HAPpy People - Jim Leissler

May 23, 2019

By Christina Malango 


Meet River Hugger swimmer and safety paddler, Jim Leissler, who has actually thought about what to do if a seal wants to fight him while swimming. 


How long have you been swimming with the River Huggers and how did you find the group?

Three years. Even though I live a block away from Popina, I didn't meet Willie until introduced thru a mutual friend, Sky Boyer, who founded VeloCult. He invited me for a beer at his shop and I brought my whole family. He asked me if I swim in the Willamette and I said, "Hell yeah.”  He said, “We do the Big Float, and I've been dragging people to dip their toes in the Willamette since the 90s." Willy modestly said I should come check out River Huggers. I really lucked out, but I eventually would have found you guys!

Windsurfing, swimming, skiing, four-wheeling ... is there any sport you don’t participate in?


I like human-powered sports on land, snow, or water or just about any sport or hobby that requires a little skill and provides a good adrenaline rush! Never played basketball – this year was the first time in my life even watching an NBA game on TV.  

This year you've worked with a swim coach. How has that been for you? 
It made me feel like a kid again. I got a chance to clinic with Gretchen Jackson and her Swim Smooth group and it was awesome. I was on the Santa Clara Swim Club (top swim team in the world – Mark Spitz trained with us). We didn't have a lot of money so I know it was a big sacrifice for my parents back in the 70s. Even as a 4th grader I remember having to swim 200 laps (2.5 miles) for fundraising. So now 40 years later, getting up early on a Saturday, swimming in the sun, has helped me become more efficient. I really needed this and I’m hoping to join her clinics again this summer.

What do you think about when you swim?

Mostly just relaxing and trying to breathe easy on both sides. Sometimes working thru challenges at work. These worst-case morbid scenarios come into my head where I think about triage plans. Like what if the dam broke upstream, or a seal wanted to fight me, or a car flew off the bridge, or how deep I would have to dive to make it past a barge running over me. Maybe one of the Hugger therapists can tell me what that is about? :)

You help with safety paddling and you're a swim captain. Have you always been a helpful guy?

I've been trying to just help out where I can, but I'm kind of killing a few birds with this one. Getting my kids up at 6:30am in the summer, forcing myself to swim and get exercise, and contributing to a great cause!

What are your hopes for the River Huggers this summer?

I hope to recruit a few nontraditional swimmers, maybe get somebody famous to join our swim. Stay tuned.

What do you do in real life?

I'm a Senior Solutions Consultant for Pagerduty, basically a computer nerd.

You travel so much!  How do you pull that off?  

My wife and I are constantly thinking about all the beautiful or exotic places in the world to visit. We don't stay in fancy hotels or anything but typically look for friends to stay with and use airline miles as much as possible. 

Where is your favorite place in the world?

Sorry, I can't answer just one, but my faves are Hood River, Canary Islands, no-name ski areas in Austria, and beautiful places in the middle of nowhere like El Nido on Palawaan, Kona, and Bonaire.

You've lived in Hood River and Portland. Where would you live if there were no limitations?  

Hood River.

Do you have an aspirational swim you would love to do someday?

Hopefully I don't get eaten by sharks in the Escape from Alcatraz swim in four weeks. Would love to do the Bridge Swim, and Catalina Island someday.

Trunks or Speedos? 

Trunks from unique vendors like 69Slam in Indonesia. I used to rock a Speedo back in the 70-90s, but I'd be embarrassed now. You gotta be fast and have candy bars these days.  

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