By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
When a notice for a free 10-day membership at Courthouse Athletic Club showed up in her mailbox 22 years ago, Jan Sanford decided she wanted to give it a try, but her husband, the late Duane Sanford, a former Keizer Fire District chief, said he was too busy.
Still, she wanted to try out the club’s pool.
“I said that’s okay, you do your thing and I’ll do mine. I came and the first day it snowed, the next day it snowed a foot. By the time the snow went away my 10 days were up, but I knew already I was going to join,” Sanford, 79, said.
It wasn’t long after joining that she noticed a community bulletin board with running tallies for the club’s most regular swimmers. One of them had put in 400 miles. Even then it seemed like a huge achievement. The club handed out tracking charts and each time a swimmer filled one up it meant they swam 100 miles.
“After a while, I think I was the only one using the sheets so they stopped handing them out, so I went and photocopied a bunch for myself,” Sanford said.
Her tally increased slowly for most of the 22 years as life kept putting other concerns ahead of her getting into the pool, but on May 29, 2010, Sanford passed the 2,600-mile mark for her lifetime total at the club. She decided it was time to set a personal swimming goal.
“I thought it would be really neat if I could make it to 3,000 miles by my 80th birthday [in September 2011],” she said. It gave her 15.5 months to churn out 400 miles, she attained it earlier this month, ahead of schedule. Over the course of her 22 years at Courthouse, it amounts to 108,000 laps, 14,400 in the last year alone.
“It feels really good, but I realize now that I really pushed it at first because I was planning for all the things that might have gone wrong,” she said.
Sanford learned to swim in the Clackamas River at age 10, but didn’t find her inspiration until former swimmer and then-movie star Esther Williams started making waves on the silver screen.
“I was kind of a clutzy girl, until I got in the water and we went to a lot of Esther Williams movies. I thought it was so neat the way she swam, she was kind of my swimming teacher,” Sanford said.
She’s made friends at the club when she wasn’t face down in the water. One regular became a partner in her swimming endeavor.
“He had a stroke 10 years ago and he’s paralyzed on one side. When he found out I was swimming a mile, he decided he was going to swim a mile. We encourage each other, and, if he’s got a head start on me, I’ll try to catch up so we finish about the same time. We encourage each other,” she said.
She didn’t set daily goals this past year, she swam as many as eight or nine consecutive days and then switched to every other day at times depending on her schedule. The hardest part, at times, was keeping up with her lap count when her mind wandered to other facets of her life. But she discovered is that the swimming is all about her.
“Anybody that wants to depend on me to do anything for them schedules it around my swimming. It’s my special time for me,” she said. It reminds her that’s she still fighting “getting old” and it prevents arthritis from seizing up her mobility.
The key to achieving the goal despite her age was deciding to take the plunge.
“You just can’t sit and say, ‘I can’t do that,’” Sanford said. “You just have to keep moving.”