US Masters Swimming

Mountain View Masters

Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

Phil Dodson, Jack Bolger, and Chris CampbellBy Coach Chris Campbell

I like traveling to swim meets in other places.  Masters swimmers are the same everywhere—they come in all shapes, sizes, ages and ability levels.  They love their swimming, they love their coffee and beer, and they love to chat.  They are as respectful and welcoming as any group you will ever meet.  And when you find a meet that’s a stone’s throw from home and family, well, that’s even better.

The 2008 Illinois Masters’ Championships were held in De Kalb, about 45 miles from Morrison, the town where I was born and raised, and where my parents still live.  Illinois has a very robust swimming history.  In fact, when I was growing up, the only state that produced more top notch swimmers was California.  Things haven’t changed much, so it was no surprise that this meet had over 450 swimmers registered.  I signed up for a full slate of 11 events. That’s a lot of swimming, but it’s nothing compared to the surprises that came my way.

I started the meet off on Friday with the 1000 Free, and I had the chance to catch up with a bunch of swimming friends from Illinois Masters whom I’ve met over the years at various Nationals meets.  The first surprise came at dinner, when I found a nifty Mexican restaurant called Taxco just up the road in a little town called Sycamore.  The food was great, and there were over 350 Tequilas in stock.  In small town Illinois.  I’m not sure who was happier, me or Jesus the owner, who finally had someone to talk serious Tequila nuts and bolts with.

An even bigger surprise, though, came on Saturday, as I was waiting for Mom to roll into town.  I turned around, and sitting right behind me, wearing a purple NU Swimming shirt, was my old college coach, Jack Bolger.  I loved swimming for Jack, but I hadn’t seen him since 1981, when Northwestern did a major overhaul of its entire Athletic Department, and more than half of the coaches were sent packing, Jack included.  And yet, 27 years later, there he was, wearing that same old shirt that he wore on deck at our meets.  He told me that he figured if he wore the shirt at a meet this size, there would probably be a few of his old swimmers who would see him and come over.  We got a good chuckle out of that and set off to find another former NU swimmer that I know.  It wasn’t hard to find Phil Dodson, of the Evanston Wild Catfish Masters.  Even as a 55 year old, Phil was in the final heat of every event he swam.  We three did a lot of catching up.

On Sunday, I ran into a swimmer with the Gray Sharks named Kent Westphal.  For those of you who go way back with MVM, Kent used to swim with us back in 1992-93.  Look for his name in our Records list.  He had a fabulous 1993 Nationals meet, and then he faded from swimming.  A few years back, he relocated to the Chicago area and returned to swimming last Fall.  After 7 months back in water following 14 years out, Kent, at 51, has a 100 Fly that’s faster than my 100 Free.  Again, there was much catching up.

I was hoping to see my brother Andy and his family.  They live about an hour away, but his son, Hoff, had a baseball game and two soccer games that weekend, so I figured I was going to have to make an extra trip to go see them.  However, he called, and said that they were heading out to see me after the game on Sunday.  I told him that my last event was going to be starting in about 20 minutes, so he stomped on the gas pedal, and I settled down to wait out that race.  While I was waiting, I heard my name, and I turned around to see John Butkus, who was a 9 year old on my swim team when I was in high school.  His sister, Mary, used to be my lane mate.  Now in his late 30s, John is married with two kids, living in Sycamore and starting to do triathlons.  They were just passing by the YMCA when he saw the sign that said Welcome Illinois Masters, so he stopped to check things out.  Again, more catching up.  While the heat right before mine was in the water, I looked out the window to see my brother’s truck wheeling into the parking lot.  I turned and said to John, “In about 30 seconds, Andy will come running through that door.  Tell him I’m in this lane.”  Sure enough, Andy and Hoff rolled in just in time to catch me going into the first turn of my 100 Free.  It wasn’t until the race ended that Andy realized that someone had known exactly who he was looking for without being asked.  Like me, he hadn’t seen John since our high school days, and much hilarity ensued.

After that, it was dinner with my brother and nephew, and then a drive back to Morrison, to sit with my parents at dusk, listening to the big Barred Owls that have taken up residence in the tree right behind their house. 

I enjoy racing, but that’s not why I do meets.  It’s the people.  I love meeting new friends and catching up with old ones.  After so many years of this, it seems like I can go to a Masters meet anywhere and meet someone I know.  I guess that’s why they call them meets.  Who says that you can’t go home?  Or, as our owls like to say, “Hoo?”