Name: Wes Edwards
Team: Formerly LaCamas Swim and Sport, Currently SOMA del Norte (Vancouver, WA)
Occupation: Retired – Port of Portland Police
I was born in Portland on my dad’s 25th birthday in 1953. I grew up on the Alameda Ridge of NE Portland. My dad was a police officer for the City of Portland and, later, for the Portland School District. My siblings and I attended Rose City Park grade school. When I was 10 my parents obtained an $85 annual family membership at the Hollywood YMCA. It became my home-away-from-home where I played basketball, practiced gymnastics and, most importantly, swam. I even had a part time job there in high school as a locker room attendant, and then taught swim lessons and lifeguarded during college. We all learned how to swim at the YMCA and eventually joined the swim team.
In the 1960s there were 3 neighborhood YMCA’s in Portland. All three had a 4-lane 20-yard pool and were vibrant neighborhood centers. Twice a year there was a city championship meet. There were only three practices per week including 6am on Saturday morning. On those mornings, we would walk the mile from our home to the YMCA regardless of weather. The biggest highlight for our team was the summer La Grande, OR, relay meet, when the entire team camped out at Hilgard Junction State Park for the weekend. Our lives pretty much revolved around the swim team, along with other sports and extra-curricular activities. Two of my siblings, my older brother and younger sister, married their swim team sweethearts. Both of those marriages have lasted throughout the decades, with their children and grandchildren becoming current and future swimmers.
Even though we attended public grade school, my Catholic parents thought it most important for us to attend Catholic high schools. I followed my older brother to Central Catholic High School where I was a middle-distance runner on the track team. I even did some race walking and held a national Junior Olympic age group record for a short time. There were no swim teams at these schools, but, my brother and I were both able to find free lanes at a couple of Metro League dual meets and qualify for the league championship meet.
I obtained a Navy ROTC scholarship and went to the University of Idaho for one year before deciding to leave the program. I swam as a freshman, and for the first time learned what it was like to swim twice a day, every day. Because I also participated on the ROTC drill team, which also practiced twice each day, I didn’t have a lot of time for studies, and my grades suffered as a result.
I returned home after that one year in Idaho with a lot of growing up to do. I worked at Jantzen Woolen Mills for a year before enrolling at Portland Community College in a law enforcement program, while working full time at the YMCA. It’s amazing how much better you can do in school when you are responsible for paying the bill!
After obtaining my Associate Degree two years later in 1975, I snagged a job as a Police Dispatcher for the Port of Portland Police Department. The following 25 years did not include much swimming as I rose through the ranks of the department serving as a patrolman, bomb technician, and as a lieutenant supervising patrol, investigations, and administrative divisions within the department. Along the way my first marriage ended in 1983 with two children. In 1986 my youngest sister introduced me to my current wife, Nadine. Thirty-four years later she is still the love of my life, my best friend, and the only person in the world I would ever consider sharing quarantine time with during a pandemic.
I retired from the police department in February 2001. At the time I was responsible for assisting the Chief with ensuring the Port of Portland’s compliance with federal aviation security regulations. Less than a year later after the 9-11 terrorism attacks, Nadine and I went back to work assisting the Port with addressing the drastic changes in airport security measures. For a time we both reported to Mark Crosby, head of the Port’s Aviation Public Safety and Security Department, and a current Oregon Masters swimmer. Together, we worked to rewrite and enforce the airport’s security program, produce airport security training programs and administer the issuance of security badges. We did this off and on for the next 6 years. When Nadine finished an 18-month stint as manager of the airport’s 911 dispatch center in 2008, we were finally free to enjoy full time retirement once again.
I had taken up canoe racing in the late 1990s. In 2004 I decided to start swimming again as cross training to compliment my time in the boat. I researched Masters swimming and discovered that a meet was scheduled locally at David Douglas High School in November 2004. It was a Zone meet which made me a little nervous, but I joined USMS as unattached and entered the 200 Back. I still used a hand touch for the turn. I was assigned to lane 1 swimming next to a woman swimmer. I barely beat the girl and thought I hadn’t done very well. Such was my introduction to OMS legend Karen Andrus-Hughes. A couple months later I learned my swim was good enough for #10 on the USMS top ten list. I was hooked and knew my paddle racing days were over and I was back in the water where I belonged.
