming challenges.

Driven by a desire to help others, he went the extra mile — more accurately, extra thousands of miles over several trips from Utah — to help less fortunate people in El Salvador. And he has literally driven vehicles, which has been one of the challenges. On his first road trip in 2001 to deliver medical supplies, he had to nurse a van through multiple breakdowns before reaching his destination.

Things have improved since then. During a recent Church News interview, he was talking by cell phone from the Dallas airport. Facing another vehicle breakdown, he was able to arrange for the supplies to be delivered to El Salvador through connections he had established while he flew home to California.

He has quietly gone about serving the people of El Salvador in medical clinics and other ways, but his efforts have not gone unnoticed. He was nominated for the new Coca-Cola Community All-America award and in June was named one of six inaugural recipients. The award, presented in association with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, recognizes student athletes who make a difference in their communities. A member of the Santa Monica 3rd (Young Single Adult) Ward, Los Angeles California Santa Monica Stake, he was the only representative honored from an NCAA Division I-A school.

During his competitive years at BYU, he was a two-time academic all-American and three-time all-Mountain West Conference scholar. He ended his competitive career as team captain in 2003 and then helped coach the team last season. He moved to Southern California for employment this summer and says his swimming now relates to surfing.

He traces his sensitivity to the needs of those less fortunate to when he was 8 years old. He said that on a Christmastime vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, he and other members of his extended family each filled one suitcase with gifts to give to needy children there. He said that even though he was only a child himself at the time, he has never forgotten the look of joy and gratitude on the faces of the children who received unexpected gifts.

Shortly after he returned from serving in the Arizona Tucson Spanish Speaking Mission, he saw reports of devastation in El Salvador due to natural disasters. He wanted to help. His first trip was with a relief organization, but then he struck out on his own to deliver supplies and offer help on subsequent trips.

With nearly 2,000 hours of service, the establishment of his own foundation, continued trips to El Salvador and plans to expand his service to other areas where needed, he speaks of the award meant to encourage other student-athletes to give back to their communities.

"Every year, it is so difficult getting through the borders and making the trip," he said. But it's worth it, he added, to see the smiles on the faces of people who appreciate someone who cares about them, who is trying to bring them out of the afflictions of poverty and close the gap between them and those whose blessings are abundant.

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