Swimmer Spotlight – Rick Howell


Name:  Rick Howell
Age:  61
Team: SOMA del Norte (aka SOMA Vancouver)
Occupation:  Employee Value Proposition (EVP) for People and Performance, Business Consultant; and Professor at WSU Vancouver

Rick Howell -- Breaststroke Finals

Rick Howell — Breaststroke Finals

Take the Plunge with Rick!

There are so many great swimmers in our area:  National Champions, World Record Holders, and Olympians!  I enjoy meeting and swimming with them, but I was surprised when I was asked to be this month’s Swimmer Spotlight.  Then again, maybe because I’m just an average guy, my story will relate to more folks.

Rick Howell--Kelso High School Awards Banquet 1977

Rick Howell–Kelso High School Awards Banquet 1977

I was lucky to have swim lessons starting at 4 years old and from really good instructors.  I grew up in Kelso, WA (yes, I’m a red neck), and when my hometown built a new high school, we had a regulation size pool.  I started competing at 12 and continued to race through college, with moderate success at each level.

After college, I doubted I could find a pool whenever I wanted.  But I knew I could find a road, so I started running and cycling.  The summer I turned 22, I ran two marathons and four triathlons.  OK, I was now over that nonsense!  I committed to finding water to train.  It was easy in grad school to find good pools and good people to swim with.  After getting my MBA, I moved to LA for two years and pools and training partners were plentiful there as well.

I was able to swim each day through my twenties and early thirties and stayed in good shape.  I swam a cross-channel swim from Molokai to Maui as part of a relay.  I even swam in my first Masters meet for my old college coach, as a “ringer,” raking in about 20 medals over a three-day weekend.  But around 33, work, travel, and family consumed my days and swimming took a back seat.  I fell out of shape.  Just like Charles Barkley, I was a round, mound, trying to rebound.

When I turned 50, I went to the doctor for the first time in many, many, many years.  After a thorough check-up, I was diagnosed “healthy.”  But those were not my numbers:  cholesterol, blood pressure, pulse, weight, etc. were unacceptable in my book.  The next day, I converted to a morning person, waking at 5:00 a.m. to begin swimming at 5:30 each morning.  This was time that I could protect.  Family, friends, and work would never ask for my time that early.  The swimming routine had begun – 11 years and going strong!

After a while, I felt my willpower faltering and realized I needed a goal.  I mean, swimming for the health of it should have been enough, but I needed something to galvanize my commitment.  I needed a meet.  I searched the USMS website looking for meets.  I found a SCY meet in Bainbridge, WA – BAMFest!  Wanting to get my money’s worth, I entered the maximum 5 events.  I submitted times that I thought were reasonable.  I broke 1:00 in the 100 Breaststroke in college, certainly, I could do a 1:10 now.  I learned several lessons that day.  1) I was good for only two events in a day.  2) I was way off my estimates, clocking a 1:15.31 – my slowest 100 Breast to date.  3) I was disappointed in how far I had let my body go.  And 4) I was hooked on competing again!

Ten years later I was still getting faster by training with others; getting coaching from Tim, Matt, Dennis, and others; doing more HIIT sessions; and taking better care of myself.  Then I started using the OR Top 12 Lists to motivate me.  At first it was make a list in Breaststroke, then get higher on the list, then in each size pool.  After a while, I got crazy and did races that don’t make sense.  I mean what sprinter does the 400 IM or 1500; and why does anyone do the 200 fly?  But I reserved my room at the mental hospital and dove in.  In the 50-54 age group I made 16 lists, getting as high as third.  From 55-59, I earned my way onto 30 lists and share an Oregon Record with Allen Stark.  In my new age group, I believe I can make 48 of the 53 lists.  Or at least I’m going to try.  The year I turned 60, I competed in 17 meets, including the FINA Word Championships in South Korea.  Yep, I’m hooked.  But is that such a bad thing?

In the past 11 years, I’ve met great friends that I see at each meet.  I train with Gabe Duus and we survived the pandemic swimming in his backyard pool on bungee cords; and any pool we could breach, any lake, river or mud puddle we could find.  On hot days the Columbia River was a fun option.  After hearing of Tim Waud’s heroism we bought tow floats which made the Columbia less intimidating.  I have friends across the northwest, all over the country, and now world-wide friends who I look forward to seeing again at another FINA World Championship.  South Korea was a great meet experience and I want to recapture that feeling.  My wife is eyeing Budapest in 2027, and I have my sights on Doh, Qatar, in 2023.  Maybe both?  Maybe more?

In the meantime, I found a meet that wasn’t canceled.  It was the Oklahoma Senior Games in September.  It was a small meet, but they were great hosts and it was good to compete again.  I ran into Dan Kirkland who lives about 10 minutes from me.  We only had to travel half a country away to see each other.  We swam in a pool where Scot Sullivan was a lifeguard.  Small world indeed.  As pools begin to reopen, Gabe and I are getting back to the 16 x 100’s, ladders, and sprints until we crack.  Come on Oregon, get us a meet.  Don’t make me go to Iowa in December!!

Seriously, if you want to meet great people, have fun experiences, feel healthier, and maybe even get in a fun trip or two, Oregon Masters Swimming is the ticket.  Whether you race the clock, or just want to feel the pride of completing races, I’m telling you it’s worth it.  And what hobby lengthens your lifespan?  It’s not Poker (another hobby of mine).  I even did the Bridge Swim, which for me may top the list for stupid things I’ve done.  What are you waiting for?  Take the plunge and test yourself.  You’ll be glad you did.

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