by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
On March 13, the Orca swim team held its annual swim meet at the Helene Madison pool in north Seattle. Almost 150 swimmers came out for the meet, which is rich in tradition, community, and the spirit of competition.
Participants ranged from 18 to approximately 70 years of age. "We had some swimmers from New York & one from the San Francisco Tsunami, the Gay swim team in San Francisco," Jason Stone, who serves on the board of directors for the Orca team, told SGN.
"This is our 26th year. We started in 1984 with a group of swimmers that were getting ready to go to the second Gay Games," said Stone. "So that makes us one of the oldest Gay teams around in Seattle - or anywhere."
Rick Peterson, who swam on the original team lineup, became the first president of the Gay Games. He still swims for the Orca team.
The Orca swim team held its first annual swim meet in 1985.
"At the time, there was a lot of anti-Gay backlash," said Stone. The Orcas were able to hold their meets, but because of the anti-Gay sentiment that existed in the sport at the time, were not able to get them sanctioned by the Pacific Northwest Association of Master Swimmers.
"In 1987, the Orcas worked to get sanctioning and our team ran into a lot of resistance," Stone told SGN. Cal Anderson, Washington's first openly Gay state legislator, intervened and got the Orcas sanctioned.
In their own way, the Orcas were pioneering a fight to push forward Gay rights in what was, at the time, an oppressive environment.
The 100-member swim team is still the only Gay swim team in the Pacific Northwest.
"Unlike Gay softball or soccer, we typically compete against straight teams. We're the only Gay team in the Northwest, aside from a team in Vancouver," Stone told SGN. "We have a good relationship with what are traditionally straight teams."
"We host what's called the Pink Flamingo Relay. It's one of the hallmarks of an Orca meet," said Stone. The event usually involves drag, and as the name suggests, it brings a hearty dose of Gay to a traditional swim event. "The straight teams really enjoy it," Stone told SGN.
"We have straight people on our team, we have Gay people on our team, what we do share is a love of swimming and a love of community," said Stone. "For us, it's just as much about building relationships as it is about the competition & which I think is true for most of the sports teams here in Seattle."
The Orcas will be sending seven athletes to the Gay Games this summer in Cologne, Germany. Currently, the Orcas are looking for women to participate in the mixed relay event at the Gay Games.
The Orcas are proud of their history and proud to be a part of the community. They are grateful for the support of the Lobby Bar and Mark Handel, who served as the meet director for this year's swim meet. "He did a phenomenal job of putting it all together. It was by sheer force of will that Mark put this all together," said Stone.
If you're interested in joining the Orcas or just want more information, check out www.orcaswimteam.org.
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