Name: Arlene Delmage
Local Team: SOMA del Norte (Vancouver,WA)
I was fortunate to grow up in London, England. I say this because all children were taught to swim as part of their education. The lessons went on for years, and everyone was taught the basic survival skills as part of the water safety program. There were five stages, each stage progressively becoming more challenging, and, at the end of each one you were rewarded with a badge; elementary, bronze, silver, gold, and honours. I remember being taught how to swim and the pride I felt when I finally made it ten yards across the pool with a stroke resembling hands glued to my head, alternately paddling to complete the distance.
We spent a lot of time at the public baths (swimming pools) in London. There was one close to our flat, and my friends and I would spend hours there diving off the high dives and swimming around like mermaids. There were no goggles at the time and the pools were over-chlorinated, so my eyes were constantly red and burning.
My father was a geologist, born in Texas, but spending twenty-five years of his career overseas. He met my German-born mother in Lima, Peru. They got married and moved to Ankara, Turkey, where my older sister and I were born. We moved to Denmark and then on to Madrid, where my little sister was born. After Spain we lived in England and then on to America when I was a freshman in high school. We moved from London to Houston in the summer, and the shock of the hot humid weather was overwhelming. At the high school, Spring Woods, there was a brand new natatorium. I instantly decided to join the swim team as a way to “cool” down. I had no idea that Texas was a great swimming state and these people were very serious about the sport. I also did not realize that the brand new natatorium in our school parking lot was a district pool that we had to share with five other schools. We were allowed to swim in the natatorium once every six days. The rest of the time we were bussed to the Dad’s Club, which was a very nice outdoor 50 meter pool. I quickly learned that the Dad’s Club was one of the nation’s most established swim teams, churning out many National Champions and Olympians. These were the people I competed against in high school. In addition to high school, those swimmers also swam AAU. At the time I did not even know what that meant.
After high school I attended University of Houston. Having only been in the country four years, to me, there was no distinction between University of Houston or Rice University; they were just two city universities! In college I worked, went to school, and joined a sorority. I didn’t think about swimming again. After graduation I had various jobs but ended up in Orange County, California, working for Fluor Corporation, a global engineering company. It was 1988 and I was also recovering from ACL surgery, which would be the first of many procedures that I would have on my right knee. Since I couldn’t do much and was on crutches, I decided that maybe I should start swimming again. I lived in Irvine, so it seemed natural to join the UCI Masters team. It would be approximately a decade before I had the nerve to enter my first USMS swim meet. Those California swimmers were really fast and intimidating!
My swimming was very sporadic in those days due to work obligations and constant travelling. I had the good fortune of being assigned to work in Belgium, Holland, and Thailand, often for years at a time. I did actually join a swim team in Holland. Pools were in high demand and our team worked out from 10:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. three nights a week. I remember biking home after workouts with icicles forming on my hair.
Long story short, when I was 36 I married my husband Peter (we went to University of Houston together) and in the course of 47 months we had three boys. Life was busy. In 2005 we moved to Vancouver, WA, and I joined the local Masters team in Camas, Grass Valley Masters, coached by Bert Peterson. I realized early on that Oregon Masters Swimming was extremely well organized. Though I had swum with various Masters teams across the US, from TX, to SC, to CA, I had never come across this kind of organization. I remember being asked to do a relay in a meet and my response was, “I haven’t done a relay since high school”. Well, many years later, and many relays later, I have had the privilege of being on relays with some of Oregon’s best swimmers, from David Radcliff, to Willard Lamb, to Joy Ward and Ginger Pierson, … the list goes on. Three of my very best friends in Masters swimming are my relay mates Valerie Jenkins, Collette Crabbe, and Karen Andrus-Hughes. (Hint: If you want to up your game get on relays with fast people!!) Relays are a very fun part of Masters Swimming. One of my favorite memories is the World Championships in Stanford in 2006. At the time, I still did not know many people in Oregon, so I roomed with my Texas friends. I discovered that OREG is a fun and diverse group of amazing people. At the world championships there was one entire day dedicated to relays. The pool was very crowded but the energy was electrifying. We had approximately 90 swimmers from Oregon, and we were all wearing bright green caps. All day long you could see the Oregon relays diving off the blocks. It was so much fun!
I don’t know where I would be in life without swimming. I love the people in the sport. I love the way it makes me feel mentally and physically. I love the opportunities it offers for travel and friendship. Some of the best people in my life I have met through swimming.