Name: Meredith Weisshaar
Occupation: Lawyer – General Counsel at nLIGHT, Inc.
Local Team: Multnomah Athletic Club
I started swimming competitively at age 6, after being put into lessons. Initially, my parents just wanted me to learn to swim for safety reasons, but I started and then it quickly became a year-round thing. My initial favorite stroke was backstroke, which is funny to think about, because it’s now slower than my breaststroke. Once I entered high school, something just clicked with breaststroke and it got a lot faster – I can still swim breaststroke faster than backstroke (which says a lot more about how terrible my backstroke is than it does about my breaststroke!).
Growing up I also played basketball and ran track in middle school and high school. Basketball is still my favorite sport to watch, likely the result of having grown up in Indiana where it’s a huge sport. However, I was not the greatest player. Swimming is also a big sport in Indiana – even the tiniest high schools have their own indoor pools. My high school had only about 525 students, but had a six lane, 25-yard pool plus diving well. All the big meets were held in the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis, which is a wonderful facility. I haven’t been back there in 25+ years, but saw pictures from USMS Spring Nationals a couple years ago and the remodel looks awesome.
I went to college at Indiana University. I was tired of competitive swimming by the end of high school, so didn’t swim for IU, but did work out in the awesome (then) new 50-meter pool from time to time, named after Doc Councilman. During college and later, in my mid-thirties, I mostly focused on running. When I joined the MAC in 2016, I decided to get back into swimming, and now do both.
My most memorable swim experience happened very recently, right before we went into quarantine mode. One of my teammates at the MAC, Daemon Anastas, has done a lot of Swimrun events, mostly ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series races. ÖTILLÖ means island-to-island in Swedish. Daemon described some of his experiences, and I remember thinking that they sounded scary and awesome at the same time — scary because of the length and challenging conditions, but awesome because of the aspects of adventure and the unique terrain. The appeal of swimrun, at least for me, is as follows:
- First, it is just running and swimming, no biking (I’m a horrible cyclist), and there’s quite a bit of swimming relative to a triathlon, so there are advantages to having a strong swimming background.
- Second, it is done simultaneously with a partner and you can talk to other teams during the events; it’s a great way to meet people and have fun along the way.
- Third and finally, every course is different, and the events are designed to be in challenging but beautiful terrain, bringing together people from all over the world.
Swimrun originated in Sweden when a group of people who had a little too much to drink decided that it was a good idea to swim to various islands and run across them, repeating that for probably 10-12 hours.
With this in mind, when Daemon mentioned he was looking for a partner for a race, I didn’t have to think too long before saying yes. The event was held on Catalina Island on March 1, 2020 and was the first ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Series event to be held in the U.S. It was short, at least by ÖTILLÖ standards, but with 31km running up and down steep terrain and 8km of ocean swimming, it certainly did not seem short to me! I was only able to train in the pool for the swimming portion, but made sure to practice running plenty of hills because the course had over 4,300 feet of elevation gain. Daemon suggested a few practices where we would swim 1,000-2,000-meters, run 5-10 km, and repeat that several times, primarily to get used to exercising for 6 hours or so. The race itself was as tough as I expected. What I didn’t expect was the hypothermia – the ocean ended up being colder than forecast, and the air was chilly on the back half of the course, so we didn’t have a chance to warm up much on the later runs. In swimrun, you must wear / carry your gear the whole time, so there’s no chance to add or subtract layers. Speaking of gear, everyone swims with a pull buoy to rest the legs during the swim, and paddles for stability. I got caught in a washing machine wave exiting one of the swim legs, and lost a paddle in the process. There was no point in swimming with one paddle, so I ditched the remaining one. The next few swims after that felt like I was going nowhere, and poor Daemon had to work extra hard to pull me, as we were tethered on the swims. Then, on the very last running leg, I stumbled over a rock and rolled down a hill, resulting in some rather nasty scrapes. The silver lining of that was that the pain from the mishap took my mind off the cold. Despite these challenges, we finished the course, and with a respectable time. Although there were times where I thought it was harder than giving birth, I would do it again in a heartbeat! The feeling of accomplishment was incredible, and it was so fun to share that experience with people from near and far. Like Masters swimming, swimrun has a tight-knit community full of amazing people, and I look forward to the day when I can do another swimrun race.
My reasons for swimming have changed over the years. Like most swimmers, I simply love the water, whether it is the ocean, a pool, a lake, a river, or a hot tub. I can’t remember a time before swimming, and was fortunate that my parents introduced me to the sport at an early age. I also used to love the thrill of racing, both in swimming and running. As I’ve gotten older, I have tried to focus more on improving technique than improving my times, and love swapping recommendations on training videos and drills with my teammates. Recently, I’ve been more into endurance events and training – I might not be quick but I can keep going for quite a while. There is not a fast-twitch muscle in my body! Finally, and most importantly, I enjoy being part of the local swimming community. It has been a real lifeline and provides balance in my life, especially during these particularly stressful times. I’ve felt incredibly fortunate to have moments to go out for a swim, clear my mind, and enjoy some welcome (socially-distanced) interaction with fellow Oregon swimmers in some of the beautiful open waters that we have at our disposal.
Aside from my family, work and swimming, one of my passions is to help people who are suffering from substance use disorders and to remove the stigma that often accompanies such a diagnosis. I currently serve as Board Chair for De Paul Treatment Centers, Inc., which is a healthcare organization and one of Oregon’s oldest and largest providers of residential and outpatient substance use disorder treatment for adults and youth. De Paul was one of the first organizations in Oregon to use evidence-based practices to treat substance use disorders and treat co-occurring mental health disorders. I have a deep personal connection to De Paul’s mission to create freedom from addiction, and am very proud of the work that De Paul has been doing within our community. After years of planning, we recently broke ground on what will be a wonderful new facility in the Gateway District of East Portland, adjacent to Adventist Health. The new facility, scheduled to open next year, will improve and expand access to treatment for the high-needs local community, as well as individuals and families from across the state.
When describing me, most people think that I’m an introvert, which is probably true. I am relatively quiet – definitely not the loudest one in the room (or pool). However, the pandemic has taught me that I really need to be around other people, maybe just in small groups. It has been a real revelation, at least to me.
Meredith and her husband Peter have 3 children: Kai (age 4), Marie (age 10), and Chase (age 12).