Chris Michael, Jackson Crane, Kim Rowden, Veronica Vail and Charlie Vail

Swimmers cool off while heating up competition in the pool. Back (left to right): Chris Michael, Jackson Crane, Kim Rowden. Front (left to right): Veronica Vail and Charlie Vail.

Kim Rowden plays hard. He powers through running challenges like the summer Sully’s to Surf Race in La Honda, but he doesn’t consider himself an athlete. He explains that he simply likes “to horse around” and “play with the kids.”

But the hurricane of competition he’s motivated at La Honda Pool suggests otherwise. He now vies with opponents less than a fifth his age to protect his distance record at the pool.

In June, Rowden, now “over 50,” slipped into the pool and swam 50 laps. Then he went for 133, which is just over four miles.

“I wasn’t racing. I just did it as an exercise to see how far I could go. I realized I could keep going, so I kept going,” said Rowden.

Pool patrons and lifeguards took notice. The poolside whiteboard that boasts daily temperatures started to announce other sunny news — Rowden’s personal records.

The La Honda Pool Facebook page also lauded him: “One of our patrons swam over 130 laps today, and he never swims laps.”

“Challenge accepted,” wrote 15-year-old Jackson Crane in response. Crane continues to hold the current record at around 150 laps.

“I felt like beating him — just the spirit of competition. I like winning,” said the competitive water polo player.

Around 25 others have also taken on the challenge, but not always for the same reasons as Crane. For some, it’s about achieving personal goals; for others it’s just plain fun.

“I don’t really like to be competitive,” said Brittany, Rowden’s daughter, who turns 10 on Thursday. “I just like swimming. I just swim and stick to it.”

Participants track their progress on a poster-board chart, marking off the miles they swim with shiny, star-shaped stickers.

Although Rowden is more inclined to offer the kids a ride on his shoulders or a launching point for backflips than he is to compete, he’s excited to see the young swimmers so involved.

“It pushes them. It stretches them,” said Rowden.

Does he have any new goals?

“Probably to go back and beat the latest record. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, right?”

Rowden knows he can get to 200 laps. But he acknowledges he might not always be the record-setter.

“At some point they’ll beat me, and I won’t be able to beat it again,” he said.

At the end of the summer, one of the lifeguards might bake a cake to celebrate all the swimmers’ successes.

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