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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Lute professor-coach chases records past retirement

By Nick Dawson

Gary Chase
Gary Chase continues his daily ritual of 3,400 to 4,300-yard workouts at the Puyallup YMCA.

For 30 years, Gary Chase devoted his life to teaching Pacific Lutheran University students how to incorporate physical fitness into everyday life. Now, in what he calls “semi-retirement,” Chase is pursuing not only physical fitness, but also world records for his age group in swimming.

This fall, he established a world record in the 100-meter backstroke and a national record in the 50-meter backstroke (for the 60-64 age group) at the Northwest Zone Championships. The “short course” records, set in a 25-meter pool, are 1:12.42 for the 100-meter and 33.83 for the 50-meter backstroke. He broke the former 100-meter record by more than one full second.

“I swim to stay in top condition,” says Chase. “I see these times as being outcomes. I’ll continue to pursue this, health permitting.”

Chase started his pursuit of swimming excellence in his youth. He began swimming competitively when he about 9 years old at the local YMCA. By the time he graduated in 1958 from Aberdeen’s Weatherwax High, Chase was a prep standout. He finished second at the state meet in the 100-yard backstroke, and eventually earned an athletic scholarship to Washington State. There he was a three-time Pacific Northwest Conference champion in the 100- and 200-yard backstrokes. He also swam the 200-yard individual medley and established WSU records in all three events. His best event was the 100-yard backstroke—Chase finished sixth at the 1962 NCAA national meet.

Despite his collegiate swimming success, don’t expect Chase to swim in the next WSU men’s alumni meet—Washington State no longer has men’s swimming.

While he was a student athlete at WSU, Chase started what would turn out to be a successful coaching career. Working with young club swimmers in Pullman, Chase helped develop several outstanding athletes, including Mark Mader, who became an All-American at the University of Southern California.


Chase would eventually return to coaching in the 1970s at Pacific Lutheran. Before that, he earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology from WSU in 1964. Chase then went to work for Boeing in the Manned Space program, doing research related to the physiology of weightlessness and inactivity of astronauts during prolonged space flight. When the research project was completed, Chase left Boeing and settled with his family in Eugene, Ore., where he became an instructor at Lane Community College, as well as a club swim coach. Later, he moved to Seattle, trained on Wall Street, and became a stock broker and commodities trader. Then, in the early ’70s, came the opportunity at PLU.

“I enjoyed the challenge of a completely new career focus, but the opportunity to coach and teach at PLU was the perfect career opportunity,” says Chase.

“My field was exercise physiol-gy, and I had a chance to teach that here,” says Chase. “This was one of those events in your life that is a very purposeful thing.” It was with a “sense of calling” that Chase and his family came to PLU.

Chase served as professor of exercise science and fitness in the School of Physical Education from 1970 until his retirement in 2000. His wife, Sharon, has been on the PLU library staff since 1972 and their sons, Scott and Brian, both graduated from the school. Chase’s primary teaching assignment at Pacific Lutheran came with the core class, Personalized Fitness Programs, commonly known as P.E. 100. Chase taught between 300 and 500 students in the course each year.

In addition to his teaching position, Gary served as the Pacific Lutheran swimming coach from 1970-77. His swimming teams won many honors, including men’s and women’s conference championships each year from 1970-77. In 1973, he was selected as NAIA Coach of the Year after his men’s team placed third at the national meet. Under Chase’s tutelage, Lute swimmers earned NAIA All-America honors 40 times, including three men who were four-year All-America honorees. Three of his swimmers combined to win a total of six individual event national championships.

Next on Chase’s schedule is the 50-meter pool “long course” nationals, set for next August at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way. “We’re very fortunate to have this meet in our own backyard,” says Chase. “I’m looking at this as a short-term goal. Then I’d like to go to the Masters World Championships in New Zealand in 2002.”

There’s also the 200-meter back-stroke world record to be broken, and Chase is working hard to cut 2.73 seconds off his best time in order to achieve that goal. Some 50 years after getting his start in a YMCA pool, the YMCA remains a part of Chase’s life. He now swims 3,400- to 4,300-yard daily workouts at the Puyallup YMCA. Chase says that the distance is half of what most competitive young swimmers log daily. “I’ve got to be realistic,” says Chase. “I’m not a kid anymore.”

Still, the goal of a national or world record does entice. Chase says, “If there’s a national record out there, it’s meant to be broken.” He looks at retirement as his opportunity not just break records, but a chance to enjoy new challenges.

“If I had to make a statement of what retirement is, it is productive use of time which leads to life’s enjoyments,” says Chase. For Gary Chase, swimming is most certainly a part of that.

Pacific Lutheran University Scene
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