Meet YMCA Staff Member: O'Shay Birdinground
O'Shay Birdinground is an Associated Students at the University of Montana Senator, Federal Reserve intern, star swimmer, and coach. For some, finding time to connect with fellow students, athletes, and community members could be a challenge. But for O'Shay, that's all in a day’s work.
“Really good time management,” he joked was the answer to his success.
He stays especially busy as a self-proclaimed community organizer, majoring in Political Science, with a minor in Economics. “With both of those degrees I can choose which way I want to go.”
His internship is aimed at Indian country development. “That’s always been a thing of mine that I want to pursue, so I might be looking into that,” he said.
When O’Shay’s not in class or planning for his future career, he’s in the YMCA pool. “I absolutely love swimming,” he said.
He swam at the Billings YMCA growing up. “I would like to believe that the Missoula and Billings (swim) teams are tight-knit. Truly a family, just separated by mountains and highway.”
Swimming wasn’t actually his first sport of choice, though. “I took swimming lessons at the Y, and then actually the instructor was like ‘you should really try out for swim team.’ And I was like ‘meh.’”
He wasn’t interested at first. “I tried soccer, baseball, and basketball, all of which didn’t work.”
So, he did give the swim team a chance. “First day of practice I actually saw a couple of my elementary school friends and was like ‘this is going to be good, this is going to be fun.”
Years later, and multiple championships later, he’s now coaching at the Missoula Family YMCA.
He said he wants other kids to give swimming a chance. “It's provided me with a good foundation for ASUM, all the other stuff, and just getting involved. That’s what I’m grateful for.”
He’s working hard to get that message out, including in a recent national interview with USA Swimming.
“All the kids came in on Monday and were like ‘you're famous,’ so that's cool to see.”
O’Shay said he wants kids to know they can join any activity they want, no matter where they’re from.
“You’re not alone. There’s certainly times where it gets tough, especially when you’re in a brand-new environment and not a lot of people know you. But that’s where I thrived. There's not really people that look like me, but now we’re going to show people what we’re made of, and what it is to be Native American.”
He said going forward, he wants to help bring more diversity to the sport. ”Seeing it from a different perspective. We’re in Montana, a majority white state, so that perspective is crucial to growing as a sport and as an organization.”
He continued, “There’s always constant stereotypes out there, and it's up to individuals to break those stereotypes.”
As a Missoula Y coach, he’s excited to share that message with the kids here.
“We have a great culture here, very very inclusive. I felt at home when I first started coaching here. And that doesn't really happen a lot. It's just great to walk in and hit the ground running, and just getting up to speed on everything. The coaching staff, the parents, the swimmers were all great.”
O’Shay will continue to work hard through college, and said he plans to stay at the Missoula Y “for however long I'm going to be in Missoula.”