2023 HAS FLOWN BY:
The swimming year started with three meets, all of them outdoors, in the winter weather, that I attended along with fellow Mud Sharks Annette and Greg. Together we froze through the Vacaville meet, then the Albany Armada Sprints, freezing cold and windy again, and finished off with the outdoor Senior Games at Rinconada, where they had to pause the meet to allow the heavy rain and hailstorm to pass. Not a lot of folks swam at these character-building, endurance meets, so all three of us placed well and earned lots of points for the year’s total.
Our next scheduled swimming meet was the Short Course Yards Champs, held in Morgan Hill, on the weekend of April 14-16. Something happened on Sunday, nearing the end of the meet. I was watching as the men were finishing up their 50-yard freestyle. One man, Bill Grohe, 89 years old, was swimming along. He was a bit farther behind than the others. Bill had already finished his 50-yard backstroke earlier in the meet. The announcer acknowledged him and cheered him along. “Go Bill, go!” and then continued, “What a wonderful sport this is. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It’s just you and the water. Go Bill, go!” As we all watched, Bill’s arms slowed, then stopped, and Bill was no longer moving.
I yelled, “Hey! Hey! Help him!!” And others yelled. Swimmers on the deck and even some of the timers jumped in and pulled Bill out of the pool. Emergency measures were swiftly taken, but Bill was gone. Everyone said that he had died doing what he loved. He had been a life-long member of USMS and Pacific Masters and had earned many Top 10 spots. He was an icon. The officials called the coaches together and voted to stop the meet. In sharp contrast to the sounds of the all-day excitement: splashing, cheering, interspersed with the bells and whistles of a championship swimming meet, the pool deck was eerily quiet as everyone gathered their belongings, and solemnly left for home. Considering the circumstances, ribbons and placements did not seem important.
I later found out that I had won High Point. The points were adjusted because some swimmers did not have the chance to swim their later events, but the Administrator assured me the prize was fairly won. It seems a memorable, but bittersweet, victory. One moment for Bill…
Summer brought a huge, unexpected, life change for me. I retired, after 42 years and 11 months, from my job as a waitress at the Chalet Basque Restaurant. Mostly, it was the commute that did me in. 45 minutes each way. As a lark, I applied at the US Post Office close to my home in Rohnert Park, Ca., and was hired!! I spoke to boss Patrick before I said yes, and he was supportive and understanding of my desire for change. I still occasionally fill in at the Basque, to wait on a few tables, see all my people, and eat very well. You can’t take the waitress out of me.
I am realizing that my new job is very similar to waiting on tables; it’s all about customer service. I have a regular route, which means I see the same customers all the time. I speak to everyone. I’m getting to know them, and their pets! Instead of making sure the right plate gets to the right table, I now must ensure the right piece of mail goes to the right box. Like restaurant work, it’s the same thing every day, but different. It is challenging, emotionally and physically, keeping me in shape and on my toes. I am enjoying it, especially driving around in the iconic Postal truck.
Because of the demanding hours of the training and initiation of the US Postal Service, I could not be at many swim practices. In fact, I was in the pool only a handful of times for the entire month of July. The Long Course Meters Champs were held July 21-23, and of course, I signed up for the meet. This year, I “aged up” into the next age group and now compete against Laura Val (the World Record holder) and Sally Guthrie, another formidable swimmer a few years older than I, so had no expectations of winning any events. This was Long Course, a 50-meter pool, Olympic size. One lap is very long when you are accustomed to 25 yards, and when you haven’t even been in the pool.
For my first event, the 200-meter Freestyle, I did not want to be intimidated by the length, so I dove in, closed my eyes, and just swam, four long laps. It felt great, being in the water and just swimming. I surprised myself, and the coach, by winning the 200 Freestyle! A blue ribbon right off the bat! I told my teammates that I didn’t care about how the rest of the meet went, which wasn’t exactly true. I was happy. I still have it!
Fatigue set in as the weekend went on, and I did not do my best times for the 100-meter and the 200-meter backstroke and did not place as high as I maybe could have. It was still a great meet, held in our neck of the woods, Novato, right down the street from my friend Marlene’s house. I love spending time with all my Mud Shark teammates. That was the summer event.
Now we’re getting into autumn, which brings us to the Short Course Meters Championships, held annually in Walnut Creek. Again, with not many hours in the pool, I signed up. I told Coach that I was relying on the instructions she has given me over the last 12 years, and the stamina I’ve acquired from walking the hills of Sonoma County as a Letter Carrier. I also had the strong notion to not let myself fall behind in this meet; I vowed to swim hard and place well.
This time, my first individual event was the 100-meter Backstroke. I read on the heat sheets that I would be swimming in the same heat as the woman to whom I had fallen behind in July and was seated second behind her. At the starting horn, I pushed off as hard as I could, swam with all I had. No strategy to start out slowly. I knew I had to swim fast to beat this new adversary. I could see her arms moving along with mine. I turned on the third lap and knew I was tired but had to continue to persevere. It was important to me. Coming off the third turn, for the fourth and final lap, my body sort of groaned. I have never heard that before; the sound of me going into over-drive. I knew I was swimming as fast as I could, giving it all, and would have no regrets, whatever the final result turned out to be. I went an amazing seven seconds faster than I had swum the event in July and placed first. It took more than a few laps of swim-down to bring my breathing back to normal. I was tired! But, wow! Another fantastic beginning to the weekend.
My times were not that fast for my other events: the 100 Free, the 50, 100, and 200-Backstroke, and for a change of pace, I threw in a 50-meter Breaststroke, but I placed well. I am accepting the first-place finish in the 100-Free, even though both of my two competitors were no-shows. You can’t win if you don’t show up. For fun, I stayed for the very end of the meet and swam the 400 Freestyle. The longer distances have been feeling great to me; my confidence bolstered by my win in the 200 in July. And then in August, Annette and I entered the 400-Pull Virtual Challenge (no kicking allowed), sponsored by the Sebastopol Masters Swim Team, and submitted our times. As a great surprise, I won first place, and apparently set a new record! How about that! So, for fun, I stayed until the very end of the Walnut Creek meet, the last meet of the year, to swim the 400 Freestyle. Again, it felt great to just swim; a lovely warm-down after a weekend of full activity. I placed a respectable second behind Sally, and plan on swimming more distance Freestyle events in the coming year.
Winter is coming back now. The rainy season has begun. This new US Postal Letter Carrier will be busy during the Holiday season, while dreaming of being in the water, practicing with the team, and of competitions yet to come.