Fort Lauderdale Seniors’ Meet

By David

It’s just as well the means of transport to a meet is no indication of the quality of what’s going to happen inside. Those arriving in a Porsche are not necessarily going to swim faster than the occupants of say a 1981 Mitsubishi Sigma. I say this only because for much of Jane’s swimming career she was transported to the pool in the “Blue Beast”, which was a $700 1981 Mitsubishi Sigma.

Jane won National titles and broke National records having traveled to the pool in that car. The Blue Beast was an engineering marvel, continuing to run through long periods of neglect that would have finished off most self-respecting vehicles. It did not run well. It was frequently passed on steep hills by East Coast Transport truck and trailer units, fully laden with a thousand sheep. It could not be counted on to even get you there. Jane and I arrived home from one European swimming trip with the Blue Beast on the back of an Automobile Association tow-truck. The Blue Beast’s radiator and automatic transmission had not survived the month in an Auckland parking lot. And on the way to early morning training you had to be careful to use the car’s lights sparingly. Anything more than twenty minutes and the Blue Beast refused to start at the end of practice. The windows, air conditioning and heater did not work. In the Blue Beast, climate control had a whole new meaning.

Actually, the car became nationally famous when it featured in a full page story in New Zealand’s largest circulation Sunday newspaper The Sunday Star Times. Basil Dynan, the President of a team based in the same town as our club, was unhappy Jane was setting national records and his swimmers were not. In a fit of spite, he called the police one Saturday evening and reported that the Blue Beast had been abandoned in the Onekawa Aquatic Centre’s parking lot. I guess his hope was that the police would tow the car away. Instead they called the Blue Beast’s home and asked Alison why the car was abandoned. Alison explained it was at the pool because Jane and I were at practice. I understand Basil had to suffer an irate visit from the local police, which served him right. We had some t-shirts printed with a picture of the Blue Beast and the word “Abandoned” printed on the front. The seniors in our team wore them at the next swim meet. Basil’s face was a picture. Just before she left New Zealand for the Virgin Islands Alison, who anyone who knows her will tell you is not normally the revolutionary type, mailed one of the spare t-shirts to Basil.

I have mentioned the Blue Beast only to avoid you thinking that our transport and accommodation at this weekend’s Florida Gold Coast Meet was in any way normal. At the Fort Lauderdale pool there is a Hall of Fame marina. Millions dollar boats are parked alongside the pool. Our swimmer Skuba’s parents have a 65 foot boat, which because they live in New Orleans, is called “Hello Dolly”. Some time last week, their captain sailed Hello Dolly to Fort Lauderdale and parked it in the Hall of Fame marina. For the weekend, we enjoyed comfort and company the likes of which I’ve never had before at a swim meet. Scallops wrapped in bacon between sessions, huge t-bones for dinner, a reserved parking place in the lot that is normally for “OFFICIALS ONLY” and, of course, a difficult 20 meter walk to the pool.

After swimming on Saturday, Captain Billy took us out into the Atlantic. I admit it was probably not the same as the four years my grandfather spent in World War One escorting cargo ships between Fort Lauderdale and Liverpool; but I could pretend. The trip did improve Andrew and Skuba’s reaction time. On the way back to the marina we passed a group of four boats anchored close to the shore. The owners were playing and swimming in the shallow water. About six of them were young ladies; very attractive and also very topless. In seconds, our guys had reached the bridge of Hello Dolly and were using Captain Billy’s binoculars to closer inspect these local shipping hazards.

By now you may be thinking we were not serious about the meet. That would not be true. I like this meet; it is one of my Florida favorites. It is understated and not all that well attended but attracts some very good swimmers. Not packed with thousands of swimmers; just some really good guys trying to beat the hell out of each other.

It’s the closest Florida gets to a World Cup or Mare Nostrum or Grand Prix type meet. It takes a certain philosophy towards swimming to like this sort of meet. I suspect that’s why Gary Hall’s Race Club is always there. It is certainly the reason we’re there. For example, our guys’ 50 meters freestyle included Gary Hall, Olympic Champion; George Bovell, Olympic Bronze Medalist and the Olympic representatives of at least three other countries. It was an ideal warm up for the competition the Aqua Crest swimmers will face in Europe next week.

So, thank you Gary Hall and George Bovell and the others. It was fun for our guys to race such huge swimming names. Thank you to Captain Billy and Skuba’s parents for the boat and looking after us for the weekend. And thank you to the Blue Beast for making us appreciate it all.