Swimmer Spotlight – John Foges


Name:                    John Foges
Age:                        76
Occupation:          Retired English Teacher, R.A. Long High School, Longview, WA
Local Team:           COMA (remotely via Kalama, WA)

John Foges

John Foges

I’m John Foges, I just turned 76.  I’m a “remote” COMA swimmer.  I live in Kalama, WA, with my wife Denise, and recent high-school-graduate daughter, Lela.  I train at the YMCA in Longview, WA.  I usually end up swimming in 1 of the 3 lanes available next to the water exercisers.

During this Covid time I’ve been walking the hills of Kalama, walking our two dogs, doing PT for my shoulders and working a stretch routine.  I haven’t been doing much core work.  I’ve also been working out on my Vasa Swim Trainer, doing light weights, sitting around too much and reading.  When Horseshoe Lake in Woodland, WA, warms up I’ll swim there.

I grew up in Chicago and played in the waters of Lake Michigan and the Kankakee River, floundering around, but didn’t know how to swim until I was 12 or 13 years old.

At age 15 I started talking to some of the local high school swimmers who swam at the YMCA.  My high school did not have a pool nor did they have a swim team.  The guy swimmers swam for Fenger, Chicago Vocational and Morgan Park high schools.  The top girl swimmers were Sharon and Elaine (Sara) Cassidy, who placed at AAU Nationals.

The YMCA had a team of mostly young kids (8-12).  When I was 17, Bruce Darling, the coach, asked me to join.  There were 4 or 5 other guys around my age.  We practiced for an hour, three days a week.  The pool was 4 lanes, 20 yards with 25 to 35 kids on the team.  I swam in 3 or 4 meets (whatever was necessary to qualify for the Chicago YMCA Championships.)  I swam some free and back at the meet and was on a relay that took second.

The summer of 1962 I worked as a Junior Counselor at Camp Pinewood, the YMCA’s camp in Michigan.  I helped teach swimming, archery, camp craft, etc..  I also accompanied the older girls on their away-from-camp trips.  On one trip I swam in the shipping lane in Muskegon for a few hours.

In fall of 1962 I started Southern Illinois University.  The first quarter I got chicken pox so I had half an excuse for my lousy grades.  I was put on probation.  The second quarter I rarely went to any classes and was told to leave.  I left and went back to my very disappointed parents.

I worked at Ford Motor Company for a few months and then returned to Camp Pinewood.  Camp was even better than the summer before.  Tom Spasoff, the camp director, was an ex University of Illinois swimmer and an ex Indiana University freshmen coach under Doc Counsilman.  He asked me to help him coach a camp team.  I jumped at the chance.  Basically Spasoff coached me to coach the campers.  We swam against Camp Martin Johnson later in the summer and did well.  I felt like a coach!!

Returning to Chicago I coached the Y team for a few months but, I knew I couldn’t stay with my folks so I joined the Marines.  I spent most of my 4 years as a machine gunner but I did have an opportunity to do some life guarding and swim instruction.  I spent a year in Vietnam: 3 months running a tavern, 3 months guarding advisors’ quarters and 6 months in combat.  In a reckless/naive state I still can’t figure out, I once swam with two other Marines across the Ky Lam River.  We each had a knife and some grenades.  Luckily, the enemy we were going to sneak up on had left.

I returned to Southern Illinois University in 1968.  I was an English major, attended classes and did good work.  I had matured!  I student-taught in the fall of 1970 and graduated with a BA.

I taught in a Chicago suburb for a year and a half.  I participated in a Pull for a Pool fundraiser.  I hadn’t really swum for 4 or 5 years but I ended up swimming 5000 yards in 2 hours!  That summer I spent $5 and went to nearby Portage Park to watch the men’s Olympic Trials.  Concessions consisted of a Good Humor bicycle cart.

In 1972 I left Chicago and ended up in Seattle.  I volunteered at Open Door Clinic, a drop-in center.  Aside from a year back in Chicago, I’ve lived in the NW since then.

