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by Mike Kelber

December 28, 2011

The ties that bind...

The strangest things can happen at a high school reunion that can have long lasting effects. I graduated from Chaffey High School in Ontario, California, in 1965. Being too small for football and having no basketball or baseball coordination, I went out for the swim and water polo teams. We got a new coach in my junior year. He was a small, scrawny, bespectacled man named Dave Radcliff (photo center). Somehow, Coach Radcliff managed to whip a very irreverent and not very serious group of surfers into a district-winning swim and water polo team. I still remember his first day coaching us. He told us to warm up with a 1,500-meter swim. Our total workouts with our previous coach had never been even close to Dave's idea of a warm up. Even back then the coach was a quiet but powerful motivator who challenged us to always rise to our potential. He was one of the few influences in my teen years who counted. By graduation time, my teammates and I would have swam with the sharks if Coach Radcliff asked us to.

Fast forward 45 years to 2010. My 45th high school reunion was going to be held in September. I had been to a couple of reunions but was always disappointed that none of my old buddy/teammates ever came. I went on a social networking quest to locate and get the old team together for this reunion. Most of us had not seen or talked to each other since shortly after high school.

During my search I located ex-team mates in Mesa, Albuquerque, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Monterey, Catalina Island, Baja California, Vancouver Island, B.C., and Ontario, Calif. I was most surprised to find out that Coach had relocated to Hilsboro, Ore., after he retired. Little did I know we lived a little over 60 miles from each other. The networking was successful and I managed to get most of the guys and Coach Radcliff to come to the reunion.

The first day of the reunion we all met at a friend's house, drank beer and reminisced over life in the 60s in Southern
California. I am sure Coach heard some stories he wasn't aware of at the time. During our BS session, Coach mentioned that he was a US Masters swimmer and asked how many of us were still swimming. Silence fell in the room since none of us had touched a swimming pool in 45 years (except to swim to the Margarita bar at resorts). He mentioned that the US Masters national swim meet was in Mesa, Ariz., in April. Since one of the guys lived in Mesa, Dave challenged him to start swimming and compete at the nationals. He then challenged all of us to get back into the pool and meet in Mesa in April. He never let on what an icon he is in the world of Masters swimming.

My teammate from Mesa, Rand Haddock (photo left), joined the MAC Masters program and emailed updates to all of us of how hard it was to get back into shape. I listened to him for a month and took the challenge and joined the Salem Kroc Masters. I had been an average swimmer in high school. So much had changed since the 60s in both technique and equipment (goggles and suits made of material other than nylon) that whatever muscle memory I still retained had to be re-trained. I thought I would die the first 2-3 months of workouts. My coach and teammates put up with my slow progression and loud panting after each drill. They were very supportive of the old guy who joined their team, and in what I was doing.

I entered my first swim meet in March of this year (2011). It was a local, pre-association meet. The only pressure I felt was trying to beat my friend Rand's time in the 50 free. (Something about competition that never goes away). I felt almost giddy, walking into the meet, with my swim bag in hand. Coach Radcliff and his wife, Nancy, were there, and offered me council and encouragement. I was nervous on the blocks and stayed underwater way too long on my start. But I managed to get my arms moving, completed my flip turn, and finished. My time was nothing stellar, at 30.02. The worst part, was Rand had swum his first meet a week earlier in Arizona and got a 30.01.

We both swam in a couple more local meets. As I learned better techniques of turns and starts, my times started to improve. Everyone I knew was very supportive of my time. Most of all, I noticed how dramatically my overall fitness had improved from the fall. My endurance improved, my resting pulse rate dropped, and my recovery got quicker.

As April approached, Rand and I both committed to the national meet. My wife Peggy and I traveled to Arizona and met Rand and Dave for some pre-meet planning (barbeque chicken and wine) and discussed the pros and cons of shaving (are there really any pros?).

During the first day of the meet, I got used to the pool. I felt honored to be the lap counter for Dave's 1650. The day before our first event we took the plunge and did our body shaves. My team, OREG, issued bright green national caps and my new LZR suit was in my bag.

The Kino Aquatic Center in Mesa is outstanding. The weather was perfect in the high 80s and low 90s. Our Oregon memories of what sunshine looked like came back rapidly. I felt many different emotions standing on the blocks for that first 50 freestyle. I was nervous, elated, proud and felt better than I had in many years. The race was over quickly, but the smile didn't leave my face until way after my cool down. The rest of the meet only got better. I was even placed in a men's 200-yard freestyle relay and held my own.

Now all that is over and we are back in the liquid sunshine of Oregon, I am pleased and surprised that I am enjoying Masters swimming so much. What I thought would be a six month ordeal to meet a challenge has turned into a significant part of my life. I look forward to my 0530 workouts with an enthusiasm I haven't felt for years. I have even entered my first open water swim even though the closest I have ever come to open water in the past was chasing after my surfboard in the days before ankle leashes were invented.

Thank you Dave Radcliff.

Originally published in the August 2011 Aqua Master, Vol 38, Number 7, page 18


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