Lakewood Aquatic Club Celebrates Reunion, Honors Coach Jim Montrella

lakewood-aquatic-club-reunion-Ashley Chruszcz
Photo Courtesy: Ashley Chruszcz

The Lakewood Aquatic Club produced a number of national record holders and Olympians — it was a powerhouse club in the 1970s under Jim Montrella.

The club recently hosted a reunion of nearly 100 swimmers from the golden era of the club. There was a lot of reminiscing, photo ops and stories shared about what it was like — and what it meant — to swim at LAC with Montrella.

The reunion at Long Beach Yacht Club was also a night to honor coach Montrella, who coached several Olympians, including Ann Simmons, Susie Atwood, Clay Evans, Kimla Brecht, who took turns speaking, among others.

“He did not want the reunion to be about him. He said talk about the club history. So we did that, but we also took a little bit of time to honor him,” Jim Wisdom said.

The evening brought a lot of smiles to former swimmers and all started with a Facebook page.

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Photo Courtesy: Ashley Chruszcz

Jackie Erlanson created a Lakewood Aquatic Club Alum Facebook page. Jim Wisdom was the first to comment about a possible reunion and plans slowly took off from there.

“Jackie reached out to me, and then Jackie, fellow alum Ginny Ferguson and I met up at a restaurant in seal Beach to talk about a reunion. That was September 25 of last year, which is almost exactly a year ago,” Wisdom said. “Then, Susie Atwood noticed we were planning a reunion, and she said why don’t you have it at the Long Beach Yacht Club where I’m a member? And that’s how we secured the venue for the reunion.”

Once the planning was complete, it was time for everyone to sit back and enjoy a stroll down the Lakeshore Aquatic Club memory lane.

“It’s been so fun sharing old pictures of when we were young and following the stories shared by individual members.  We ended up inviting members who were the original LAC swimmers from 1964!  The reunion planning took off when word of mouth spread,” Erlanson said. “We had approximately 100 members in attendance and had a magical evening of connecting with old friends, sharing over 300 pictures on a slide show presentation, enjoying the superstars of our team speak about how they joined LAC and met Jim.”

The memories were clear and enjoyable for the swimmers, who had very similar, and at times, very different stories that led them to LAC.

“The reason I joined Lakewood Aquatic Club was probably because my father wanted me to be in the best program possible when we moved from the San Diego area to Palos Verdes. As a 10 year old, I held five national records and swam at Coronado Navy under coach Mike Troy,” Wisdom said. “Lakewood was the perfect place for me when I was in my teens. I swam there from age 13 until I went to college at UCLA. I appreciate everything that Jim Montrella did for me as a coach. And probably most importantly, when I broke my neck at age 14 (I fell out of an avocado tree and fractured C2, C-3 and C-4, and I was very lucky I was not paralyzed), Jim treated me like every other swimmer at LAC. When you break your neck and you’re in a halo brace, etc., people tend to feel sorry for you. However, when I finally got back to swimming after a year being out of the pool, Jim did not treat me any differently than any other swimmer. It was a tough love message, but it was what I needed at the time.”

Atwood joined Lakewood Aquatic Club as a child and swam with Montrella through the 1972 Olympics where she won the silver medal in the 200 backstroke.

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Photo Courtesy: LAC

“My gratitude for LAC goes all the way back to when my mother decided to take our family  to the local YMCA for swim lessons when I was almost 7 years old. There was a teenage swim instructor teaching learn to swim lessons (Montrella) and contemplating starting a YMCA team. As fate would have it –he took everyone to make his quota. So I decided to join the team, as pathetic as I was.  That decision forever changed my life.  Little did I know that eight years later, that swim instructor,  navigated my path to my first Olympic games at the age of 15.  Simultaneously, Jim developed our YMCA team into the nationally prominent Lakewood Aquatic Club with multiple Olympians, and national champions. Who in life has that opportunity to embark on  this incredible  journey with your original swim instructor? Who in your life could get you to believe in yourself like Jim did? Who in your life could help you achieve goals beyond your wildest dreams like Jim did? Who taught us life’s most important lessons like Jim did?  I know that Jim impacted every single swimmer he ever coached —for whom we all will be forever grateful.”

She was thrilled to reunite with Montrella, former teammates and fellow swimmers.

“My immediate thought was—why didn’t I do a better job of staying in touch with so many truly wonderful simmers/ humans?  I  enjoyed getting to know Jackie Erlanson and Jim Wisdom  who took charge of our reunion and appreciated them including me in their hilarious banter this past year,” she said. The impact of a team in an individual sport like swimming cannot be overlooked. The reunion emphasized how many teammates stayed with the sport—some  more for the team spirit than personal achievement. That’s how a sport grows and thrives and how lifelong bonds are formed.”

It gave Atwood a fresh reminder of her life as a swimmer and what that meant to her, and still means.

“Beyond seeing long lost friends and teammates, I felt a huge sense of gratitude for being a part of Lakewood Aquatic Club — as it was much more than a swim team,” she said. “We were truly a family of friends – swimming our best life and learning to live our best life all under the tutelage — undoubtedly one that was irreplaceable.”

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Old Cal Bear
2 months ago

Fantastic article!! Coach was a legend along with his swimmers!!

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