Local Team: LHST, Camas, WA
Submitted by Arlene Delmage
For Serena Johnson it seems that swimming has always been a part of her life. Growing up in Hawaii on the Big Island, Serena started swimming when she was five years old on a community swim team. The team had competitions around the island, but it was nothing like club swimming here.
In high school, Serena swam on the team and was coached by Mark Noetzel, who she says was a really great coach. He took the team and turned it into a very competitive club team. Coach Noetzel was an Olympic Trial competitor himself and still brings in top 10 National times in Masters Swimming. Before coming to Hawaii, he coached the men’s team at the University of Michigan.
After four years of high school swimming, Serena received a scholarship to attend Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Coming from Hawaii, Serena was unprepared for the Pacific Northwest climate. She arrived in Tacoma with shorts, a t-shirt, and flip flops. Fortunately her father’s friend took her under his wing and purchased a jacket for her, the first one she ever owned!
Unfortunately, Serena only swam one year at Pacific Lutheran University due to a major pool renovation during her sophomore year. At that time swimmers were bused to a different pool at 5 a.m. and that is when she decided she needed to focus on school and quit swimming. “I wish I would have rejoined later because I missed having swimming in my life,” says Serena.
For Serena swimming is her place of peace. She returned to the sport after her husband, Aaron, finished his military service in the Azores in 2008. At that time their children were 1, 3, 5 and she needed a mental break. Aaron signed her up for Masters Swimming with Bert Petersen at Bally’s in Vancouver, mainly because they offered childcare. Several months later Bally’s closed and Serena switched to LaCamas Swim and Sport in Camas. After one month at LHST Serena attended her first Masters swim meet. It was here that she noticed Arlene Delmage and Karen Andrus-Hughes. Wes Edwards pointed them out and said they were the ones to beat. After their first races Serena was really impressed with their swimming talent and has continued to keep them in her sights. She swam her first 200 backstroke ever with Karen Andrus-Hughes in the next lane. “I went out way too fast and was almost a full 25 ahead of Karen after the first 75. By the end of the race she was an entire 50 ahead of me! I will never forget that. I also had to swim 100 fly on a relay in that meet. By the end I felt like I was drowning and Arlene made it look so easy.”
Serena’s three children also swim. Ricky, age 10, Evelyn, age 12, and Stewart, age 14, all compete for LaCamas Swim and Sport. They all started with lessons at Oxford in Vancouver back in 2009. They joined the LHST swim team in 2011. “We told the kids they had to be on the swim team at least until middle school. Stewart and Evie have both decided to continue with it while Ricky will probably drop it for soccer. The reason we make the kids swim now is so they can easily come back to it when they are older, for fitness, like all the amazing Masters swimmers I know in their 80s and 90s!”
Her husband Aaron was not a swimmer in high school, but he swims now to spend time with the family. He participates in the Association meet when possible and the one hour postal swim each year. Aaron and their oldest son Stewart also do triathlons together. Stewart has won, for his age group, the Hagg Lake, Blue Lake and Columbia River triathlons.
Serena was fortunate to have Justin Slade as her Masters coach. She says, “both he and Mark are two of the best coaches I have ever had. Justin knew what everyone was capable of, down to the second. He made you work hard while he cheered you on. He always coached like that. We were very fortunate. My children had Justin as their coach too. They really miss him!”
Serena adds, “Swimming brings us together as a family. I miss the Oregon State Games because we were all at the same meet and we swam the family relay. That is such a great memory for me. Swimming with the kids and Masters altogether was so fun. It’s a great family sport.”