E.A. Sports Today

Back in the swim

[corner-ad id=1]Pearson returns to the pool, trims weight and times for strong showing in U.S. Masters Championships

Anniston swimmers Johnnie Pearson (L) and Bob Couch display their medals after strong showings in last month's U.S. Masters National Championships.

Anniston swimmers Johnnie Pearson (L) and Bob Couch display their medals after strong showings in last month’s U.S. Masters National Championships.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Johnnie Pearson was a national class swimmer back in the day, but once he left college life crept into the picture and he had to give up the sport that was part of his being for nearly 15 years.

He’s been back at it for a year and it’s like he’s not been out of the pool at all.

Pearson, 42, the assistant coach of the Anniston YMCA Blue Dolphins swim team, competed in his first national championship meet since college last month.

Swimming in the men’s 40-44 division at the U.S. Masters Championships outside Cleveland, he posted two seconds (100 butterfly and 50 backstroke), a third (50 butterfly), two fourths and a fifth. All four relays he swam finished in the top four, with the 200 medley relay team he anchored finishing second.

“When I got back into coaching three years ago I would hop in the water every once in a while and show the kids skills; then it became inevitable one of them would want to race the old man,” Pearson said. “Once the competitive switch was turned on I was going to start swimming fast. I always have been a ferocious competitor and once I got moving, it was second nature to train hard and race harder.”

Pearson was a top junior growing up in Raleigh, N.C., and swam in SEC and NCAA championships and the Olympic Trials while at Auburn, but gave it up after graduating. Since returning to a serious training regimen, he has dropped 64 pounds and is now cutting through the water at a trim 190 pounds.

When he’s not in the pool, he’s an engineering manager for Eastman Chemical Company and helping Brandy Sanders with the Blue Dolphins. The team hosts its first meet of the season this weekend, the Margaret Wakefield Invitational, at the Y pool.

Pearson swam in two other meets before August. At the Auburn Masters Invitational in February, the first meet he entered in 16 years, he won all seven events he swam and was the meet’s high point scorer.

He went to the YMCA Nationals in May, winning six events and finishing second in another.

“From the time I was 9 to 22 that was what I knew and it was really tough (being away), a tough transition, because I was used to working out twice a day to not at all,” he said. “Once the guys kind of talked me going into a meet … it just clicked.”

The guys were Anniston Masters swimmers Bob Couch, Bill Wakefield and Clayton Angel. They convinced him to join them at the nationals and once he was told there was a team championship involved the competitor that still lived inside him was all in.

Couch, meanwhile, posted five top five finishes in six events at the Nationals, including a second and two thirds.

“We could not do any of this without our Masters training group here in Anniston,” Pearson said. “Probably even more impressive is that we don’t have the opportunity to swim in the Olympic 50-meter course, but have to compete in it for summer nationals.”

Now that the bug is back, he’s thinking of taking it to a bigger stage. He is considering a trip to the World Masters in Budapest in two years, when both he and Couch will be aging up.

“Now that I’ve got it there it’s one of those things I’m thinking about it and training hard and keeping on,” he said.

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