Swimmer Spotlight – Lizzie Cheney


Lizzie with her beloved dog, Ridley. One of her big abstract paintings is partially visible in the background.

Lizzie with her beloved dog, Ridley. One of her big abstract paintings is partially visible in the background.

Name:                    Lizzie Cheney
Age:                        65
Occupation:          Artist, Writer, Musician, Multifaceted, Creative, and a “sea creature”
Local Team:           OCT Oregon City Tanker

I’m Lizzie Cheney, a 65-year-old water lover.  I grew up in Berkeley, California.  Growing up there in the 60s and early 70s was an amazing experience.  So many meaningful experiences.  It was an important time in history.  Being in the middle of it was quite wild.  For instance, in junior high, our school was engulfed in giant clouds of teargas that had flowed from UC Berkeley during the Peoples’ Park demonstration.  They sent us all home.  We all got to experience the misery of teargas.

I have been married for almost 39 years to my wonderful husband, Aaron Zick.  He is my true love and soul mate.  We were together for 3 years before we got married.  After that many years together, we almost read each other’s minds.  We chose to not have kids, but we nearly always have had at least one dog.  We are both passionate when it comes to dogs or any animal.  Aaron is a good sport too, being the dog sitter at some of my open water events.

My swimming background is different from many.  My parents started me in the bathtub as an infant.  Because they couldn’t keep me away from any body of water within reach, they wanted me water-safe as early as possible.  Our family loved to body surf and snorkel, so most of my swimming was in the ocean.  I was body surfing on tiny waves as early as 4 years old.  I had some formal lessons when I was 5 years old.  I remember they were so much fun!!!

Through my teen years I rode and showed horses over fences.  I had a thoroughbred that I showed all over the West Coast.  Throughout all this, I still swam anytime I could, and bodysurfed at Aptos (near Santa Cruz).

We went to Hawaii a couple of times.  On these trips we did a lot of bodysurfing, free diving, and snorkeling.  I believe all this time I spent in the ever-moving sea gave me a feeling for water.  Using my own terminology, for me, swimming is about seeking and finding “hard water”.  Water that feels solid and which I could pull against.  Ocean swimming helped me with that idea.  With the ocean water moving and changing constantly, the hard water may slip away instantly, so I was constantly feeling for it.  Over the years I did some lap swimming.  The only stroke I knew was freestyle

In my 30s we lived in San Francisco.  I would go with friends early in the morning and free dive for abalone off the Sonoma Coast.  It was always an incredible experience.  We would clamber down cliffs with our gear and enter the sea amongst the rocky turbulence.  Always remote, and always beautiful.

I first heard of Masters Swimming when I was about 40, and couldn’t believe this wonderful thing existed.  I swam on a team in San Francisco for a while.  We all did Southend Rowing’s Alcatraz Swim.  I also did a few rough water swims down there.  Then we moved to Portland.  I was in shock about how few pools there were.  I found a workout group in Lake Oswego and joined them.  We didn’t have a coach, but we were a team—“The Fishsticks”.  We went to a few meets.  I would swim the shorter freestyle events, but occasionally would do a 50 fly. (It wasn’t pretty, but I tried my best).

I now swim with The Oregon City Tankers, coached by Tim Waud—a terrific coach and person.  Tim has helped me a lot with my stroke technique and conditioning.  My teammates are my friends.  I get tons of support, sense of belonging, swimming tips and happy times from the team.  We do a lot of hard swimming and a lot of laughing!  I joined the team not knowing any of the swimmers and I had only met Tim once before.  Joining the team was joining a wonderful community of wonderful folks.

I also love open water swimming, and participate in the amazing Oregon Open Water Series that the amazing Bob Bruce creates for Masters Swimming.  Swimming in beautiful lakes in the Cascades and beyond is one of my “happy places”!

As far as college goes, after graduating and taking time away from high school I ended up at Stanford, where I got my BA in Fine Art with an emphasis on painting (though I played in many types of media there).  I put myself through school thanks to an assortment of academic and art scholarships, financial aid, work-study jobs, and outside jobs.  After Stanford, I spent a year at Art Center in Pasadena to open up art-related career options.  After moving to Portland, I got my Master of Fine Art at PSU.  I taught art at various colleges in the Portland Area.

Over the years since Stanford, I have shown my artwork and been successful.  At various times in my career, I would have several galleries around the country selling my work.  I did many private and corporate commissions.  I also worked in advertising when we lived in San Francisco, and freelanced as an art director, writer, and marketing creative.  I have done a lot of graphic design and some photography for projects.  I also write, working as a copywriter in the advertising world doing some journalistic and article writing and creative writing.

Over the years, besides painting, I have done sculpture, metal work, monotype (type of printmaking), photography, illustration, jewelry design and ceramics (to name a few).

Lizzie is front and center. Her husband Aaron is behind the keyboards. This is one of the bands she sang with named Wolfpack

Lizzie is front and center. Her husband Aaron is behind the keyboards. This is one of the bands she sang with named Wolfpack

My last tidbit is that I do some singing in garage 80s rock bands with a few performances.  Aaron, my husband, has been involved as well.  He is a highly trained musician who plays keyboard, guitar, some brass and pretty much anything you hand him.

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