Swimmers swim fast for the love of the game

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Rodney Harwood

Unless you’re a swimmer, you just don’t get it …

I’ve heard that expression a time or two over the years, and of course not being a swimmer I have to work hard at understanding just what makes a swimmer tick. Sometimes it’s not the words you write, but your ability to listen — to hear — what it takes to live in the world of competitive swimming where time is the only thing that matters.

Even the superstars go unrecognized outside the swimming community. Obviously, five-time Olympian Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 22 Olympic medals, joined the likes of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan with worldwide notoriety outside the game.

But I can’t name five American swimmers other than maybe Ryan Lochte and that’s only because he’s the second-most-decorated Olympic swimmer of all time — second only to Phelps. There’s Matt Biondi, Mark Spitz, Janet Evans, but you get where I’m going with this.

Even if you are on the Wheaties box doesn’t mean you’re a household name, and the work it takes to get to the Olympic level, the senior national level, the junior national level or just flat out fast swims goes unnoticed outside the swimming community.

I had the pleasure to talk to one of Moses Lake’s elite swimmers Nick Jarman to talk a little swimming and catch up. He’s in Palm Springs, Calif., these days and promised to send us a box of sunshine now that the fog and rain has moved into the Columbia Basin.

The 1999 Moses Lake graduate qualified for the Junior Nationals as a junior and senior in high school. Jarman, who won 4A state championships on the 200 freestyle relay (1996) and in the 50 freestyle (1999), was a highly sought after recruit by the University of Washington, Arizona State and the University of Nebraska, but opted to get his degree in marketing at Washington State University.

“Unless you’re Michael Phelps, there’s always going to be somebody better. You have to focus on your race. There still is victory in bettering your own time,” Jarman said. “Swimming at the elite level, you swim for your sport and you swim for your team. The cool thing about high school swimming is that you have that group of guys there in support.

“The hard part about swimming is that the hard work and dedication that’s required is demanding. At some point, it gets a little overwhelming. But when you are a swimmer for that long, you’re a swimmer for life. I still swim three-four times a week.”

Moses Lake is a decorated program with a lot of success, thanks in part to longtime coach Tony St. Onge. After St. Onge finished his college swimming career, he and his wife were driving in Alaska when the car he was driving hit black ice, went off a cliff 200 feet and he was paralyzed from the waist down.

But his love of the game is why St. Onge is still coaching both the Chiefs boys and girls swim teams, sharing some of that passion and making a difference.

“It’s about being involved in life to the best of my ability.” said St. Onge, who started the swim program about 30 years ago.

“Tony’s the best coach I’ve ever had,” Jarman said. “Every time I’m in town he says let’s go swimming and he jumps right in the pool with me. I thought it was pretty special when they renamed the pool after him.

“He’s the one that taught me about hard work, dedication and swimming for the love of swimming. Swimming is a big part of my success today, and I owe a lot of that to Tony.”

Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at rharwood@columbiabasinherald.com

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