Name: Kermit Yensen
Local Team: Central Oregon Masters Aquatics (COMA)
Thanks to Karen for the opportunity to think back on the people and decisions connected with my swimming career to date; it has been fun.
Swimming started for me with lessons at age 5 or 6. This was at Pooks Hill Community Pool in Bethesda, Maryland. I joined their summer swim team a few years later. It must have been fun, because at age 11, I started swimming year around at the Bethesda Chevy-Chase YMCA. I swam at both of those two pools — summer and winter — until age 14, when I quit swimming (mostly) to play high school football. I came back to swimming after high school, swimming all four years in college, and then stopped (mostly) … for twenty-six years. At age forty-eight I started swimming again, with the Tualatin Hills Barracudas. I swam with the Barracudas until 2010, when I retired — at least from full-time work — and we moved to Bend. I have been swimming with COMA since then.
So, some starts and stops and starts. What brought me back each time?
After high school football ended, I knew I wanted to continue to compete, but at what? I had been a good enough football player to start as a varsity QB. I was good enough to contribute to a winning record (barely), but my coach’s assessment, “Yensen, you are slow, but you have a weak arm,” suggested a less than promising college football future. I remembered fondly the camaraderie of my swimming experience, so I decided to return to the pool. It was a long road back. I had a football body, not much aerobic base, and no feel for the water. I restarted swimming, slowly and painfully, and selected a college where I thought I could swim and contribute – Denison University in Granville, OH. My freshman year my practice swimming was pretty ugly. I was not much help to the team during the season, but I did peak when we rested for the conference championships. I made finals all four years in the 100 and 200 fly, and was captain my senior year. A number of the guys I swam with remain close friends.
After college there was a lot of life, but not much swimming. I got married, went to grad school in Boston, and Hewlett-Packard recruited us to Corvallis, OR. We spent three years in Europe with HP, then moved back to Corvallis and son Zachary was born in 1989. Three years later, we moved to Portland to start a new job. During this time, I was doing a lot of running, some triathlons, but minimal swimming. I ran a lot of 5Ks, 10Ks and some half-marathons, but mostly to help my wife carry home her awards — she was the fast runner. My son started swimming when he was about 9 years old. He had done other sports, and I had not been enthusiastic about getting him into the grind of age group swimming, but he wanted to try. He spent four or five years swimming, then transitioned to water polo, which turned out to be his sport.
I spent a lot of time watching swimming and water polo and felt the pull. A job change in 2001 had me driving directly by Tualatin Hills Rec Center. I looked up the practice schedule and was shocked to see the AM practice was at 5:15. In November, 2001, I showed up on deck (a bit late) and Jon Clark greeted me. He confirmed I was in the right place, and that “yes” practice had started at 5:15am, and pointed me to a lane. I had a long way to go (again) to be competitive, but Mark Becker, Jim Teisher, Jed Cronin, Susie Young and “Master” Dave Radcliff proved to be wonderful guides, inspirations and workout mates. We had some battles, and I often crawled out of the pool. It was great. One of the amazing things I learned was that these guys, in addition to doing pool meets, did really long swims — 5K, 10K and … LONGER. I was sure that was insanity I would avoid.
And I mostly did, until we moved to Bend in 2010. Of course Bend is the stomping group of Bob Bruce, open water guru of Oregon Masters Swimming. While I have continued to swim pool meets, I have especially enjoyed the open water events. My favorite and most satisfying week of swimming was Bob’s Swimcation Event in 2018 (Portland Bridge Swim on Sunday–17K; Foster Lake Cable Swims Thursday–2 and 1 mi; Applegate Lake Saturday–10K). My favorite annual event is the 5K at Elk Lake – being in the middle of the lake, in the middle of the swim, in cool water, with the mountains visible when you breathe, often alone, going hard but aerobic — it does not get better. And my favorite Elk Lake 5K? During the 2014 5K, about the middle of the swim, I realized I was swimming next to Dave Radcliff. He and I swam together the 2nd half of the swim, trading the lead — until he sprinted away at the end, beating me by 8 hundredths of a second. It was a very cool experience.
A few final thoughts:
I have had two great Masters coaches. While I was swimming at T-hills, Jon showed up every day ready to get practice started at 5:15am, sometimes with stupid jokes, but making a connection to the swimmers on deck, and with a challenging workout. Bob has done the same, starting many years before I arrived in Bend. He tried to retire, then COVID showed up, shut down the (his) Masters program, and threatened to have a more permanent effect by making pool space and coaches hard to come by. So Bob stepped back in, both as a coach and as an advocate for Masters practice time. Reliable coaches are heroes.
In 2012, I was asked to join the Oregon Masters Swimming board as the Treasurer. Since then I have had the opportunity to watch some very committed Masters volunteers up close, starting with our President, Tim Waud. I am very proud to be part of Oregon Masters Swimming.
I have been in the pool pretty consistently for most of the last 20 years, much better than my previous record. Swimming benefits my fitness and health and provides a competitive outlet. It is a valuable part of my life. Injuries, COVID and travel kept me out of the water for most of the last two years. My comeback started in October!
Editor note: Kermit received the USMS Dorothy Donnelly Service Award in 2020. – a year that brought financial changes at the USMS National Office. Kermit put a great deal of effort into analyzing OMS’ financial situation to be sure we could adapt to a lower income stream. He prepares the OMS yearly budget and keeps OMS on track financially. He played a huge oversight role when Oregon hosted the 2016 Summer Nationals and tracked all income and expenses related to that event.
Photo Caption #1: Kermit’s with his son Zachary, who was his safety kayaker during the 2018 Portland Bridge Swim.