Bellingham swimmer captures 6 top-10 finishes at national meet
May 10, 2023 at 5:55 a.m.
Bellingham resident Brad Jones, a former Penn State University swimmer, battled a brain tumor and subsequent health issues before achieving his goal of breaking back into competitive swimming.
After a long recovery, the current head strength and assistant swim coach for the Bellingham Bay Swim Team earned six top-10 finishes — four individual and two relays — in the U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship April 27–30.
The competition attracted more than 2,600 participants — including former NCAA and Olympic champion swimmers — to Irvine, California, at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatic Center.
Jones, 57, represented the Puget Sound Masters swimming club, competing in the men’s 55-59 age group. He placed fifth in the 1,000-yard freestyle (11:12.09), ninth in the 500-yard freestyle (5:19.77), seventh in the 50-yard butterfly (26.23) and eighth in the 100-yard butterfly (58.39).
Jones also swam one leg of two four-person relay teams, placing second in both the 200-yard medley (1:49.36) and 200-yard freestyle (1:37.83).
Growing up in Maryland, Jones began swimming when he was 8. His parents wanted him and his siblings to learn to be comfortable in the water, and Jones developed a passion for the sport.
“I love water,” said Jones, who is a practitioner and owner of Rolfing Bellingham, a bodywork business. “It’s therapeutic for me — my happy place.”
Jones’ passion inspired him to compete on his high school swim team, and he earned an athletic scholarship to Penn State, where he helped lead the Nittany Lions to an Atlantic 10 Conference championship his senior year.
“I have so many great memories, but in the end, the relationships that I built and experiences I had are what I cherish most,” Jones said. “Some of my best friends are teammates from Penn State. These are the guys whose weddings you go to and always keep in touch [with]. We went through so much together — lots of good times and lots of tough times.”
Jones did not return to the pool competitively for many years after leaving college, turning his attention to coaching swim — he's in his 33rd year — and recreational activities such as skiing, hiking, biking, yoga and strength training.
However, in his mid-40s, Jones began to notice something was not right, physically.
“I was having all sorts of weird symptoms ... vertigo, balance issues, feeling generally disoriented,” Jones said. “Doctors treated me for many different things before a neurologist in Seattle did an MRI and identified the tumor.”
Jones opted for a less invasive form of radiation. It was successful in destroying the tumor, but it left him with new issues.
“My balance was terrible during the months after radiation, I was always bumping into things and walls,” Jones said. “I also had lots of facial seizures — I was pretty scared.”
Jones yearned to return to the pool, but swimming was a challenge because of bouts of nausea and dizziness. He hung up his swim trunks a second time.
After a long break, Jones started swimming again with the Bellingham Masters group at Arne Hanna Aquatic Center with the urging of parents of his high school swimmers. By using earplugs and changing his stroke to limit his head movement, Jones was able to lap swim, albeit slowly.
“It took me a few years, but I finally showed up,” Jones said. “It was incredibly humbling at first, but I slowly worked through the balance issues and started to get back into swimming shape.”
As Jones’ strength and confidence returned, so did his desire to swim competitively.
“Training without some event on the calendar is not something I’m good at. I like to be working towards something, otherwise I lose focus and the details go out the window.’’
For Jones’ 50th birthday, he registered for Masters Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina. Although it may not have gone as smoothly as his previous meets, Jones was able to get his feet wet again.
“I got my butt kicked in that one but had fun [and] met lots of masters swimmers and reconnected with folks I swam with in high school and college,” Jones said. “Every age group is incredibly competitive at Masters Nationals.’’
Jones said life has taken on new meaning since his diagnosis and return to swimming, particularly in his priorities and how he approaches new challenges.
“It’s been amazing to me to see how adaptable the body is,” he said. “With the right mindset and a lot of patience, I believe we can create the experiences we want in our lives, even when the body is not cooperating.”