Swimmer Spotlight – Ginger Pierson


Ginger Pierson with her dog Mr. Miyagi

Ginger Pierson with her dog Mr. Miyagi

Name:             Ginger Pierson
Age:                 76
Occupation:     Retired PE/Math Teacher, Evergreen School District, Vancouver, WA
Local Team:    OCT (Oregon City Tanker)

I was born in 1946 in Seattle, WA, and have one younger brother. When I was a baby, my parents were very nervous when I was around water.  I crawled, ran to, and even jumped off docks into any form of liquid.  When I was 3 years old, the famed Seattle Olympian, Helene Madison, gave me swimming lessons.

In the Parkrose School District, swimming lessons were a requirement for graduation beginning in the fourth grade.  The coach invited me for a team tryout, and my career as a swimmer began.  My first swim meet, at the age of nine, was at the Herb Eisenschmidt Pool in St. Helens, Oregon.  I was not entered in the breaststroke event, but it looked like fun, so I asked my coach if I could swim it.  My first national record! (There were not a lot of rigid rules back then.)

I continued to swim until my junior year in high school, including A.A.U. for Parkrose S.C. (seven years), when it became evident that I needed the “next level of training” to achieve my goal of making the Olympic team in 1964 or 1968.  My transfer to A.A.U. swimming at David Douglas S.C. (six years) almost got me there.  While swimming for both clubs, I had coaches who were masters with technique, training, and individual needs.  Hence, I set numerous national records, and was an All-American for Parkrose High School in 1963.  Because I switched A.A.U. teams, I had to sit out high school swimming my senior year in 1964.

There was no college swimming for women in those days, as we know it today, so while trying to make the US team I lived at home, went to Portland State, and competed for David Douglas S.C.. One of the instructors at P.S.U. asked if I would put a “team” together and compete with another university.  How could I resist?  Again, I set several national records.  Hence – the beginning of Portland State University Swim Team.

After college and not making “the team”, my real life had to begin.  I met my husband while working for the Y.M.C.A. while attending an aquatic conference in California.  We moved around the country, working for the “Y”, in cardiac rehab through exercise.  It was a natural for me.  In 1980 we divorced and I began teaching in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, WA.  After 22 years in the same building, teaching physical education and math, my goals of promoting youth fitness, self-confidence, and having fun, were realized daily.  What a dream job!

In 1980, while watching the Hawaiian Ironman on television, I was suddenly inspired to try this race myself.  The training would help me lose weight, gain self-respect, and get involved.  These were my after-divorce goals.  Running and swimming were a natural for me, but cycling had to be learned.  In 1982 I was one of only 150 women in the world who had ever completed the Ironman Triathlon.

My next goal was to participate in the Masters Swimming nationals being held at Mt. Hood Community College.  In this meet in 1982, I took several second place awards, and was on a world record-setting relay.  Those second place awards didn’t sit well with me, so the real training began again.

My forty-one years of Masters swimming has lead me down an unbelievable path.  Besides the numerous records and being back “on top”, I have met many wonderful people from all over.  (There isn’t a place in the world that I couldn’t go and stay with a friend.)  The USMS philosophy of Fun, Fitness, and Friendship through competition has led me in many different paths from competition to administrative duties to leadership by example.  I attribute my success to many things: unconditional love and support of my family, support from friends, fantastic coaching, and my desire to be the best I can be.

“Being the Best I can be” can be humbling at times.  Over ten years I have had nine swimming related major surgeries.  All of these require recovery time, retraining, and confidence building.  With the help of doctors, coaches, family, and friends, I am back with newer and lesser goals.  I’m older now!  Recently I set records in multiple different pentathlon events around the country.

My 41 years of competing for Oregon have allowed me to meet many wonderful people.  I have swum for Multnomah Athletic Club (MAC), Oregon Reign (ORM), Tualatin Hills Barracudas (THB), Southern Oregon Masters (SOMA), and currently the Oregon City Tankers (OCT).  I hope that through my achievements, both in and out of the water, I will inspire others to do great things.  If I could leave a legacy, it would read: “It is not the result, but the journey along the way, that leads a person to success.”

Note:  Ginger has volunteered on the Oregon Masters Swimming Board for decades, serving in a variety of roles.  She has also appeared in Sports Illustrated “Faces in the Crowd” as the swimmer with the most number one rankings ever in the Nation for a given year.

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