It took three months for me to learn how to do a proper backstroke turn. I also decided to find a coach and regular practices. I found the Grass Valley Masters at LaCamas Swim & Sport in Camas, WA, and checked out one of the practices. And, that’s how I met Coach Bert Petersen, world record holding butterflier, master motivator and friend. The following year I had my first zone record.
My thing was and still is BACKSTROKE! I always said if the good lord wanted us to swim with our face in the water she would have provided us with gills. Suffering from allergies and asthma, I never felt comfortable swimming freestyle farther than 100 meters. I seemed to always run out of air. So, when I swam a distance event, I would end up switching over to backstroke at some point. I swam most of my postal swims using backstroke as well. For me, it’s all about air, taking small shallow breaths with each arm stroke.
Also, swimming at Grass Valley, was Arlene Delmage who had just recently relocated to the area. Fiercely competitive, Arlene never seemed to run out of air. She became a reliable source of inspiration and support, and a good friend. Today we occasionally walk together as we both recover from joint replacement surgery – my two hips and her knee.
The last 15 years of Masters Swimming have been filled with ups and downs:
A National Championship in the 100 Back in 2008; an ill-fated attempt to start a new club within the Oregon LMSC with Southwest Washington Masters Swimming (SWMS); a brief coaching stint with the LaCamas Headhunters; completing all 5 USMS postal swims with several of my club members in 2010 (probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done); holding the current OMS record for the LCM 200 Back in four consecutive age groups from ages 50-69; three FINA World #1 rankings and five USMS All-American swims; 22 OMS records; serving for a short time as Vice Chair on the OMS Board and helping to update and modernize bylaws and policies; serving as the NW Zone chairperson for two years; failing to obtain an individual World or National Record in any event.
I was honored to swim on several relays with incredible Oregon swimmers that resulted in FINA World Records and USMS National Records. Dedicated, gifted, and truly competitive swimmers like Arlene, Bert, Karen, Allen Stark, Tom Landis, Robert Smith, Mike Tennant, Larry Philbrick, Steve Mann and Doug Brockbank.
A couple of years ago I joined my friend and sometimes training partner, Serena Johnson, along with several of the other Masters swimmers at Cascade Athletic Club and signed up with SOMA and coach Matt Miller, coining the term “SOMA del Norte” for those of us in the Vancouver area. Matt is an awesome coach and team builder and SOMA’s success demonstrates that.
Finally, at the age of 67, faced with an aging body and drastic reduction of fitness level and performance capability, I struggle with how to stay motivated with the usual goals moving increasingly beyond my reach. Today, like everyone else, I’m struggling to maintain an active lifestyle during the pandemic. When I coached at LaCamas, three of the swimmers I coached were seriously injured in cycling accidents over the course of one summer. I swore I would never subject myself to that kind of risk. However, I discovered cycling a couple of years ago and got hooked anyway. It has proven to be an excellent fitness alternative during the pandemic. However, I reached the point where both of my hips needed to be replaced. I elected to have them both done at the same time so I would only have to go through recovery once. I was originally scheduled for surgery in August, but it was delayed until mid-October due to the pandemic. I rode the bike and swam at Cascade in the outdoor pool until my surgery.
At the time of this writing I am 11 weeks post-op. I’m spending time on the bike trainer, but my brief attempt at swimming was not successful. I have developed a severe allergic reaction to the pool water, and am unable to swim more than 100 meters without my asthma leaving me gasping for air. After five visits to the pool I have been forced to discontinue swimming. I will probably try again later when the outdoor pool is uncovered and available, but for now I will carry on with my bike trainer and dust off my outrigger canoe, pull out my neoprene and begin paddling once again.
Whether or not the competitive swimming chapter of my life has come to an end still remains to be seen. If so, it has been one heck of a ride. The people associated with Oregon Masters are an amazing group and I have developed relationships within it that I will cherish forever.
Great story Wes! I’m always honored to swim by your side! You’ve been my swim inspiration and support for many years!! Hopefully we can back in this year!
Wow! This is what I call true dedication! Your accomplishments are Incredible. Not are you a super athlete .. but also a gifted writer. Your story held my interest all the way until the end. Hope the story will continue once you recoup from your surgeries.