Wade Whittle and his swimming friends train in Dunwoody, but they compete across the nation.
On Aug. 8, these swimmers traveled to Chicago to take part in a mile-long race in Lake Michigan known as the Chicago Sharkfest Swim. It was the group’s fourth “destination race,” Whittle said.
The friends first traveled to San Francisco to swim the Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim in 2012. Then, they visited New York’s Liberty Island and swam in the Hudson River, which Whittle called “gross.” Last year, they went to Charleston, where Whittle, who is in his mid-30s, said he won first place in his age group.
All of the Dunwoody swimmers successfully finished the race in Chicago, with John Stanforth and Whittle placing second in their respective age groups. Jeff Frame and Fran Romanchuck placed third in their age groups.
Whittle said he’s been part of the masters swim team that trains at the Dunwoody Baptist Church facility for about six years, but Steve Hartley, a 57-year-old airline pilot from Sandy Springs, has been part of the team for more than a decade. This year’s trip to Chicago was the only out-of-state competition Hartley had to miss.
Hartley said Dan Hardy, a Dunwoody dentist, organized the team and found its first coach, Greg Schmid, who swam at Auburn University.
“I happened to see them swimming on Mondays and Thursdays,” Hartley said about joining the team.
Though both Schmid and Stanforth moved out of state, Stanforth said the swim events provide an excellent opportunity to keep in touch with the Atlanta swim group.
“My wife, Maria, and I always plan one of our vacations around the destination event,” Stanforth said. “One of the highlights of the trip is planning our adventure for next year.”
Romanchuck said Stanforth plans to return to Dunwoody, though. She called him a “ringleader” and one of the founding members, along with her.
Romanchuck, who is 48, said she and her husband had been doing triathlons when they moved to Atlanta in 1998.
“I do it more for fun than competition,” she said of competitive swimming. “I have an advantage as I get older. The pool [of participants] gets a little smaller and that doesn’t hurt either.”
She said traveling annually keeps the friendships close and the team members motivated.
“We get to meet people’s spouses and friends,” she said. “It’s a social and an athletic endeavor. It’s a lot of fun with a nice group of people.”
Though they have a core group, they always welcome new members.
“We’re not a bunch of Type A’s trying to beat each other,” Hartley said.
When the team came in to practice one day last year, the pool was crowded and a woman had a lane the team needed, so Hartley said he asked her, Laura Medrado, if she wanted to join them.
Usually, people will choose to move on so the team can practice, but Medrado agreed to join them, he said. “She just about blew everybody out of the water – she was fast,” Hartley said. “We said, ‘Wow, it looks like we have another member of our team.’”
Stanforth said he would encourage other adult swimmers in the Dunwoody/Sandy Springs area to consider working out with the group at the Dunwoody Baptist fitness center. He said the group makes swimming fun.
“You get a great deal of satisfaction after a workout,” Hartley said. “You learn a lot about someone and yourself when you do a set of 100-yard sprints without much rest.”
Hartley joked they recently chose the name DBC Sea Cucumbers because “it strikes fear in the hearts of rival swimmers and pride in the hearts of sea cucumbers ocean-wide.”