We Came, We Swam, We Conquered.
What do the Adirondacks, a poem by Yeats, and six members of the Grinnell College men’s and women’s swim team of the late 1970s, have in common?
Plenty. On Aug. 20, 2022, the U.S. Masters Swimming Open Water Championships were held at Lake George, in Hague, New York. Grinnell alums John Chambers ’77, Chris Corton ’79, Margo Wessner Knuepfer ’79, Margo A. Calvetti ’80, Greg Gomez ’80, and Bob Lewis ’80 gathered to compete in their respective distances. In an Airbnb procured by “Captain Bob,” we prepped sumptuous meals with recipes and prepared foods brought by Myriam Fernandez de Heredia, Kim Spencer, and Cydney “Cyd” Morel, wives of John, Greg, and Chris. A playlist of the best albums and pub songs of the 1970s blasted as we ate and reacquainted ourselves.
A winding, 45-minute drive on race morning served as a soothing balm on our frayed nerves. White clapboard homes, antique boutiques, and fish and tackle shops dotted the timeless landscape. Lake George, nestled into the backdrop of the majestic Adirondack Mountains, is an unspoiled, quintessential American vacationland. Its calm, pristine shoreline belied the fury of the 400 competitors yet to unfold. There was no turning back as we approached registration for our placements and markings.
The two Margos (affectionately known as “Sr.” and “Jr.”), Chris, and Bob each competed in the out-and-back 2.5-kilometer swim. John and Greg, veteran open water swimmers, competed in the 10k U.S. Masters National Championship Swim. For the nonmetric community, that is a 1.5-mile and 6.2-mile distance, or as Greg noted, “a hell of a long way.” Clamoring for the finish, we each exited the water and shakily ran to cheering teammates and supporters. It was a grueling race, and we were all happy just to finish.
To our delight and surprise, we all placed! One by one our names were called up over the loudspeakers and we were handed mugs and medals for top three age group and overall standings. Chris exclaimed, “We killed it.” The two Margos, former Grinnell team co-captains, happily hugged each other and remembered how 40-plus years ago we swam twice that distance in two-a-day practices. It was noted that the strength of the morning’s coffee and yoga class Cyd led the day before added to the precision of our stroke turnover and chop. “Captain Bob” discussed plans for next year’s swim, and John, now a three-time USMC national champion, proudly declared “honor and glory awaits those who dare.”
That night our ever-ebullient teammate, Charlie Wibiralske ’80, arrived with son Dave. Pierced by peals of laughter, our conversations recounted decades-old swim team antics. We thoughtfully remembered those that had passed or were dealing with health issues. John, an English major, entertained us with a full-throated reading of “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. It was noted that Greg’s sculpture, “Broken English,” installed outside the Humanities and Social Studies Center on campus, was inspired by Yeats’ poem. The poem, filled with foreboding and uncertainty, captured the chaotic essence of our day’s event.
However, for the Grinnell alums and partners, the worst was not to come. Our time together brought out the best in ourselves and in each other. Past friendships were renewed, and plans are in the works for more open water events and gatherings. Four decades have passed since we gave it our all at the campus pool. Now future age-group championships await.
In the spirit of Julius Caesar’s victorious veni, vidi, vici, “We came, we swam, we conquered.”