Ice water in their veins

Ice water in their veins

Winter, spring, summer and fall, the temperature of Puget Sound is between roughly 45 and 53 degrees. To which Bernardo’s All Stars say, So what?

Visit or walk along Tacoma’s waterfront on a late Sunday morning and you’re likely to see members of this adult masters swim club happily embracing some combination of bone-chilling water, rain, hail, snow, wind, curious seals, jellyfish, and menacing sky.

When COVID-19 closed swimming pools, the group took to lakes, rivers, and icy Puget Sound for their aquatic endeavors – year-round. And now that much warmer pools are open, the open-water swimming nevertheless continues, said Chad Hagedorn, head coach of the hardy group whose ages range into the 80s.

They’re not crazy, assures Dianna Hermanson, 56, who after 40 years of dips in pools hooked up with Bernardo’s All Stars  and “fell in love” with the open-water scene.

“Every swim can be different due to weather and tides or current,” she said. “I love the peacefulness and the escape from life’s hustle and bustle. We keep the swims fun and make sure everyone is safe and has a group to swim with. I’m thankful every day for my teammates.”

Hermanson, a Puyallup resident and the team’s assistant coach, helps lead the weekly Sunday morning swims from the shore of Jack Hyde Park on Ruston Way in Tacoma. They ignore the goose bumps in pursuit of personal swimming goals and physical, mental, spiritual, and social health.

Cynthia Hinds, 68, of Lakewood learned how to swim about five years ago. She never had her sights on open water until pools closed, sending her and her teammates into Puget Sound during winter months and American Lake in the summer. “After many baby steps,” she related, she’s enjoying the options “to work on your speed, endurance, and technique. Plus, you get to meet people of many backgrounds and swimming abilities.”

Hagedorn, 49, a Tacoma resident who has had a “passionate relationship” with pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean most of his life, founded Bernardo’s All Stars as a non-profit corporation and has been building it for 10 years.

“It isn’t really a club. It’s a family,” he said. “Swimming encourages friendships and community through group workouts and people with like-minded goals. It can also create unique adventures through events–competitive and otherwise–all over the state, country, and even the world. Our mission is to provide opportunities for adults to learn to swim and achieve goals.”

Four levels of swimming are offered: Masters (intense training, including sets and laps), guided swim (less intense than masters, with more attention to technique and drills), stroke development (basic instruction for all skill levels), and lessons (for beginners and getting more comfortable in the water).

Bernardo’s All Stars is affiliated with U.S. Masters Swimming, which organizes competitive meets and promotes aquatics with information on training, health and nutrition for nearly 65,000 swimmers nationally. It supports about 1,500 clubs and workout groups.

The Bernardo’s bunch don’t just dip their toes in nature’s chilliest water. The pool at the Downtown Tacoma YMCA is also part of their regimen. But many just can’t get enough of Puget Sound.

“I would have never guessed I would be open-water swimming at age 65,” said Janet Holm, who lives in Tacoma. “But each week I get more confident. The hardest part is getting to the beach on a cold day, but when you get out of the water, you never regret going. I’m loving this.”

Dianmna Hermanson says open-water swims in Puget Sound are her “escape from life’s hustle and bustle.”