In 1975 and 1976 I worked with severely handicapped adolescents.  I also began swimming again, usually at the University of Washington intramural facility.  One day I did a 52 mile walk in the Seattle area!

In 1976 I was offered a fellowship at Central Washington University.  Along with my academic classes, I took every aquatic class offered.  Bob Gregson was the Central head swim coach, and taught all the classes:  Swimming, Senior life Saving, WSI (Water Safety Instructor), Advanced Swimming, Water Exercises, Water Polo, Coaching Swimming, etc..  I also guarded 2 or 3 nights most weeks.  That summer I helped coach the local age group team.

I was hired at the end of that summer to teach English at Astoria High School AND to be their first swimming coach.  I taught and coached in Astoria for 4 years.  Both jobs were very rewarding.  The last season I coached my older daughter Molly.

I left Astoria and began teaching and coaching at R.A. Long high school in Longview, Washington.  I coached the boys for six years and the girls for one year (another opportunity to coach my daughter).  In Washington the girls swam in the fall and the boys swam in winter.  I soon discovered that I enjoyed coaching coed teams much more than single gender.  It’s difficult to be a macho guy when the hardest workers and sometimes the fastest swimmers on the team are female.

I was swimming at the local Y on and off during this period.  I swam another 5000 in 1982 racing against one of my swimmers hoping to get under one and a half hours.  I missed by 20 seconds.  When I was 49 I tried it again and made it.  Being of questionably sound mind, I decided I would celebrate my 50th birthday by swimming 10 miles.  I had only swum a 6 miler before.  I shared my goal with OMS swimmer Dick Mealy and he offered to help.  Dick came in around mile 7 and did two miles with me.  He was about 10 minutes a mile faster than me so obviously Dick slowed way down.  I finished, averaging 34 minute miles including a few very quick trips to the on-deck bathroom.

I taught English at R.A. Long for 27 years and enjoyed it 98% of the time.  I retired in 2009.  I continued swimming three days a week.  I also swam a 1 miler in 59 degree water near Mt. Hood (never again), a Lake Washington Bridge Swim, a few Fat Salmon swims (the shorter ones) in Lake Washington and a couple of Last Gasp of Summer swims near SeaTac.

I would read the USMS and Aqua Master info but didn’t consider swimming Masters until the spring of 2011.  I read that Gary Hall Jr. would be speaking at the OMS banquet.  I thought he was pretty interesting (and a little arrogant) so I entered the meet and bought a ticket for the banquet.  The Olympic champion was actually quite gracious.  I sat at a table with Willard and Doug Lamb and learned Willard had graduated from R.A. Long High School in the early 1940s.  That meet and banquet got me hooked on Masters and OMS.

In the 8 or so years I’ve been swimming Masters I swam the 1 mile Cable Swim a couple of times, the 1 hour Postal the last 8 years, 5-5K ePostals ,some 3000 and 6000 ePostals, and 2-10K ePostals.  I was very hesitant to try the 10K which Bob Bruce was encouraging me to do.  Terry Tyynismaa told me, ”John, you just keep swimming”

Aside from 2015 and 2019 I usually swim in 3 or 4 meets a year.  I had right shoulder surgery for clavicle and acromion repair in 2015 and left shoulder surgery for a torn bicep and labrum last year.  I still do physical therapy 3 or 4 days a week.

I swam at Nationals in San Antonio (magnificent facility), at Mount Hood C.C., and Indianapolis.  I also swam in Orlando at the Pan Americans.  I was signed up for San Antonio for this year and had actually qualified for the 1650.

I am most proud of swimming all 5 ePostals in 2014 and 2016.  The swims I’ve enjoyed the most have been distance freestyle against Charlie Helm and Carolyn DeMarco (come back, Carolyn).  The inspiring performances of Willard Lamb and David Radcliff let me know I have YEARS of swimming ahead of me.  Bob Bruce, Allen Larson, and Matt Miller have given me advice along the way.

I really miss the spirit and camaraderie at meets.  Constant inspiration!  Talking with other swimmers, competing in races, and being an Oregon Masters Swimmer are an integral part of my identity.

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