Obituary: Sam Harkness / Coached young swimmers at YMCA

June 15, 1991 - Aug. 24, 2013

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Sam Harkness thrived on doing things for other people, from helping his family to ensuring each child on his South Hills YMCA swim team got a chance to compete.

While other people might feel drained by helping others, Mr. Harkness seemed to draw even more energy from it and then used that energy to continue giving, said his father, Andy Harkness of Bethel Park.

"He was always very kind, very giving," his father said. "He gave to and cared more about others than he did about himself, and treated others better than himself."

After serving his mother and aunt breakfast in bed on Saturday, Mr. Harkness went back to bed to get some more sleep, family members said. He died in his sleep of unknown causes, they said. He was 22.

He was born to Andrew Harkness and Barbara Mangieri on June 15, 1991, and graduated from Bethel Park High School in 2010.

In high school, he became a member of the swim team at the urging of friends, and although he started competitive swimming relatively late in life, he worked hard and proudly represented his team, his swim coach wrote in an online obituary guestbook for Mr. Harkness.

"Sam came to us with no swimming experience and worked his way up to becoming a major factor on the team," wrote David and Kelly Kutrufis. "More important than his swimming success though was the teammate he was ... always there for his teammates with a high five, pep talk and especially a hug. I'm sure his YMCA swimmers felt the same way about him as we did. We're grateful for the time we spent with him. Know that many people are keeping you all in our prayers."

Mr. Harkness was one of the most fiercely loyal and loving people that former teammate Kevin Hartbauer of Pittsburgh had ever met, Mr. Hartbauer wrote in the guestbook.

"His impact will live on all of the lives that he has touched. I will never forget the time that I spent with him," Mr. Hartbauer wrote. "There is no one that is/was as good a teammate as Sam. He inspired and pushed himself to be better and brought an entire team with him."

Mr. Harkness applied to the University of Pittsburgh to study pediatric physical therapy but was placed on a wait list, his father said. So he found a job teaching swimming and coaching the children's South Hills Dolphins swim team at the YMCA on McMurray Road in Upper St. Clair. He also was trying to find work at UPMC as a therapist in an effort to move himself up on Pitt's wait list.

At the YMCA, children looked up to Mr. Harkness as a role model and mentor, their families wrote in his guest book.

"We had the privilege of meeting Sam when my daughter was on the swim team," wrote Debbie Burke of Bethel Park, in offering her family's condolences. "He was an incredible young man and was an inspiration to all the children he met."

Mr. Harkness found great joy in working with children, his father said, and he made a special effort to give all of them a chance to swim at meets, regardless of their ability.

"He would just get so excited about working with the kids and whenever they had a swim meet and he would be running the race schedule, he always wanted to make sure he got everybody involved," his father said. "He cared more about that than about winning a match."

Mr. Harkness is survived by his parents; a sister, Justine; and his grandparents, Marylou Andrews and Bill Harkness.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. today at Beinhauers Mortuary, 2828 Washington Road, Peters. Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday in St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 126 Fort Couch Road, Bethel Park. Memorials may be made to the South Hills YMCA swim team.

obituaries

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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