Mastering Body and Mind Through Swimming at UCSF

By Rani Goel

Devon Chen, a Bay Masters swimmer who practices at the Bakar Fitness & Recreation Center located at UCSF Mission Bay, swims to a first place finish in the Women's 30-34 50 meter butterfly competition. Photo by Scooter Morris

Every day, rain or shine, swimmers at the Bakar Fitness & Recreation Center bring unparalleled intensity to the pool. These driven aquatic warriors, serious about fitness, are part of the U.S. Masters Swim (USMS) team known as “Bay Masters,” which is under the guidance of Coach Doug Huestis. He knows how to bring out the best in his athletes. On the second floor of the fitness center, a sea of prestigious awards that the Bay Masters team has won over the years dots the wall.

A cadre of active adults – former competitive high school swimmers, triathletes, cancer survivors, and those who just love being in the water – have come together to form this team of dedicated swimmers. Striving to improve their fitness and ability, they share the love of this gratifying sport.

Some take the plunge daily as part of their training for triathlons and other competitions, while others join Masters Swim to improve their overall well-being and gain rewarding friendships. (Participation in competitive events is optional for all team members). Not only are these individuals committed to fitness, but they also share a loyalty to the team.

“Swimming is the best workout that I know for both the body and the mind,” said Clayton Jones, a member of the Fitness & Recreation Center at UCSF, and Bay Masters team swimmer since 2005. “Physically, it challenges both your aerobic and anaerobic capacities. Mentally, it gives you the chance to both find and push against your limits. The friendships and camaraderie with my teammates keep me from hitting the snooze button and pushes me a little bit harder at the end of a workout.”

Members of the UCSF 2011 400m Medley Relay team in the Mixed 200-239 Division include, from left, Glenn Lewis, Suzanne Morris, Sid Stuart, and Heejay Chung. Photo by Scooter Morris


Huestis, who founded the Bay Masters Swim Team at Bakar Fitness & Recreation Center at UCSF Mission Bay in 2005, has been a life-long competitive swimmer and has coached numerous teams since 1967.

“I enjoy helping people achieve what they didn’t think they could,” he said.

With a master’s degree in exercise physiology, 60 years of his own swimming mastery, and a passion for developing effective training techniques, Huestis brings his winning formula to his team at UC San Francisco. He believes that anyone can achieve a higher level of fitness if they have the desire to excel and just show up and try.

“It's simply impossible to name just one benefit to something that has become so integral to my daily life,” said Julia Pak, a Bay Masters swimmer who has been on the team since 2008. “Coach Doug is exceptional in his knowledge of the sport and coaching experience. If you are already driven, he will provide you with the means to achieve your goals. If you are not, he will help you find that drive.”

The team’s oldest member, 75-year-old Ralph Brott, has been swimming with Huestis since 2000 and has won multiple competitions regionally. Brott was ranked first in the nation in the 1500-meter freestyle in his division, and he also set a Pacific Masters Swimming record for that event in the 70-74 age group. He was a daily runner from his 20s through his late 40s, when a combination of the air pollution and nerve damage took a toll on his ability to run. Brott then shifted gears and that’s when his daily practice of swimming began.

“When I moved back to San Francisco and was teaching high school, swimming every morning was how I would manage stress and stay focused,” Brott said. “Then in 1999, I joined Masters Swim. What I like about Coach Doug is that he’s a very hands-on, strong kind of coach who stays actively interested in my practice.”

Beyond the awards and competitive aspects of swimming, Brott says swimming is what keeps him in shape and healthy. Having survived cancer, he attributes his swim practice to being one of the most effective means of managing the stress. His doctor tells him to keep swimming and he says he’s “addicted” to it.

“I feel good. I’m active. Being on the Masters Swim team provides tremendous rewards and I’m around good, healthy people,” he said. “If anyone is thinking about joining a Masters Swim team, don’t think too much about it. Just give it a try. ”

To learn more, please visit the Masters Swim at Bakar Fitness & Recreation at UCSF Mission Bay website or call Aquatics Manager Danski Perez at 415-502-4446.

For more internal-facing stories from the UCSF community, please visit Pulse of UCSF.