Rani Henderson - West Hawaii Today
This is absolutely crazy!
That is typically one of the many random thoughts fumbling around in my somnolent mind as I’m dressed in sweat pants and an oversized jacket, heater blasting on high in my car, waiting in the cold morning darkness for the gates to open at the Kona Community Aquatic Center swimming pool.
One might ask, what on earth would possess anyone in the right frame of mind to leave their warm, cozy bed to jump into a frigid pool at 6:15 a.m. before the sun rises?
In a word – Masters. Brrr…
For the last 23 years, Kona’s Steve Borowski has been doing just that – getting up before the crack of dawn to coach his Masters Swim team, a program designed for beginners, intermediate, and advanced swimmers from ages 18 and up.
And as Borowski tells it, his Masters Swim program didn’t begin at the pool as many would’ve thought. It began in the ocean.
“We actually started in the ocean at the Kailua Pier because there was no pool at that time (1993),” Borowski said. “When the Club in Kona built a small pool that was 25-yards long, 3-feet deep, and four narrow five-foot-wide lanes, we began our first pool swims there. We had about 30 to 40 people and we would actually go in two groups because the pool was so small. But we did it and it was a start. Then when the County pool finally finished about 17-years ago, we moved here.”
Borowski, who helped to spearhead the Kona Community Aquatic Center project in the 90’s until its completion on March 27, 1999, has witnessed his popular Masters Swim program grow into a melting pot of athletes of all sizes, abilities, and ages from around the globe.
“We are part of the United States Masters Swimming and we probably have more visitors from all over the world than any Masters program in the nation, and possibly the world,” he said. “We have such a variety. We have people who come for fitness, triathletes who are training for IRONMAN and other races, competitive swimmers, or people who just like swimming. So there is such a wide range from non-swimmers to world-class athletes.”
Two-time IRONMAN champion, Bree Wee, who has been coached by Borowski since 2003, 74-year old Jim Barnett, who swims to maintain fitness, and 17-year old high school swimming standout Katie Jefferson are just a few of many who enjoys an early morning swim with “Coach Steve.”
“I’m always looking to get a better time so doing extra practices will help me to achieve that,” Jefferson said. “Just to be able to wake up early and try to train hard toward something and for something, it makes me feel like I can do that in other areas in my life. So I don’t mind the drive from Mauna Lani to Kona for swim practice, then an hour to HPA for school, then back home.”
Jefferson added that although she’s on the swim team for Hawaii Preparatory Academy and will be graduating this May, she began training with Borowski since she was five years old and currently swims for his Kona Aquatic age group team.
“He’s the only coach that I’ve really ever had that’s really pushed me and sat down with me to think about colleges,” Jefferson said. “He’s the type of person who will help me get as far as I want to go and be the one who will take me there.”
For Kris Kiser and Kurt Krueger, two local triathletes, the overall benefits of an improved fitness level far outweighs the mental challenges that come with jumping into the icy pool before the sun rises.
“It’s a struggle to get up in the morning but once I do, it’s not so bad,” Kiser said. “For me, swimming is a great way to keep my fitness up, get the blood flowing and metabolism going, and a chance to see and meet people that I usually don’t get to during the week because of my work schedule.”
Kiser added that although he’s not training for any particular race, being able to maintain his swim fitness year round and workout in a group setting helps to keep him motivated.
“It’s always encouraging when you start to see improvements and begin moving down (into faster) lanes,” he said. “And swimming with a group pushes me harder than I would on my own. So it’s a great workout.”
While Krueger said his reason for attending Borowski’s morning swim sessions was “for longevity” then joked:
“A friend of mine once said, you can ride well and you can run well so all you need to do is start swimming and you’ll be kicking butt in triathlons,” he said. “Once I started swimming I realized that the only butt being kicked was mine.”
For Borowski, a man who has achieved countless accolades in the world of water sports that spans over six decades, it’s all about his passion to see people improve upon their swimming techniques and ocean knowledge while having fun at the same time.
And for everyone else, it’s about swimming and learning from the Master.
“I love it and it’s a real special team,” Borowski said. “We have a pretty mellow group and environment so people aren’t intimated and it’s something they can do on a long-term basis. And it’s challenging - so within an hour people can get a pretty good workout. Sometimes I start with people who are non-swimmers then six months later they are swimming the IRONMAN course. And we have a few people that are close to 80 years old that still enjoy swimming with us. So if I can make an impact on someone’s life in a positive way, then that’s just fantastic and rewarding for me.”
For more information on Kona Aquatics Masters Swim program and their practice swim sessions held on Monday, Tuesday and Friday mornings at 6:15 a.m. and Wednesday nights at 6 p.m., visit kona-aquatics.com.
Sunday: Frozen Pea Productions presents Peaman Splish-Splash and Superbowl Shuffle Biathlon at Kaiakeakua Beach. Start time is 8:08 a.m. for the free ½ mile swim and 3.1-mile run. A Pea Wee course of a 200-yard swim and 1-mile run is available for everyone. For more information contact Peaman at 938-2296.