You swam for John here at NAC back in the 80s. Can you tell us a little bit about your NAC experience/background?
I started swimming the Nashville Swim League for Carnton Country Club. NAC had a booth at the City Meet. I had some success at the summer league level and decided to pursue the next level. This was 1979, so my first coach was Jan Talbott. She and her husband Don had come to Nashville from Australia to coach all the great senior swimmers we had (led by Tracy Caulkins.) I swam for Jan Talbott, Joe Goeken, Kris Kubik and then John Morse. When John got the head coaching job in 1984, he became my coach and remained my coach for the rest of my career. I guess I was in the first class to complete their entire senior career with John.
Was there a specific swimming moment that helped you make the decision to stick with NAC and see swimming through as far as you did?
I feel like I loved swimming from the moment I first hit the water. I always had great coaches and teammates who made all of the hard work fun. We worked really, really hard, but everyone had a great attitude. I’m not sure I remember any exact moment of wanting to stick with swimming year-round, but I do remember qualifying for my first Southeasterns as one of my first memories with NAC. I had turned 9 the day before the meet began, so I couldn’t swim as an 8 year old. I remember feeling intimidated being the youngest in my age group, but just focused on improving my times and doing the best that I could. I kept that focus throughout my career – just trying to do the best that I could and not worrying about what others were doing.
For those who don’t know, Chas holds the NAG record in the 11-12 100 fly (at 51.85!) Chas, can you tell us a bit about your legendary age group career?
Two 100 fly records still standing (the long course one is still there too I believe). I was incredibly fortunate with when I came through NAC. We had so many great swimmers at the time starting with Tracy and then throughout. I’m sure I’ll leave someone out, but I remember NAG records by Jennifer Lowe, Kim Gilbert, Christy Campbell and others all being set in those same years. I remember that Tom DeJarnette and I were ranked 1-2 in the country in the 50 back and thinking that was pretty cool. Tracy held American records in all 4 strokes plus both IM’s, so anything I did paled in comparison to Tracy’s accomplishments. That took a ton of pressure off of me, so I could just focus on swimming. It was also pre-internet, so you didn’t know much about what other swimmers in the country were doing until you saw it in Swimming World.
For a memory, there are so many great ones, but I still have a distinct memory of swimming the 100 free at the Dynamo Swim Club when I was 10. I had a lot of success that season and had set several NAG records that year. I was never much of a sprinter (you can ask John) and would tend to cut down my stroke when I tried to sprint. Coach Goeken told me before the finals to just breathe to my left (I tended to breath to my right, especially when I was trying to sprint). I did that and the swim felt so easy. When I finished, I looked up at the scoreboard and saw 54.74, a best time for me by over 2 seconds. That swim just felt so good and I still remember that feeling.
What was it like swimming at Stanford after swimming here at NAC? I’d love to hear the story about the gloves that get passed down each year on the men’s team if you have time!
Stanford was a wonderful experience. I can’t say enough about how great those four years were and what an incredibly special group of guys I got to be around during that time. Skip Kenney was a much different type of coach from John and it took a little while for me to get used to his style and theories on swimming and racing. My life had always been about times and Skip couldn’t have cared less about times. He wanted to win so in his mind the times didn’t matter as long as you won. Skip’s greatest quality was building a team and we had great team chemistry. Skip encouraged an open dialogue with him so we could be the best we could be. I wasn’t the best in-season swimmer (in fact, I was pretty awful in season and believe I may be the only person in history to win an individual conference championship and never notch a win in a dual meet) and so my first fall with Skip caused him some concern. He knew what I was capable of in championship season, but couldn’t comprehend why I was so slow in mid-season training. I’m sure he and John talked often during that time. We had a December championship meet that we weren’t particularly focused on and I asked Skip if I could clip for the meet and take off the mornings that week as a short taper and that I felt my training had been good enough that I could make my NCAA cuts. Skip agreed (probably figuring he had nothing to lose) and I made my cuts. John had prepared me very well for college and I had the confidence to know I’d be ready for the next level.
