Now at the helm of the fabled St Peters Western program in Brisbane, where he took over from his mentor and great friend Michael Bohl, Boxall is one of the rising stars of the coaching ranks. When there was a chance to get Lawrence poolside ahead of the Commonwealth Games, he never hesitated.
«It was pissing down with rain,» Boxall recalls. «They [the swimmers] were doing time trials. He just started screaming ‘If this girl makes this time, I’m going out there! Get out here with me Dean!’
«We were both underneath the water, just pouring down, and he was ‘I love this! This is what it’s about!’.»
Boxall coaches like a hurricane and talks like a force of nature once he gets going. Born in Camps Bay in South Africa, where he stayed until his family settled in Brisbane when he was seven, he’s been in or around the water his entire life.
Now he finds himself in command of one of the nation’s most-respected elite programs and coaching the kind of swimmer that may only come along once in a generation, Ariarne Titmus.
But there were times when that sort of success seemed light years away for an eccentric coach that has never opened a swimming textbook and never ignores his gut if he feels something has, or could, go amiss.
«People might look at it as a negative but I’m not a well-read swimming coach. You have a plan but that plan often goes AWOL. There is always something that goes wrong,» Boxall says. «If I follow someone else’s philosophy and don’t have my core ideas… I lose my compass. I’ve never picked up a textbook about swimming technique. It’s more about feel and understanding and intuition.»
Deep down, Boxall always knew he could get through to swimmers and get them to respond to his urgings. All he needed to do was convince everyone else. Bohl, the gold-medal whisperer now on the Gold Coast, always had his back. And in Dolphins head coach Jacco Verhaeren, a no-nonsense Dutchman, he found another proponent.
«I never quite fit the mould,» Boxall says. «That’s why I will always be grateful to Jacco, because I don’t fit the mould. I never have.
«Bohly seemed to think I did and he believed in me. But not the hierarchy above. There were some tough guys up ahead and they didn’t think my personality would have suited. People were always worried I’d burn out. But I’ve had energy since the moment I was born.
«Jacco saw that there is a way for me to be who I am. I love Jacco. If he doesn’t agree with something, he’ll tell you. I appreciate that.»
Australian swimming should well appreciate Boxall, because his special bond with the brilliant Titmus may end up being one of its great stories. With the Tokyo Olympics bearing down at a rate of knots, the duo are about to embark on a ride both have dreamed of since they began in the sport.
At just 18, Titmus will go head-to-head with US icon Katie Ledecky at this year’s World Championships in Korea and then in Tokyo in 2020. She’s already demolished the Australian 400m freestyle record and stalked Ledecky at the Pan Pacs last year, getting closer than anyone in history as the pair swam one-two.
Not all coaches can get the best out of all of their swimmers. Olympic silver medal back-stroker Mitch Larkin is one that has sought the help of Boxall to reignite his career. But when it comes to Titmus, Boxall has always been able to channel the right wavelength as she tore down record after record on her rise up the world rankings.
«When I was first coaching her, I never thought she could be as good as she is now. But she had this character of being able to sustain work and be so consistent with her approach. She loves training. She loves all of it. A lot of swimmers just love racing. She loves all of it.
«She’s one of the only athletes I have that I push to another level, because she thrives on that. If I went easy with her, I don’t think she would be where she is today.
«We have a fantastic relationship because she fully trusts what I do and I trust that whatever I give her, she gives it 100 per cent. I know she is doing everything right.»
With success comes pressure. Ledecky comes to the table not only with brilliance and dedication but the entire weight of the US coaching and performance machine in her corner. Titmus has yet to set foot in an Olympic pool and Boxall has yet to train one of its champions.
«It’s daunting. Here is an athlete that fully trusts what you are doing. If I decide that I go on another path? She would do that, because she trusts me. What if I get it wrong? She executes the plans I create faithfully.
«But what an honour. What a privilege. As a little kid, she always dreamed of going to an Olympics. She has to be that little kid. What an honour that I’m not only going to an Olympics but I’m racing a true champion in a hyped-up race.
«I have to think the same. As an athlete, I always wanted to go to an Olympics. I never made it. Hopefully I can go now. You just have to honour that and enjoy the privilege.»