OSU swim class about to finish "around-the-world" goal


CORVALLIS - After more than seven years, an Oregon State University faculty and staff swimming workout class will finish its goal of swimming the equivalent of once around the world.

Since the class embarked on its adventure in October of 1991, some 50 to 60 individuals have taken part and, incredibly, about 20 of the original class is still participating. Some time shortly after noon on Wednesday, Feb. 3, the swimmers will touch the edge of the pool in Langton Hall and symbolically close the books on a 25,612-mile swim.

"It started as a lark," said Bill Winkler, an associate professor of exercise and sport science at OSU, who directs the Faculty-Staff Fitness Program. "We thought we would aim for Hawaii and see how long it took. It just kind of blossomed from there."

The group plotted a course from Newport to Maui, and eventually added on checkpoints in exotic sounding places: Eniwetok Atoll, Truk, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Port Said, Gibraltar, the Virgin Islands, Panama, Cabo San Lucas, San Francisco, and finally back to Newport.

Jim Coakley, a professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, volunteered to be the group cartographer, charting the nautical distance between locations.

And the class? It swam. And swam. And swam.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the academic year, individuals in the class use their lunch hour to train as a swim team, averaging about 3,000 yards - or 1.7 miles. Distances were multiplied and charted on a world map displayed inside the faculty-staff fitness office.

And every other day, week after week, year after year, the same swimmers came to class.

"It's really not that atypical of Faculty-Staff Fitness classes," Winkler said. "We have a lot of folks who have participated in the same classes for several years. They feel the classes help them deal with on-the-job stress and help accomplish their personal fitness goals."

Many of the participants credit Winkler, who began the program in 1984.

"Bill is truly unique," said Jonathan D. "Jack" Istok, a professor of civil engineering at OSU, and one of the original around-the-world swimmers. "Although I swam on and off for years prior to joining Bill's class, I did not swim well. He taught me how to swim properly and got me interested in competitive master's swimming, which is now an important hobby of mine.

"The around-the-world swim is one of the activities Bill uses to keep us motivated and coming to class," Istok added. "He really promotes participation through his laid-back, easy-going style."

When the class finally reaches "Newport" on Feb. 3, no one is planning to quit. In fact, they are looking ahead to a class feast where everyone brings a dish from one of the exotic places they figuratively "visited."

Winkler says he took it easy on the class, because he originally had them finishing their around-the-world stint by swimming from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, then following the Lewis and Clark route.

"I thought the current and mountains would get to them," he said, tongue-in-cheek.

And next? Winkler and the class are mulling a North Pole-South Pole circumnavigation.

Better bring the wetsuits.