Four years ago, when he was 46, Washington lawyer J.C. Boggs set a goal for himself: He vowed to swim in every state in the Union by the time he turned 50. And because just paddling in a hotel pool didn’t seem very challenging, he decreed that the swims had to be special.
“I swam in college,” J.C. told me. “But there were long periods where I didn’t swim at all.”
He got back into the sport in his early 40s, spurred on by . . . well, I’ll let him explain: “My wife said: ‘You’re getting fat. You need to work out again.’ ”
J.C. started swimming at American University’s Reeves Aquatic Center with the Curl-Burke Masters. Masters groups are for people 18 and older who like to swim and range from methodical lap swimmers to hard-core competitors. J.C.’s aim was to swim three mornings a week.
But that was hard to commit to, especially given his travel schedule. J.C. is a lawyer/lobbyist who works on financial services and technology issues for clients. What he needed was something to motivate him. His “50 by 50” quest proved to be the perfect incentive. When business trips took him away from home he’d scour the Web for places that met his criteria: “It’s always a minimum of an hour organized Masters workout or a swim meet where I’m competing against others in my age group or an open-water swim,” J.C. explained.
His quest took him to some interesting places. He catalogued the details in a journal he kept. He did an open-water swim in Alaska’s Chena Lake and another in Hawaii. He swam at Indiana University’s Natatorium, the largest indoor pool in the country. At the University of Alabama he worked out with a Masters group coached by Catalina Casaru, an Olympic swimmer from Romania.
Once, when staying in Sante Fe, he drove to Los Alamos to swim with a Masters group that trains in the highest altitude pool in the United States. The drive back to the hotel was through a canyon blanketed by freshly fallen snow. He had hoped to bag Florida with an open-water swim in Orlando, but after learning that alligators were a possibility he opted for an early morning workout with the St. Pete Masters instead.
J.C. shoehorned most swims into business trips, but eight states required special travel. Last summer, he took the family to Yellowstone, Glacier National Park and Mount Rushmore, neatly crossing Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota off his list.
After picking up his daughter at summer camp in New England he ticked off a few more states on the way back home. His effort seemed like a way to show his daughter, now 11, that it’s important to set goals — “Important for me, not just her.”
J.C. swam competitively in high school in New Hampshire and at the University of Richmond. “I wasn’t setting records,” he said. “I’m not setting records today, either. It’s just more a way of staying in shape.”
The last two states were Nebraska and West Virginia, both landlocked and neither especially known for their swim culture. But swimmers are nothing if not committed, and J.C. found Masters groups in both states. He bagged Nebraska in February. On April 12, he swam in Charleston at the Family YMCA with the U.S. Masters team.
J.C. doesn’t dwell much on the psychological aspects of swimming — the amniotic embrace of a warm pool — but he does acknowledge benefits beyond shedding a few pounds. Sometimes when he swims he zones out and forgets about his job. Other times, he thinks about work, but in a way that’s different from if he was stuck behind a desk.
And now that he has all 50 states behind him?
“I’m kind of thinking, What do I do next?” he said. “Travel internationally. Maybe it’s that.”
J.C. will turn 60 on Aug. 3, 2022. Time to start planning.