The gloves are part of that story. As I mentioned, I was a pretty awful in season swimmer. Really. Not. Good. I had these old work gloves that I had when I was at NAC that I took to meets to keep my hands warm and those came with me to Stanford. I’d take the gloves to meets and wear them. I didn’t think much of them while I was swimming. After my senior year and swimming career were completed, Brian Retterer asked if he could have those gloves. I was done swimming, so I didn’t need them any longer. Brian said the gloves were a reminder to him of the work I put in all year with seemingly no reward until the end when it all came together. Brian was a talented swimmer for sure but had struggled a bit during his freshman year during the season. I was tasked with talking to Brian before Pac-10’s about my lack of success during the dual meet season and that those meets didn’t matter and he had put in the work and he’d be fine at Pac-10s. I had no idea what he was about to do. He was unbelievable. He led off the prelim of the medley relay the first day with an American record that no one saw coming except Brian. Skip then had to make the difficult decision to leave him off the finals of that relay because Jeff Rouse held the world record. Anyway, the gloves are now passed from year to year to someone on the team who demonstrates that work effort. Curtis Lovelace (another NAC alum) had them when he was at Stanford as well.
You recently ran for – and won – a seat in the Williamson County Commission. First, congratulations! And second, can you tell us a bit about how your experience at NAC prepared you for life after swimming?
Technically I still have the August election to be elected as a Commissioner, but am one of two persons on the ballot and there are 2 seats, so I feel good about my chances. Swimming in general and NAC in particular taught me the values of hard work, perseverance, time management, teamwork and countless other life skills. Like anything in life, it takes a lot of support and my wife and the rest of my family and friends were so incredibly helpful and supportive in my campaign.
Last question, always a favorite – please tell us your favorite NAC memory!
Not sure I can deliver a favorite memory- there are lots to choose from, so I’ll tell some John stories from Osceola Avenue. That place was a dump. I mean that in the kindest way possible and we were just thankful to have an indoor pool. The ventilation was horrible at that pool and bubbles on the ceiling would fill with condensation. Birds would also nest in the rafters above the pool. John decided to take care of both issues with a BB gun. There’s John shooting the condensation bubbles and pigeons inside the pool. Ping! Ping! Ping! Pretty decent shot as I recall and it probably motivated us to swim a little faster to see John on deck with a gun.
John also constructed the baskets in those first years. He took milk crates and rigged them with pulleys so you had to lift the crates up with whatever weight he put in them. Sort of a poor-man’s Power Rack if those still exist. Anyway, once you got the weight to the top it wasn’t that hard to keep it there. We’d go for minutes at a time and John must have thought we looked like it was too easy (or just not hard enough), so he’d stand there on deck chucking these weights up in the air trying to add weight to these elevated milk crates. Watching John throw 5 pound weights in the air and then trying to catch them is something to behold. When he’d hit the basket, however, he loved it – like a last second half court shot going in. And when you were swimming along going nowhere and suddenly felt the force of that additional weight hitting the basket, you knew John was smiling.
This was all done to make sure I never lived the glorious life of a sprinter. John was a distance swimmer and back then we were all going to be distance swimmers (or at least 400 IMers) no matter what. I qualified for a week long altitude training camp by virtue of my 100 meter fly time. Not the 200 fly. Not the 400 IM, and certainly not the mile. I got to the camp and found out that John had talked to the coaches and told them not to train me with the butterfly group – I needed to swim with the distance group. My sprint dreams shot down in an instant. 100,000 meters that week. A 10,000 for time. The first time I got to experience a 4’10” girl running me down on a set of 40×100 free (Janet Evans it turned out to be). Ah, the sprinter I could have been….
Seriously though – so many great memories there of my years back on Osceola Avenue (I’m so old, I’m pre-Sportsplex!) So proud to see what NAC is still doing 40 years later and so hard to believe I was on the early end of a program that felt so established when I was young. Thanks for letting me participate in this forum!