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Having a Really, Relay Good Time : Swimming: Six members of the Pomona-Pitzer women’s team set a world record in relay from Palos Verdes to Catalina Island.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It began as a collective exercise in pushing oneself to the limit. It ended with a world record.

Last week, six members of the Pomona-Pitzer women’s swim team completed a relay from Palos Verdes to Catalina Island in 8 hours, 27 minutes and 12 seconds. The time over the approximate 21-mile distance smashed the record of 11:01.00 that had been established by another group the year before.

“We’ll see how this pays off in everything else they do,” said Pomona Coach Penny Lee Dean, a former world record-holder in several long-distance swimming events. “Whether it makes their pool swimming faster remains to be seen.

“But more than that, this was an example of how you can accomplish something. If they go on to law school, or medical school, whatever they want to do, they can think back when times are tough and say, ‘Oh yeah, way back when I did that. I know I can do this .’

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“This was about getting them to believe in themselves.”

The team included senior Judy Van Atta of Denver, junior Pam Reece of Manhattan Beach, sophomore Erin Moore of Hayward, junior Heather Royer of Fairbanks, Alaska, sophomore Lesley Pelton of Newtom, Mass., and freshman Camille Paton of La Canada.

Dean said the idea was hatched in January by Van Atta, Royer and Pelton, who were searching for a way to break through performance plateaus.

Dean, who has coached at Pomona-Pitzer since 1978, was the perfect mentor for the attempt. A former All-American swimmer at Pomona College who graduated in 1977, Dean set records for crossings of the English and Catalina channels. She was also the U.S. national long-distance coach for men and women for nine years.

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Dean, in fact, originally was recruited by team members to be part of the recent relay. However, she became ill during training in Alabama, where she doing work toward a doctorate in education, and was replaced by Paton.

The women trained on their own for most of the summer while working at jobs or internships throughout the country and gathered at the beginning of last week in Manhattan Beach for final preparations as a team. They did their first ocean swim on a Monday and continued to get acclimated to conditions Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for the Thursday night attempt.

“The important thing was for them to get comfortable in the water and comfortable seeing things in the water--to know those things wouldn’t eat them,” Dean said. “They had to meet their fears of sharks and (swimming in) the dark.”

The crossing started at a spot near the old Marineland site in Palos Verdes at 11:23 p.m. Each woman swam for approximately one hour while team members, Dean, parents and a navigator traveled in a support boat. A kayaker was also in the water accompanying the swimmer of the hour.

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“The biggest thing we were trying to accomplish was to get them to try and push themselves further than they had before,” Dean said. “They were to sprint from the beginning so they could go through the pain wall, see what it was like, and go on.

“We got lucky that the day we had chosen for the crossing came up warm and good conditions. It wasn’t a full moon, but pretty close to it. It was one of those really rare crossings where we saw a few dolphins and a few flying fish, but not too many boats.”

The Pomona women swam the final few hundred yards in unison, landing ashore on Catalina at Doctor’s Cove about 8 a.m.

“You could see at the end that these women knew that it was something beyond what they thought was possible,” Dean said.

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After the swim, team members scattered for vacation or a semester of study in Europe as quickly as they had come together earlier in the week. But not before Dean offered some parting advice.

“I told them, ‘Any time you’re having a rough time, you think of this world record. It may be broken, but this is something that is yours forever. You were a part of something special.’ ”


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