Crazy Jac's quest to save the pool

The man who 30 years ago pioneered early morning aerobics &

a workout so vigorous and verbal they called him "Crazy Jac" &

has at age 59 swum his way to fame, covering 275,000 yards or 156 miles in a month, placing first in his late fifties age group.

An architect in Ashland for 34 years, Jac Nickels stroked back and forth for hours a day in the Southern Oregon University pool, daily racking up between 5,300 yards (a mile) and 18,700 yards or about three miles.

The victory in the February Fitness Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Masters Swimmers, placed him fifth in the nation among all age groups and 3d among men &

and capped a long career as an athlete and sparking force of fitness, getting hundreds of people out of bed to start aerobics at 6 a.m. with plenty of joyful hooting, lunging, leaping and shouting. He did that for 30 years, ending in 2005.

Wanting to stay fit in a post-aerobics world, Nickels three years ago joined Rogue Valley Masters swim team, noting "it exercises every muscle in your body and they're a great group of honest, friendly people."

Nickels started the month slowly but as he passed 100 miles, he realized that if he poured it on, he could beat his two closest competitors, who were on the East Coast. He did, jumping from the 6,000-yard range to over 12,000 yards a day on a regular basis.

"I beat the second place guy by 41 miles &

I smoked 'em," Nickels laughs.

His RVM coach, Steve Mitzel called Nickels "an amazing individual who showed up every day religiously and gave maximum effort, always wanting more when we were finished. I'm proud, ecstatic for him."

On such a roll, Nickels had only one frustrating obstacle &

the snow day, Feb. 22. The SOU athletic staff kept the pool closed, despite Nickels pleading and banging on the door.

Endurance swimming is hard work and although it has it's meditative high, it takes a lot of concentration, as you have to remember to count your laps and keep your eye on the clock. Although weight loss was not his goal, Nickels dropped 10 pounds during the month-long swim.

Swimmers in the competition are allowed to use floatation devices and fins. Nickels used only short flippers.

Along with the pride over his aquatic feat, Nickels (and the RVM team) are feeling sadness at the looming loss of the SOU pool, slated to shut down June 30, because of $4 million in cutbacks the school had to make this year.

The closure will be devastating to swim programs of the RVM team and Ashland and Phoenix swim and water polo teams, says Nickles, and he and other Masters swimmers will only be able to use the Daniel Meyer pool or Emigrant Lake in warm months, perhaps into October. The YMCA pool is about 10 degrees hotter than SOU &

too warm for endurance swimming, he says.

Mitzel, also the swim coach for Ashland High School, says pool closure would be very detrimental to swimming and water polo, as well as 80 to 120 adult lap swimmers who use the pool daily. SOU and City of Ashland officials will meet Tuesday to explore ways to avert the closure.

Nickels' record for the year is about half the all-time record but next year, he'll be in the 60-65 age group, where the record is in much closer reach. Will he try for it? "Some people have asked me that. I tell them it's kind of like childbirth. You don't want to think about it again for another six months."

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