HAPpy People - Gretchan Jackson

March 19, 2018

Gretchan Jackson


Q. Usually, winter is a down time for open water swimmers, but not for you. What exciting swim-related things do you have coming up?

Ha! All of the open water swimmers I know are continuing to challenge me to get in the Willamette each week! I must be hanging out with the wrong bunch. Ha. Ha. :)

This year I really jumped into my first real season of consistent pool swim training. I've been motivated by those around me, captivated by our beautiful River, and excited about really dialing in my freestyle swim technique to be able to make some progress on my endurance. This will be my fourth season of swimming with the Huggers. I instantly fell in love with the Hawthorne Bridge Willamette crossings and the tenacity and quirkiness of the group.

At the start of 2016 River Hugger season, in hopes of finding an easier way of hauling myself across the River, I had a swim analysis done which introduced me to the Swim Smooth methodology. Their approach is a fun-loving look at how our individual swim styles lead to common high-drag profile errors that slow us down in swimming. They have a fantastic website, articles, videos, and active blog and an online Swim Guru that helps you through the process, plus a detailed book (check it out at Multnomah County library!) that outlines all of the ways to improve. 

Q. I hear you’re interested in coaching. How did that come about?

On a whim, I applied for the Swim Smooth Coaches Camp that was held in November in Carlsbad, CA and was accepted. I couldn't have been more thrilled to meet the Swim Smooth Team in person and to recognize my achievements in teaching myself how to swim freestyle. I started to consider whether I could teach others using the Swim Smooth program that was teaching me. And boy was I nervous! Each of us had to swim for the SS coaching team and the invited coaches and be analyzed in front of the group. It was a workhorse of a Fall, to say the least. I've kept with it; I'm on task each week with new milestones. 

Having completed the preliminary coaches camp, I expressed my interest for the famed Perth, Australia two-week immersion that happens only once a year in March, which is a prerequisite for SS coach certification. It's quite select and I knew I had work to do to get accepted. I really was on fire after the November camp and redoubled my efforts of working through the Guru system workouts and drills. I was experiencing the SS programs first hand, unlike many of the other more developed coaches who already had programs in place. I continued to provide feedback to the SS group and finally convinced them to accept my application in. Good Lord, I was in! 

Q. What appeals to you about the swim smooth approach?

I love that it's an individualized approach, that each swimmer is unique and that their own style is taken into account. I like that the Swim Smooth Team is actively training themselves and others to achieve real-world swim goals of any caliber. I like that they have a learn-to-swim program that is just as valued as the elite-level athlete programs. I love that they understand lactate threshold and develop workouts around a swimmer's unique threshold using a Tempo Trainer beeper that sits under your swim cap.

This was very different compared to the constant all-out masters' workouts that I experienced last season. Some days I'm red-faced and out of breath on a Swim Smooth workout, but if so, I understand why and I know it's tailored to longer distance open water swims, which I'm quite fond of. I know why I'm working hard AND why I'm working easy. It's really taken the guesswork out of training. I love that they've developed their swim-analysis to create an individualized approach to weekly skills sets. I love their bloody phrases and blimey accents!

Q. What will your time in Australia be like?

I think it will be very sunny on deck at the Claremont Pool. I'm not sure my PNW eyes will be able to adjust! I need to find my sunglasses. 

The Perth Squads have 12 weekly sessions and 430 available swimmer spots. There are just a handful of invited coaches and we'll be spending busy days at the pool, leading the swim workouts, doing 1-to-1 Swim Analysis sessions, onboarding more Swim Smooth methods, and fine-tuning our coaching approaches. It takes a full day and a half just to get there. I'm excited to fly Quantas Airlines and will have a few days in Sydney to explore on the tail end. I hope to see wild furry creatures, no spiders and no sharks. We will be swimming in the Indian Ocean as part of our open water squad sessions too.  Also I will get to check out their Swan River which from the map looks wide as a lake in some parts. I hope to find their open water group akin to the Huggers, my people. I look forward to meeting a culture that is in love with their waterways. 

Q. Before swimming you were a competitive cyclist. Tell us more about that. 

The story is quite similar to my swimming career. I started out being able to barely ride in a straight line, became hooked on the fun, the thrills, the spills (not as much), the adventures of cycling and competition. I found that cycling could take me places that I couldn't go in my working day job. I was tenacious and had some amazing opportunities and worked very hard to make the most of them. It was an exciting journey that showed me that difficulty can turn us into champions if we let it. 

Q. What do you think about when you swim?

Until I have decades of swimming under my belt, I will almost always be correcting my form as I swim. When I swim under the Hawthorne Bridge, I like to swim on my back and look up at its architecture and see the City in motion. I think about the currents, and swimming close to others for a free ride. I like to breathe to the side and see the most beautiful sunlit landscapes.  

Q. Do you have a dream swim you would love to do? A favorite distance?

I would love to do a marathon open water crossing. I love hearing the stories from people who have done this and who dare to try. I always love the second lap of the River Hugger Willamette River crossing better than the first. It's nice to swim warmed up. 

Q. What do your summer swim plans look like?

I want to swim in the open water as copiously as I can with others. 

Q. You're known for your enthusiasm, dogged optimism, support of other swimmers, and hard work arranging discounts from Roka for us. How do you get all of that energy? What do you love most about the River Huggers?

Ha! I AM determined, huh? Thank you for those compliments. I love the camaraderie of accomplishing something, swimming together in all kinds of weather, with all kinds of folks. Willie Levenson and the River Huggers have created something mighty special. I'm glad to partake in the fun. Thank YOU for all of your work here Christina. I look forward to swimming with you again soon. 

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