A C I F I C L U T H E R A N U N I V E R S
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Lute professor-coach chases
records past retirement
By Nick Dawson
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.
Gary Chase continues his daily
ritual of 3,400 to 4,300-yard workouts at the Puyallup YMCA.
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.
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.
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
“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
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
“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.