by Jim Provenzano
Despite an occasional breeze in the near-open-air natatorium, and a bilious Southern Baptist-athon brewing across town, conditions could not have been more perfect on the Georgia Technical University campus for a swim meet of a festively queer sort.
Over 700 lesbian, gay, and (a few) straight swimmers, divers, and water polo players from dozens of cities competed in Atlanta June 17-21, at the 1999 Tenth Annual International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics Championships.
Other Swim Groups
The efficient organization by Atlantan volunteers and officials kept over 50 events, with hundreds of heats, and even the drag queens, running on time.
Many events made for new Masters records among the 50 participating teams, including Washington DC and Atlanta's ranks (almost 100 each), and individual "teams" of one like the San Luis Obispo Seahawks, Irvine Novaquatics, and Humuhumunukunukuapuaa (actually George Walker of Hawaii).
Team Tsunami members who turned in personal bests among the 38 Bay Area participants in breaststroke, fly, freestyle, and individual medley events included Ann Dunn, Kevin Williams, Stephen Lapaz, Stuart Towns, Tod Hill and Bart McDermott. The Bay Area's other squad, University of San Francisco Masters, sent four swimmers this year.
Charlie Koehler, one of 55 San Diegans, competed in breast stroke & 100 Free, among other events, but "never swam before age 35. I learned how to do all the other strokes, freestyle, flip turns, butterfly, I had never attempted until I joined the team." Since then he's swum at Gay Games II-V, and just about every IGLA meet.
Longtime friendly rivalries saw good-natured competitiveness between old pals Pat Thomas of San Diego and Morrie Spang of West Hollywood's WH20, who both swam in Minnesota years ago. Thomas was thrilled that she'd not only cut her times, but bested her longtime compatriot.
Not that they're competitive. "Are you kidding?" Thomas laughed. "We swim for the hardware!"
But also for a greater glory, with personal victories. Both are teachers. Spang noted how "events like IGLA battle the stereotypes that gay people aren't athletic, that dykes are too athletic. With a positive attitude, it think it sets a great role model." She noted how parents with questioning kids at her school thank her profusely. "They appreciate that I'm making the school a safe environment for kids."