Competition, camaraderie drive all-ages Elgin swim team members as they prep for state meet

Before the sun even rose, coach Corinne Grotenhuis was pacing the pool deck at the Centre of Elgin, leading roughly 30 members from the Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team through a morning practice on a recent Wednesday.

The water in the pool seldom was calm during the 90-minute session as swimmers — aged 24 to 78 —shared lanes to work on their strokes and prepare themselves for the Illinois Masters Swimming Association state meet next month.

It’s a labor of love for their coach. A swimmer herself, Grotenhuis started the team in 1987 when she was only 18.

  Coach Corinne Grotenhuis works with members of the Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team during a recent practice at the Centre of Elgin pool. Grotenhuis founded the club in 1987. Rick West/

“It’s a way of giving back to what I got out of swimming,” said Grotenhuis, who has volunteered to coach the team for 37 years. “And to watch these guys achieve their goals, I absolutely love it.”

The team has swimmers of all skill levels and ages. Anyone can participate as long as they can swim 500 yards to start.

“We usually get people who are afraid at first, and we start them off slowly,” Grotenhuis said. “But as the season goes, they get encouraged by their teammates. They want to compete in the meets.”

  The Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team has 75 registered members ranging in age from age 24 to 78. Rick West/

Club practices are on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. The members participate in about a half dozen local competitions before the annual state meet, which will take place May 3-5 in Munster, Indiana.

Grotenhuis, who will be inducted this year into the Illinois Masters Swim Association Hall of Fame, said the club draws members from all over the suburbs because of its reputation.

“We are a solid, strong, fast team, and we do well at state,” Grotenhuis said. “But also, this is a team that really supports each other. It’s a great friendship that they have built, a lot of camaraderie.”

  Jaime Garcia said he swims over 3,000 yards during practice three days a week with the Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team. Rick West/

Jaime Garcia, a 76-year-old Elgin resident, says camaraderie is what draws him to the pool so early each morning.

“Being on the team motivates you to go a little farther,” he said. “The coach gives you tips on things, and it just keeps me going. It’s fun. I like the team atmosphere and the encouragement.”

Garcia took up competitive swimming as an adult after his knees couldn’t take running anymore.

“I’m a kid at heart, and I like competition,” he said.

Garcia jokes the older he gets, the better he does at meets. Last year at the state competition, he finished first in a couple of different races in his age bracket.

“It’s not because I’m that great a swimmer,” he said. “There just aren’t that many people our age that do it.”

Garcia isn’t even the oldest member of the team. That distinction belongs to 78-year-old Oz Osborne of Hampshire, who has competed in masters swimming for 38 years.

Osborne, who has completed 22 triathlons and one Ironman, loves the competition. But two years after suffering a heart attack, his motivation went beyond winning.

  Oz Osborne, left, of Hampshire and Alfredo Rangel of South Elgin talk to coach Corinne Grotenhuis during a recent practice for the Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team. Osborne, 78, is the team’s oldest swimmer and a former national champion in his age bracket. Rick West/

“My cardiac surgeon said swimming is what kept me alive,” he said.

Osborne said he’s not as fast as he used to be. But he is still ranked in the top 10 nationally for his age group. He won the 2011 national championship in his age bracket in the 200-meter butterfly.

“Like Michael Phelps, just a little slower,” he said.

Since swimmers don’t need to qualify for the state meet, Grotenhuis encourages all her swimmers to compete. Last year, they finished second in the team competition and have numerous third-place finishes over the years.

Grotenhuis is hoping for more this year.

“They are so deserving of a first place,” she said, “because they’ve worked so hard.”

  Katie Thatcher of Streamwood, facing at left, and Traci Pickerell of Elgin, center right, talk with teammates from the Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team during a recent practice. Rick West/
  Members of the Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team practice at the Centre of Elgin pool. Rick West/
  At 78, Oz Osborne of Hampshire is the oldest member of the Elgin Blue Wave masters swim team. Rick West/
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