HAPpy PEOPLE - Peter Rock

November 24, 2019

Meet Peter Rock, member of the HAP River Hugger Swim Group, a writing instructor at Reed College, and author of a whopping 10 books including the recent release, “The Night Swimmers”. 


How and when did you find the River Huggers?

Well, I’ve been swimming in the Willamette for 7-8 years, and have swum (as a relay!) the Bridge Swim a couple times. I’m always looking for people to swim with in the river. I was also preparing to do a longer swim in Greece, so was looking for open water opportunities to train and overcome my anxieties.

I’m actually a pretty shy loner who likes to swim alone. But in the river I was looking for friends/safety and so with great temerity I came down that firehouse ramp one day in June of 2019. Such a pleasure. And one great benefit is now I’m connected with so many people, should I wish to swim at any time in the river.


Are you a lifelong swimmer?

47 years? I think I was about 5 when I swam across a harbor in Wisconsin, thereby acquiring a bugle made out of a ram’s horn that my mom had promised me. I have always believed myself to be a better swimmer than I actually am.*


I swam for a year or two in high school and was a sprinter who had a very impressive time at 25 yards, a relatively slow one at 50, and clocked a truly embarrassing 100. If only the 25 had been an event in those dim, highly chlorinated lanes of Salt Lake City!


Anyway, then I went about 20 years only swimming in lakes (mostly Lake Michigan). I was mostly running then. But then, I broke some ribs, couldn’t run, and started swimming again. I’ve kept up the swimming. I’ve found that the swimming pool at Reed is one place the students can’t easily ask me questions. But I far prefer open water. 


*Shout out to veritable River Hugger and Swim Smooth master Gretchan Jackson, who in 90 minutes improved my swimming so much! I thought my form was

perfect and actually that she might learn from me, but it turned out I was a) holding my breath, b) had super-straight arms and c) had real problems with hand entry and catch, etc.

What do you think about when you swim?

The Loch Ness Monster? Sometimes I’m trying to think through a particular narrative problem, but more often I’m hardly thinking at all—it’s more of a meditation, the rhythm of the breathing and the strokes. It’s a bit unconscious for me, at its best. Really a dream. In my more recent river swims though, I’ve had thoughts like, “Will I ever feel my forearms again? Is it possible that my butt cheeks will freeze together?”

What was your favorite swim of last summer?

There were no bad ones! I loved the big one when we had the photo taken, so many people. But perhaps my favorites were when there were very few people, when it was cold, and when we did a third lap and there was almost no one and then Lars came popping out from some deep subaquatic place and I thought a sea lion was hastening my end.  


There was that one time when the kayakers told us to swim really hard because the barge was coming, and as we got out there it was just apparent we were not going to make it. And yet my comrades and I kept blindly flailing away, taking orders, until we were intercepted. All those wonderful days with really strong currents where it was easy to get caught around the bridge pilings and you’d have to fight your way out. Also the Climate March! Those idealistic youths marching overhead, cheering. Can’t wait to get under that bridge again.

You recently got to do a dream swim. Tell us about it and how can we read more about it?

I went to Greece and swam “around” the island of Milos in early October. I’d been saying I would do it for years and was finally able to schedule it. I did this for “work,” so I actually got paid, which was truly ridiculous. I basically did a Swimtrek trip (Swimtrek.com – careful, this website is swimmers’ porn!) and wrote about it as if I was alone.


I’m deeply indebted to the various Huggers, Yeti and Merfolk who helped me prepare for the swimming. The water was so floaty and sweet (though quite salty)! To see what it looked like and read more detail, here’s a link to the story I wrote for The New York TImes


What do you do in real life?

It’s all kind of surreal. I am a housewife? Househusband? A father to two daughters who torment me. I deliver them here and there, talk to them through their bedroom doors, walk my dog around a lot... I also like to fit words together and have published ten books, mostly novels. The most recent one, The Night Swimmers, has a fair amount to do with open water swimming. Since 2001, I’ve been part of the English Department at Reed, where I teach fiction and non-fiction writing.

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