Name: Claudia Andrews
Team: Oregon Reign Masters
Occupation: Chief Operating Officer, Bonneville Power Administration (retired)
I grew up in Gresham; learned to swim at the Gresham High School Pool when it was new in the 60s; worked at the Barlow High School Pool when it was new in the 70s and the Lincoln City Pool when it was new in the 80s. I have never been a competitive swimmer. I hated opening my eyes underwater, and that doomed me from truly becoming a “swimmer” when I was a kid. I greatly admired swimmers, including my sister, who endured chlorine eyes day after day and made swimming their sport. I sometimes wonder if my swimming life would have been different if goggles had been available when I was growing up. Many times, instructors yelled at me to “open your eyes” as I veered around the pool. However, after taking some time to become accustomed to putting my face in the water and getting my feet off the bottom of the pool, I became an avid recreational water enthusiast: water skiing on Blue Lake, shooting the rapids feet-first along the Sandy River (without flotation devices), or body surfing in the chilly ocean at Rockaway.
In the 80s, goggles became widely available and generally good enough to keep the water out, so I became a lap swimmer. I started lap swimming to relieve stress when I was in graduate school at Willamette University. Then I moved to Arlington, Virginia and swam at the Washington Lee High School Pool. Periodically, when I traveled overseas for work, I would swim for 90 minutes, go to the airport, get on the plane and be assured of sleeping throughout the cross-Atlantic flight. Thirty years ago, after moving back to Gresham (Damascus actually), I became a regular lap swimmer at Mt. Hood Community College. Swimming in the outdoor pool at MHCC has always been blissful. Initially 50 meters intimidated me, but no longer.
About five years ago, I joined Oregon Reign Masters in order to see if swimming with the Masters’ team could be one of my retirement activities. To cut to the chase, yes, swimming with the team has been a cornerstone of my retirement. Swimming has always provided low impact exercise, allowing me to release workday stress and think about complex problems. Although I am one of the slowest swimmers on the team and don’t compete, I enjoy the team camaraderie and regular workout challenge. As a coach, Dennis Baker is broadly inclusive, knows his swimmers, and fashions workouts to challenge each swimmer. His incredibly supportive coaching has been particularly critical in my recovery from a recent injury.
About a year ago, I slipped and fell in the slush and mud on the hill behind our house. Before I hit the ground, I felt and heard my leg snap. I had broken my tibia, fibula, and ankle. After two surgeries and quite a bit of fresh hardware in my leg and ankle, healing started. Fast forward through two very uncomfortable and sedentary months. Although I was still wearing a boot and using a walker, it was time to get back in the water, with my orthopedist’s agreement.
The first day back was gorgeous, Oregon spring weather – late April, and the pool was set for long course. Holy cow…50 meters seemed to be forever. Getting to and from the car was difficult, getting to and from the locker room was difficult, getting in and out of the pool was difficult, but swimming was fantastic! I may have done 800 meters with a pull buoy that first day, but moving and feeling weightless felt so good. Each practice got easier. Instead of using the pull buoy after the first day, I gently kicked, which helped improve ankle flexibility.
In May, I stopped wearing a boot, and switched from a walker to crutches. Moving around on land became easier, although still painful. (FYI, my physical therapist, on first seeing my shrunken, scarred leg, mentioned that post-menopausal women lose muscle mass very quickly.) Swimming really got me through those first six months. Swimming allowed me to exercise without putting weight on my leg. Wahoo! If not for swimming, I would have lost more muscle mass, making recovery more difficult.
I started walking very slowly, and not very far, in July. By September, I was able to walk two miles on the track at a slow pace. If I hadn’t been able to swim, I would have done no real exercise for six months, at least. Also, in September, we learned that MHCC wouldn’t put the dome on the outdoor pool for the winter. WHAT? And the pool would stay open throughout the winter, closing only on really cold days. So, we have gained fortitude and stamina swimming outside all winter, and it’s been a blast. And my leg is better than ever. Thank you, Dennis, for getting me through this last year!