Masters swimming catching on in Hood River

It’s never too late to begin a new sport, and it’s never too early in the morning to get started — at least for some people.

Stop by the Hood River Aquatic Center any Tuesday or Thursday morning at 6 a.m. and you’ll find one of the most dedicated groups of athletes in the valley.

The Columbia Gorge Masters swim team is steadily growing in size, and with 15 diehard members on the current roster, the team is beginning to reach all-new heights.

“What’s special about a team like this is that swimming becomes more of a social sport,” said Dr. Mike Pendleton, who has been involved in Masters competition for more than 10 years.

“Swimming is a sport in which you’re always under water, so it’s hard to be social. Masters gives adult swimmers a chance to have fun with one another and get in shape at the same time,” he said.

Pendleton is one of the original Hood River Masters, having swum in competitions during the mid-‘90s, when his four children were involved in competitive swimming.

“Back then, there were maybe three people, but it was mostly me,” said Pendleton, who competed at two national-level Masters meets and called the unofficial team the “Hood River Bald Eagles.”

“I haven’t sold the others on that name yet,” he joked, “but no matter what it’s called, Masters swimming is a great organization to be involved with.”

Nowadays, the person who is taking the lead for the Columbia Gorge Masters is Sandi Rousseau of Odell.

Rousseau, who has competed in Masters meets for years, has been instrumental in helping the team prepare for meets such as the Northwest Masters Zone meet, which will be held at the Hood River Aquatic Center on April 26-27, 2003.

“Sandy has really spearheaded the effort to make this a team that goes to meets,” said coach Shelly Rawding, who spends two days a week with the Masters team and also directs the local youth club team.

“But the best thing about Masters is that it brings people together. People want to swim every day, and when there’s a group, it makes it a lot more fun to come out,” she said.

The current roster includes Rousseau, Pendleton and his wife Lynne, Caitlin Cray, Sandra Haynie, Carolou Hurlbert, Cheryl Keller, Scott McAllister (the original member), Tim Rayle, Bill and Kathy Mellow, Maggie and Roger Roediger and Chuck Johnisee.

The team is beginning its third season and is always looking for new members.

“A team like this shows you that you’re never too old to learn something new,” Rawding said. “And once people get involved, they can’t help but get excited.”

If you would like more information on the Columbia Gorge Masters or Oregon Masters, call Rousseau at 354-2580 or Rawding at 509-494-4679.

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