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Swimming, My Life's Passion

Overcame multiple surgeries to keep swimming fast

Ginger Pierson | November 24, 2002

Ginger Pierson writes: "As a baby, my parents were very nervous when I was around water. I crawled, ran to, and even jumped off docks, into any form of liquid. At the age of three, the famed Seattle Olympian, Helene Madison, gave swimming lessons to me.

In the Parkrose School District, swimming lessons are a requirement beginning at the fourth grade. The coach invited me for a team tryout after those lessons, and my career as a swimmer began. My first swim meet was at the Herb Eisenschmidt Pool in St. Helens, Ore., at the age of nine. I was not entered in the breaststroke event, but it looked like fun, so I asked my coach if I could swim it. My first national record!

I continued to swim until my junior year in high school, including A.A.U. for Parkrose S.C. (seven years), when it became evident that I needed the "next level of training" to achieve my goal of making the Olympic team in 1964 or 1968. My transfer to A.A.U. swimming at David Douglas S.C. (six years) almost got me there. While swimming for both clubs, the coaches were masters with technique, training, and individual needs. Hence, I set numerous national records and was an All-American for Parkrose High School in 1963.

There was no college swimming for women in those days, as we know it today, so while trying to make the US team, I lived at home, went to Portland State, and competed for David Douglas S.C. One of the instructors at P.S.U. asked if I would put a "team" together and compete with another university. How could I resist? Again, I set several national records. Hence - the beginning of Portland State University Swim Team.

After college and not making "the team", my real life had to begin. I met my husband while working for the Y.M.C.A. while attending an aquatic conference in California. We moved around the country, working for the "Y", in cardiac rehab through exercise. It was a natural for me. In 1980, we divorced, and I began teaching in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Wash. After 22 years in the same building, teaching physical education and math, my goals of promoting youth fitness, self confidence, and having fun, are realized daily. What a dream job!

While rebuilding my life in 1980, watching the Hawaiian Ironman on television inspired me so I decided that I would give it a shot myself to lose weight, gain my self-respect, and get involved. Running and swimming were a natural for me, but cycling had to be learned. In 1982 I was one of only 150 women in the world who had ever completed the Ironman Triathlon. While training in the water, I met a former competitor. She invited me to participate in the nationals being held at Mt. Hood Community College in 1982 in which I took several seconds and was on a world record setting relay. Those seconds didn't set well with me, so the real training began again. My twenty years of a Masters career in swimming has lead me down an unbelievable path. Besides the numerous records and being back "on top", I have met many wonderful people from all over the world. (There isn't a place in the world that I couldn't go and stay with a friend.) The USMS philosophy of Fun, Fitness, and Friendship, through competition, has led me in many different paths from competition to administrative duties to leadership by example. I attribute my success to many things: unconditional love and support of my family, support from friends, fantastic coaching, and my desire to be the best I can be.

"Being the best I can be" can be humbling at times. Over the last ten years, I have had nine swimming related major surgeries, all of which require recovery time, retraining, and confidence building. With the help of doctors, coaches, family, and friends, I am back with a vengeance. I have nothing to prove to anyone, except myself, that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to achieve. Last summer, I broke the oldest national record on the books, the 200 fly set by Gail Roper in 1981, and I'm really a breaststroker.

I was an athletic member of the Multnomah Athletic Club for five years and am now a full member. This club is over 100 years old, has over 20,000 members, and is one of the largest and most prestigious clubs in the country. The two best coaches I have ever had, now coach me at M.A.C., with focus on details to ensure I accomplish my maximum potential.

My 33 years of competing for Oregon has given me a bond that hopefully, through my achievements, both in and out of the water, I will inspire others to great things. If I could leave a legacy, it would read: "It is not the result, but the journey along the way, that leads a man to success."

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