Eighty Six


“86” is a journalism term for a columnist’s final column.  For me and Dave Radcliff, 86 has a more personal meaning this year.

Dave is one of the greats in USMS swimming, and in swimming in general.  He represented the USA as a 1,500-meter swimmer in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia.  As a Master’s swimmer he has knocked down many age group records over the years.  And like the Energizer Bunny, he just keeps on going at full throttle.  He is also a decent and generous person.  But in recent years Dave has come to embrace the reality of life moving along.  He now refers to himself as a SLOTH: Slow Old-Timer Holding On.  He was invited to join as a chartered member.

Joe Oakes

Joe Oakes

Dave Radcliff

Dave Radcliff

Me?  I describe myself as a “slow-be”: My swimming curriculum vitae includes dips in the sea in many places around the world, just because I love it.  I am a believer in the old axiom that speed kills.  Bearing graphic witness to that philosophy, I have tattoos on my arms in Russian (potikhonko), Chinese (man-man-lai) and Italian (piano, piano): Go slowly, they caution.  For me life is so much better in the slow lane.

Dave Radcliff and I have something else in common.  We were both born in 1934, Dave in May and I in early September, in the midst of the Great Depression.  For the mathematically oriented among us, we both turned 86 this year.  For reasons that I no longer remember, I have always celebrated my birthday on Labor Day, the first Monday in September, which in 2020 was my actual birthday.  For many years, I have done a birthday swim wherever I happened to be, and often it has been in Hood River at the annual Cross Channel Swim.  This year, however, Because of the COVID pandemic there would be no organized swim on Labor Day in Hood River.

What to do?  I decided to improvise and invite a few friends to swim with me on Labor Day, my birthday, at Gleason Beach on the Columbia River in Portland, a delightful and protected place where I frequently swim.  Only one brave person accepted the invitation, Dave Radcliff.  It was going to be an auspicious swim, with two 86-year-old swimmers celebrating my birthday in aquatic style.  How rare would that be?  Together we are 172 years old.

But I did mention COVID, didn’t I?  To prevent a huge increase in COVID infections, Governor Brown made an impassioned plea to all Oregonians to stay home over the Labor Day weekend.  Naturally that put an end to our Labor Day extravaganza.  But you know what?  It is okay.  Neither of us wants to get COVID or to infect anyone else with it.  And we are only 86, so there will be lots of birthdays in the future that we can celebrate.  Maybe at 90?  That’s only four years from now.  I am told that 90 is the new 65.  The Columbia River will be surely there when we are ready.  I can wait.

So, 86 for now.

Post Script: by Dave Radcliff

Shortly after Labor Day, Oregon’s magnificent, heavily treed forests were beset by several large fires, devastating many thousands of acres, taking lives and destroying homes and towns in their wake.  Here in Portland the heavy, acrid smoke made it impossible to do anything out of doors, including swimming in the Columbia River.  2020 will be a year that will be long remembered.  The fact that we swimmers lost our opportunities for fun and exercise is a miniscule sacrifice in comparison to the losses suffered by so many of our neighbors.  As I write (September 13, 2020) the fires are still burning.

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