Friday, June 29, 2012

Wheelers Peelers

I grew up in Kirkwood, a suburb of St. Louis MO. We lived on the 18th hole of a golf course. The swimming pool was probably 500 yards from our house. In the summer time, I lived at the pool.

I started with swimming lessons when I was four and joined the swimming team when I was five. At swimming meets back then, the only kids who got ribbons were those who finished first, second or third. The only participation prize you received was a small commemorative plaque given to all swimmers at the end of the summer. I didn't earn a ribbon until I was six. It was a blue ribbon for 25M breaststroke. I was hooked.

My swimming coach was Jim Wheeler. He was the pool's general manager, swim coach and all-purpose rock star. He really did have a rock band. In fact, they were quite good. They played a full set in the clubhouse ballroom after our home swimming meets. And it wasn't any of that soft rock crap either. He covered the Stones, Beatles, Eagles and Clapton like the best of them. We kids paired up with our age group girlfriends to dance slow songs; for the faster ones, we'd scream along the words while he played. It may seem tame in modern times, but I still find it remarkable that when he sang the words, she don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie... we kids would answer: COCAINE!!

And that was when I was eight years old. Then again, it was the 70s.

Our team was awesome. We won the swimming championship almost every year. Jim Wheeler was the glue to our team. He was a motivating coach: an encourager when you needed a boost and an admonisher when you got out of line. And at night, he was a rock star. Mostly because of all these traits, he retained a solid core of kids to swim for him each year. Though our team was called Greenbriar, we knicked named ourselves, "Wheeler's Peelers" in honor of our coach.

Wheeler's Peelers - can you find me?
As I mentioned earlier, I lived at the pool in the summer. From 9AM swimming practice until the pool closed at 9PM, I was there. Our practices were an hour long and twice daily. We also had a diving team. I did that, too. My skin bronzed and my hair turned straw white. I would have grown gills if I could.

I was decent at all the strokes, but was a natural at breaststroke. As a result, I often swam the 100 M Individual Medley (IM).

Later on in high school, I also played water polo. I was the deep-end goalie. Unless you're 12 feet tall, you can't stand on the bottom there. My Mom said that I looked like a duck jumping across the surface of the water to block the shots that were rifled in at me. My waterpolo coach instructed me to position myself by throwing my head at the incoming ball. He reasoned that if I didn't block the shot with my arms, my face would.  I had a lot of zits on my face back then. I didn't mind sacrificing my face so much.

I stopped playing Waterpolo and competing in swimming meets when I graduated from high school.

Then a few years ago I joined the Omaha Masters swimming team to get in shape for triathlons. I've been swimming year-around since.  We work out at 5:30 AM at the College of St Mary's.

When I heard that Omaha was going to host the Long Course Masters Nationals Swimming Championship this summer, I decided that I would suit up for it. I have since entered both relays, the 100 Free and two grueling events: the 400 Free and 400 IM.  The meet is next weekend, July 6-8th. While I've had this meet on my calendar for 18 months now, I have only given a higher priority to swimming during the past month. I'll need it. The 400 IM isn't for slackers.

When I was four years old and learning to swim like a Wheelers Peelers rock star, I had no idea that decades later I'd be climbing onto the starting block once again to compete in a swimming meet.

Thank you Jim Wheeler. I'll represent. I'm a Wheelers Peeler.


  1. So I'm looking for you in the photo. I start at the back, going left to right. I'm like "Rock Star, Greg Brady, Barry Manilow, Husky Kid ... Errrt."

    True Story: My boys are both on swim team. The participation ribbons they get are like unintentional cruel jokes. Taunting their failure. They hate them. I think they feel humiliated to have to receive recognition of mediocrity.

  2. Yes, true story: that's me.

    Tell Jack to let that mediocrity ribbon be a motivator to get to swimming practice early and to stay late. If that doesn't work, he can use the experience as conditioning for football, where he will be able to vent his swimming frustrations against the offensive line. The entire line.

  3. Great story Brady. Can't wait to hear your results.

  4. Love it! Going to share with Roger and Susan. Good luck with your swims! I'm sure you'll represent!