Name: Michael Collins
Age: 59 (FINA 60)
Occupation: Software Applications Architect at Oregon Department of Justice
Local Team: Salem Kroc Masters (KAM)
I started practicing with the Kroc Masters Swimming group in Salem almost exactly 10 years ago after realizing I’d vastly overestimated my swim speed in entering the Beaver Freezer Triathlon in Corvallis. Entrants are seeded by swim time, so I wrote down what would have been an embarrassingly slow time when I last raced a 500 in high school, and then swam a minute slower than that, and could barely climb out of the pool at the end! I jumped in with the Salem Kroc Masters at 5:30 a.m. the following Monday, still red with exertion and embarrassment.
Our practice group is small, but has a dedicated core of about 6 to 8 regulars and about as many more who come when they can. They post their workouts on a whiteboard above the shallow end of the pool, and when the Masters folk saw me following along off to the side over in the unlined lanes, they invited me to move over and swim with them. Their welcome and encouragement kept me coming back through those critical first weeks of finding my fitness. An introvert by nature, I run and bike mostly on my own, and I’d forgotten how much it helps to have a group to hold you accountable just for showing up. And just showing up is more than half the battle!
The Kroc crew used to have a coach on deck, but since I’ve been with them we’ve shared the responsibility of coming up with workouts among ourselves. Okay, Kendra Wheeler writes almost all of them, but I post a picture of the whiteboard workout to our Facebook page after every practice, and that counts, right? As my mom always says, if it’s not in the minutes, it didn’t happen.
I swam on age-group teams from 1969 until I graduated from high school (Radford HS, Honolulu, Class of ’80), then one year on the plebe team at the U.S. Naval Academy, before I admitted I was never going to be Mark Spitz (I can’t grow a mustache). My parents, Judy and John Collins, had helped start the Coronado Masters swim club when we lived in San Diego in the mid-70’s, and one Wednesday evening in 1974 they pulled my sister, Kristin, and me out of our age-group team practice to take part in Dave Pain’s Birthday Bash, an annual event staged by the San Diego Track Club in honor of one of their members who had a penchant for weird athletic challenges. That night they threw together a running, cycling, swimming mish-mash and called it a “triathlon”, which is now recognized as the first modern instance of the sport. The race finished with a swim in Mission Bay, and I was ahead of Kristin until a couple hundred yards from the end, when she literally flew by me. She was doing butterfly in order to stay on course in the fading twilight.
My mom and dad talked their Coronado Masters coach into adding a triathlon to the Optimist Sports Fiesta the following July, and in 1978, they created the Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon, which became a big deal right about the time we moved away from Hawaii. I was mentioned briefly in Barry McDermott’s Sports Illustrated article after the 1979 edition in which I had some mechanical (and hubristic) issues and finished well behind the rest of the field in 24:25:58. Though only 16 at the time, I’m not the youngest ever to finish. Thirteen-year-old Robin Tain finished in 1982. Nor am I the slowest. Walt Stack padded his time by taking a nap on the course of the same 1982 event. However, since Ironman established a minimum age rule (18) and a cut-off time (17 hours), I will forever hold the Ironman record for the Youngest Person Ever to Finish Last.
My sister now lives in Langley, WA, and swims daily in waters off Whidbey Island, without the benefit of a wetsuit. In 2019 she talked me into signing up for the Portland Bridge Swim, and I easily left her in my wake for the first 10½ miles or so. She caught me about 400 yards from the end, right before the St. Johns Bridge, and beat me to the finish line by over a minute. Some things never change! Now I have to train even harder.
My stretch goal these days (besides keeping up with Kristin) is to “swim my age” in the 100-yd free, which I’ve never yet accomplished. I’ll be 60 in July, so I’m aiming to break a minute for the first time since the Naval Academy. I know I can count on my Kroc Masters teammates to keep me focused!