Saturday, June 12

Poolside politics: Olympics icon at the North Port Aquatics Center, ‘bloody brilliant’ | Venice Gondolier Sun

NORTH PORT — Osprey resident Tony Jarvis wouldn’t break routine.

It’s an English thing, maybe, sticking with schedules, or what he termed “said-jules.”

But Thursday was different. The former Olympic swimmer at the North Port Aquatic Center had paused from his strict 90-minute practices to riff on stuff.

It was weird … but exhilirating for those within earshot of a swimming icon, which included the aquatic center’s supervisor, Trish Sturgess.

Unless something happens, Jarvis is in North Port’s pool swimming his 25-yard laps, over and over. Those endless hours in the beginning first gave him English amateur records, and later the Mexico City Olympics with Great Britain’s relay team. Now he’s among the world’s best in the Masters Division.

But on Thursday at the North Port Aquatics Center, where he commutes from Osprey three to four times each week, Jarvis had paused in the middle of a workout for a poolside chat with Sturgess, a top athlete in her time. She seemed startled, as pool staff understood that Jarvis liked to motor about alone until his 90 minutes ended.

Jarvis joked about politics, English and American, that our pools are measured in yards, not meters. He told stories, goggles atop his head, about a swim program in Toronto that he ran that cranked out champions. Sturgess added that she had played hockey and swam competitively in Toronto. He talked about training with Sarasota water polo players, which drifted into North Port’s flourishing water-polo program.

Then he wondered about dying in a pool, “fit and exercising” and suddenly “lights out,” but shook that off, as his health is “bloody brilliant.” He talked about tennis for the lower body, swimming for the upper. He talked about wife Marcie bicycling 1,000 miles a month, about his swimming with the Palm Beach Masters, the Wahoos, a world-class co-ed group of senior swimmers, of which a few could out-swim him, he said. And he talked about roaming Mexico City with Mark Spitz, the swimming legend and gold medalist, being on friendly terms and yet in awe of him.

It was an interesting few minutes with someone in their 70s, yet tall and loose-limbed and bursting with good vibes, and who had roamed atop the world.

And who now commuted to North Port because of its “lovely” aquatics center, where he swam lonely laps alongside a handful of bouncing women pumping foam weights in a water aerobics class.

“Our objective is to fill the pool,” Sturgess said of the 36,000 visitors to the North Port Aquatic Center in its first year. “We’re getting where we want to be at.”

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