Name: Toni Hecksel
Local Team: Columbia Gorge Masters
Occupation: Physical therapist practicing in the home health setting. Geriatrics is my specialty and that population is dear to my heart. Every day that I work is a reminder to take care of myself TODAY and surround myself with a solid, supportive group.
My name is Toni Hecksel and I am in my second year as president of Team OREG. I currently swim with Columbia Gorge Masters at the top of the 50-54 age group. I have always been drawn to the water. As a baby, I would try to crawl over the edge of the pool when no one was looking. Apparently I wanted to swim before I could walk!
Growing up, my family moved around often, causing me to attend a different school every year until high school. Throughout these years, I begged to be on a swim team, but it just never happened. When I was ten years old my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We were living in Puerto Rico at the time and quickly moved back to the states for his cancer treatment. When I was twelve, and my father was actively dying, my mom finally let me try out for our local team in Ventura, CA. I will never forget the head coach, Mason Parish, who allowed me to swim on the team without charge as my family could not afford the dues. That act of kindness forever changed my life. I rode my bike to all the practices, and was able to attend meets with other swim team families as my own family was deep in crisis.
My father died the night before my first championship meet: I was thirteen.
Within 3 weeks of my father’s death, my mom moved my sister and me to Corvallis, Oregon, so she could attend Genesis Bible School and ultimately graduate from OSU. That first year in Corvallis I tried to quit swimming but my mom would not let me. I am so, so thankful that my mom understood how much I loved swimming, encouraging me to hang in there as I adjusted to a new team and teammates. I attended and swam for Crescent Valley High school and also swam for CAT. Little known fact: Mark Worden was my high school swim coach and boss at Osborn Aquatic Center. It was during high school that I experienced my first Masters swim meet as a timer. From the very beginning, I was hooked! Seeing those fit adult swimmers having so much fun was something that I knew was for me. At that very first introduction to Masters, I resolved that this was something I would do after college.
I did go on to swim in college at Pacific University, and also went on to be assistant coach for the Forest Grove Dragons, as well as the Forest Grove High School swim teams. After graduating with my Masters in Physical Therapy, I immediately (like the next week) joined the Tualatin Hills Barracudas. During my time at T-Hills I came to understand the value of Masters as a community of friends and support. I am so thankful for that start of life-long friendships, and for the fun and accepting environment T-Hills provided as I embarked on my career and marriage.
After living in the Portland area for several years, my husband, Jeff, took the job as City Manager of Monmouth. That meant I had the pleasure of returning to Osborn Aquatic Center, this time as a bona fide Masters swimmer! The CAT Masters welcomed me with open arms. I felt that instead of leaving my T-Hills friends, I had just added more family on! It was beginning to dawn on me what an amazing group of people Oregon Masters swimmers are. It was also during this time that I had 2 beautiful boys.
My husband’s next job took us to Colorado for 12 years. The City of Glenwood Springs was building a new pool, but it did not have a Masters group. After swimming for almost a year in the Hot Springs (it was HOT!), the new pool opened, and with the help of another like-minded swimmer, I started a Masters work out group. It is called Team Sopris Masters and, besides raising my boys, is one of the things I look back on in pride during my time in Colorado. If you are ever in Glenwood Springs, join them for a workout!
I loved living in Colorado, but dearly missed my Oregon swimming buddies.
About four years ago, my husband’s work brought us back to Oregon, this time to Hood River. So, here I am, swimming with the Columbia Gorge Masters! Once again, an OMS work out group that has welcomed and embraced me.
For those of you who know me, you know that open water is my passion. I am so thankful for the open water venues and events we have here in Oregon. (I naively thought CO would be the same.) At the moment, I am super grateful to be living on the mighty Columbia River, which provides ample open water opportunities. Those of you who have trained with me in the pool know that I am up for just about anything, and have swum everything from sprints to distance, freestyle to 400 IM or 200 fly. I have found that my lane mates have the most influence on which events I swim in the pool. I guess I am a sucker for swim peer pressure. As an avid open water competitor, my preference is for 3k or longer, with the 10K being my favorite.
Like most of you reading this, I love the physical benefits of swimming and the way the water makes me feel. I also love the relationships that swimming has brought into my life, as well as the grounding effect it has had on my psyche during career, marriage, kids and life stressors. It has been a constant in my life since I was twelve, trying to navigate and process the death of my father. I cannot imagine my life without swimming.
Love reading your history. You are such an amazing person!
I just pulled out of my ancient brain a factoid modest Toni would never bring up. While practicing as a Phys. Therapist in Portland, OR,up on OHSU/VA hosp Hill, Toni’s thoughtfulness about her patients was such that she imagined, and then caused to be produced a video so that patients scheduled for knee replacement would be informed about the procedure. The surgery video had never been done before and was acclaimed as very helpful.
Awesome article. I was one of your biggest fans at pacific university and can’t believe you ended up in my backyard.