Swimmer Spotlight – Allen Stark 1

Allen Stark

Allen Stark

I was born in McAllen, Texas, and my parents named me after this town.  My mother was a teacher and my father was a Safety Director at an oil refinery.  We lived in Texas for nine years and then moved to Tulsa where I attended elementary, junior high, and high school.  I began competitive swimming at the age of 14 because a good friend was on the team.  I quickly discovered that I could swim breaststroke.  Prior to that, at Scout Camp when I was 12, I won the 25 breaststroke.  I’ve always had the “kick”.

High school swimming in my high school was a big deal, second only to football.  We usually placed 2nd in state.  My senior year I was the number one breaststroker on the team.  I attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, from 1967 – 1971 because I was interested in science and engineering.  I wanted to swim with the team but there were no scholarships and no recruiting at the time.  I spoke to the coach and “walked” on to the team.

Being on the team was great because Rice University was extremely academically competitive.  The first thing any student asked was “What is your SAT score?”  This competitiveness was also one of the worst things about Rice, which is that they graded on a curve, so even if you had always been an A student you could now be a C student.  During orientation they said, “at the end of the semester, half of you won’t be here”.  There were two suicides at the school and it seemed that the culture was proud of the “pressure”.  The only thing that kept me sane my freshman year was the swim team.  I was team captain my junior and senior years.

Rice was part of the Southwest conference which was extremely competitive with SMU, University of Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech as our opponents.  My junior year was my best year.  I didn’t improve as much as I wanted to my senior year which always left me a little bit hungry.

I met my wife, Carol, at Rice University.  I knew Carol and I had to be together when I learned that her SAT score was higher than mine!!  You didn’t get into Rice without a minimum of 1400 on the SAT.  Our sophomore year we were lab partners in Biology.  One early assignment involved pithing a frog which requires students to insert a pin into the neck or spine which leaves the frog unable to control its body and supposedly unable to feel pain.  We did not pith our frog, we released it which further confirmed we were kindred spirits.  Carol also helped keep me sane once we got together.  Carol enjoyed swimming but this was before Title 9 so there was no women’s swim team.  Ironically Title 9 passed in 1972 one year after we graduated.  The coach reluctantly allowed Carol to practice with the men’s team.  By our senior year Carol had convinced the coach to start a women’s team.  When the women swam their first relay they qualified for nationals.  The men’s team had never qualified for nationals!

After graduating from Rice, Carol and I got married.  We both attended Baylor College of Medicine.  We’ve been married 50 years on May 14, 2021.  We have three children and three grandchildren and we are fortunate enough to be able to spend time with them every Saturday.

To keep my sanity during medical school I swam at the Rice pool which I still had access to.  I read about Masters Swimming all the time and couldn’t wait until I turned 25 so I could join.  My first local meet was in a 20 yard pool in a back yard that belonged to Hamilton and Mildred (Ham and Milly) Anderson, who founded Gulf Masters Swimming.  This was a great experience for me and led me to many more Masters meets including Nationals at Mount Hood Community College in 1982 and 1986.  Oregon was always intriguing to me, and, you cannot compare Houston to Oregon in August!  Carol and I both loved it and by 1988 we had moved to Oregon where we set up our own psychiatric practice in Lake Oswego.  We live close to Canby and swim at the Canby pool but have also practiced in the Lake Oswego pool.  We compete with Oregon Reign Masters.

Swimming has meant many things to me, but here are a few of my favorite memories:

  • In 1977 I attended Masters Nationals in Spokane, WA. Rick Colella was there just after his appearance in the 1976 Olympics.  It was a cold, 45 degree, drizzly day in August!  I was so excited to swim against Rick.  There was a false start and we all got wet and had to get back on the blocks.  We were freezing.  The next time we did go off the blocks, and I could see that at the 50 I was ahead of Rick.  I was really excited.  As soon as we turned and pushed off ……… all I could see were his feet!
  • In 2006 the World Championships at Stanford was a fantastic meet. During my individual event I discovered that this is the first time I am aware of being in the “zone”.  In the 100 breast I dove in and have absolutely no memory of the race until 10 meters before the end when I realized I was going to win.  My mind was quiet until then.  I also swam on a mixed medley relay with Karen Andrus-Hughes leading off on backstroke.  I dove in and swam breaststroke.  Arlene Delmage swam fly at a record speed (the third fastest in the heat which included men), and then there was a giant splash and some guy was blasting so hard ……. I didn’t know who it was and then I realized it was Mike Tennant.  We took first at Worlds and that was a fun relay.
  • In 2011 I set my first individual world record in the 200 breast during the Auburn Nationals. I swam better than “my perfect race” because I had worked out all the splits in my head and I went faster than that.  I swam against Robert Wright who was ahead of me at the 100.  My philosophy was to not let him get more than a half body length in front of me no matter how fast he went out.  In this case it worked because I won.
  • 2014 Worlds in Montreal was probably my best personal meet. I won the 50, 100, and 200 breast and set a world record in the 200.

In closing I want to thank Oregon Masters.  When we moved here, I was astounded at how Oregon was.  In Texas when I was there, there were basically a bunch of workout groups with no interconnection.  Here there is camaraderie and (at least before Covid) regular meets that are well run along with coordination to form relays and be together at National meets.  I have met so many wonderful people here and have had such great experiences.  Thank you all.

(PS: Carol suggested I add—In 2003 I had the opportunity to join 11 other Masters swimmers for stroke and training analysis at the Olympic Training Center.  I learned many things especially about body position, streamlining, and the little changes that can make a big difference in speed.  If I can get 3 inches further with each stroke, that is about 4 fewer strokes in a 200 LCM breaststroke.)


Writers Note:

Allen Stark has been recognized as an individual USMS All-American 26 times.

He has also been part of 14 relay All-American swims.  To obtain All-American a swimmer must post the fastest time nationally in an event, in their age group.

Allen is also an EXPERT in the “butterfrog” stroke.  If you don’t know what that is, ask him.

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