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Making a Splash: All ages rip it up outdoors at JSFC, ladies' scrum, and a "cruise" 

Too often a local sports program will go virtually unnoticed or unheralded because it's so good, leading people to forget about or be totally unaware

Too often a local sports program will go virtually unnoticed or unheralded because it's so good, leading people to forget about or be totally unaware of the program's long and illustrious history.


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Such is the case with the Bend Swim Club program. The Swim Club has been in existence for close to 50 years and has had the same head coach, Mark Bernett, for the past 24 years. It continues to be one of Oregon's finest programs for swimmers from age 6 to the mid-20s.

"Originally," Bernett points out, "the program was strictly a summer program at the old Juniper outdoor pool. That changed in 1978, when the current Juniper Swim and Fitness Center's (JSFC) indoor pool was built."

When Bernett started coaching the Swim Club program had 35 members. Today that number has swelled to between 130 and 140.

And every morning this summer from daybreak to close to noon, one end of the JSFC outdoor Olympic 50-meter pool is packed with young swimmers doing lap drills under the watchful eye of Bernett and his coaching staff. Meanwhile, at the other end of the pool, a group of very young swimmers are receiving detailed stroke instruction.

It's a scene that is (as one woman noted last week as she looked out the window on her way to a spin class at the JSFC) "so inspiring."

The results are inspiring too. The club placed third at the recently held Oregon State age group championships, and has four young men who are currently swimming competitively at the college level and have qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials.

"Over the years," Bernett said, "there have been at least 100 Swim Club members who have gone on to swim in college on a scholarship. As to the Olympics, we've had Swim Club members participate in the 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2004 trials."

Besides getting swimmers to the highest levels of competition, Bernett would like to see the overall swim club membership grow. "I'd like to get around 200 swimmers in our program," he says. "That way we can take 80 competitors to the big meets instead of the 40 we now take."

And next summer the biggest meet in the state, the age group championships, will be held in Bend. That means more than 800 swimmers descending on the Juniper Swim and Fitness Center, making the sport of swimming more visible in Bend than it ever has been before.

Master Class

The other chapter in Bend swimming's often untold success story is the masters program, directed and coached by Bob Bruce.

An informal program for many years under Steve Mann, masters swimming took on a formal structure under Matt Mercer (now JSFC's manager) in 1990. "We had 30 to 40 swimmers that first year in the program," Mercer says.

Bruce took over the program in 1996, and since that time estimates he's worked with between 400 and 500 swimmers. "Today, "he says, "we have 250 swimmers involved in a very loose, open-door environment."

So who are the master swimmers and what do they want, and get?

Well, first off, the term "masters" - usually reserved for athletes from 40 on up in most individual, self-propelled sports - is a misnomer in the case of swimming, because it covers men and women from age 18 up to their 80s and 90, although "the bulk of our swimmers," Bruce admits, "are in the 35-to-55 age bracket."

The goal of the program, Bruce says, is "to offer an opportunity for people to include swimming as a part of their overall fitness package." That idea has attracted many people interested in a "softer" form of total body exercise to add swimming as part of a multi-faceted fitness program.

Bruce will laughingly tell recreational athletes hobbled by too much running, hiking, cycling, etc. that "in the end we always get you land mammals into swimming."

He says four things are necessary for success with a masters swimming group: 1) water; 2) a well-defined training program,; 3) people to swim with, and 4) coaching. As for the competitive side of the program, he says it's "just an added incentive for many of the program's participants."

The masters training season is built around the competition calendar, with many of the program's swimmers pointing toward the Oregon State Masters Championships (held at JSFC this past spring), summer triathlons, and the open water races held just a few weeks ago at Elk Lake.

"We're basically in the middle of nowhere," Bruce says," so we have to create events to keep the program lively." And lively it is.

Football Ladies

Women's rugby isn't a sport you see too often in these parts, but if Tori Campbell has her way it will become a Bend sporting scene staple. If you're interested in scrums with other women, contact Tori at 325-1093 or tori-tgc@hotmail.com for more information.

It's Cruising Time

This Sunday, the WebCycley-sponsored Cascade Cruiser Crawl and Poker Ride will be held. The event, for townies/cruisers/one-speeds/old roadies/etc., starts with registration at the Cascade Lakes Brewery at 1:30 pm, with the ride going off at 2:30. The holder of the best poker hand obtained during the ride wins a hot new townie bike. It's $15 per person or $40 per family to make the ride.

Bend's cruiser crawl tradition goes back to the mid-1980s, when bike event impresario Dennis Heater came up with the idea and staged "crawls" for several years.

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