Name: John McComish
Team: Stafford Hills Masters
Work: Xerox Corporation, Graphic Communications Sales
My best dreams from an early age are of flying and maneuvering effortlessly up and around the ground below. I would soon discover swimming along the rocky shores of Lake Tahoe, or among the coral ridges in Hawaii, provided the same exhilaration as my flying dreams. I can’t think of anything better than moving around freely in the underwater world with all its creatures and unique topography in just a suit and goggles.
I grew up in Marin County and started age group swimming early on. I was 11 when I met two brothers in their early 20s who were to become our new coaches. Rick and Ken DeMont’s approach to coaching was not only fresh, exciting and fast, but also involved a new philosophy that was no longer about chasing trophies and medals, but instead reaching deep for something far greater. We were excited to have an Olympian as our coach and quickly appreciated the fun, creative workouts that were turning out the fastest swimmers in the league. These workouts included “DeMont 50s” with the first 25 underwater as far as you could go (pushing off the bottom was optional), then 10 pushups at the other end, followed by an all-out 25. We were also exposed to some great life lessons that I often reflect on.
Midway through high school, Ken approached me about joining a year round swim program that he and Rick were starting. I was more than happy to drop water polo, where I was a disappointment to the coach, who couldn’t understand how someone so fast had no hand-eye coordination. We started as a small team unable to field a full relay, but receiving excellent 1:1 attention as we competed at meets throughout the Bay Area. My events were the 50 and 100 free, and I went on to qualify for Junior Nationals during my junior and senior years. I was certainly grateful for this experience, and to have been part of the team early-on that developed into a large successful program over the next 42 years. I wish I could say my enthusiasm for the sport continued while swimming my freshman year at UC Santa Barbara, but my times weren’t dropping and the excessive yards and pool time were wearing me down. It was time to do something new, far away from the pool.
After graduating from UCSB and three years away from the pool, I moved to San Francisco and discovered the world of Masters Swimming at the University of San Francisco with coach Gail Roper. She is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met. She was all about winning and had numerous Masters records to back it up. She put together a competitive team that had us working hard to make the “A” relay teams at the many meets we’d go to around the Bay Area. I was finally starting to enjoy swimming again, as well as appreciate the balance and escape it provided as I struggled to adjust to my new life in the working world.
For the past 7 years I’ve been part of the Lakeridge High School swim team coaching staff. I do my best to incorporate the coaching lessons from my youth that keep the practices fresh, creative and fun. Yes, workouts can be fun . . . especially for sprinters. I was fortunate that both my sons’ Joey and Matty swam for Lakeridge. During Matty’s senior year he qualified for the state championship in the 100 backstroke, which was the same year my wife Jen was diagnosed with Acute Leukemia. She was unable to attend any of his meets with the exception of the State meet, where he won: a great moment and memory in many ways.
Thirty years ago I couldn’t have imagined I’d still be swimming competitively at the age of 55, but I was also unaware of the impact the Masters Swimming community would have on me. While I’m not always the most consistent morning swimmer, I am grateful to my lane mates who keep me accountable. I’m also grateful for “the Scott Sullivans of the World” who not only keep your age group competitive, but remind me of the numerous records I could be swimming for. And I’ve certainly learned to appreciate great coaching, and it’s one of the reasons I feel so fortunate to be part of the Stafford Masters swim group with Mike Self, Francie Haffner and Karen Andrus-Hughes on the deck. You couldn’t ask for a better crew.
Honestly, I don’t enjoy the “butterflies” before the races, which haven’t subsided after years of competing, but as my brother in-law Mark says, “be grateful for that adrenaline rush, I’d kill to experience it one more time!” Above all it’s my friend Karen Andrus-Hughes who’s kept me competing the past 20 years, as no one I’ve met exudes the passion for the sport like she does or is a constant reminder of how fortunate we all are to be part of such a select aqua family.
I can’t think of many sports that allow you to be part of a team and compete your entire life if you choose to do so. The next time I’m on the blocks before a race, I could be standing next to an Olympian, a 99-year-old, a college teammate or my son. That’s pretty incredible!
Great note, thanks. The love of all the domains of swimming and honoring of mentors if what it is all about…including a few records here and there!
Great story John. I loved reading it. The swimmers camaraderie shows through loud and clear!