By Rick LeBeau
The year after Columbus landed on the shores of what came to be known as America, fellow countryman and explorer Juan Ponce De Leon was following tips from natives of Cuba, Puerto Rico and southern Florida, in search of the Fountain of Youth.
Apparently, he was simply searching on the wrong coast. More than half a millennium later, the Fountain of Youth may have been discovered. As it turns out, it’s at the corner of Fay & Nautilus Streets on the La Jolla High campus and goes by the name Coggan Family Aquatic Complex.
Built almost a decade ago, the pool has been home to many high profile athletic events, including national and world class water polo tournaments, CIF championship meets in swimming and water polo, and year-round workouts for numerous high school and club aquatic teams. The pool has become a draw for college and club teams from as far away as Canada and the East Coast of the U.S. Two snow-bound college teams are even calling the pool home this week, as they escape the freezing winters of Colorado and Pennsylvania to train in paradise and shed a few layers of clothing for a week.
A daily fix
Don’t be surprised, though, if researchers discover what many local La Jollans have known for years — whether it’s the water, the air, or just the activities and camaraderie itself, a daily dip at Coggan is one of the best ways to keep in shape and enjoy the longevity that most people only read about or see on TV.
You won’t find much down time in Joan Henderson Brown’s schedule. She arrives at the pool daily with a smile on her face and true affection for everyone she runs into. Like most of her fellow future centagenarians, she sets aside a few minutes to chat with lifeguards Courtney Camin and Joey Cavallo, who warmly greet each regular patron by first name. One gets the sense that the momentary stop at the lifeguard tower on the way to and from your swim is as indispensable as the time in the water itself.
Revving up for the day
In her white cap, matching goggles and blue suit, Joan looks literally 20 years younger than her chronological age, which this journalist was sworn to keep a secret. It’s no wonder Joan is still active in real estate and nonprofit activities. After spending two hours in the pool, she’s got to do something with all that energy she gets from swimming.
Greeting Joan with a hug several times a week is the matriarch of the swimmers at Coggan, Virginia Flagg. At 84, she’s more active than almost anyone you’ll meet. With no need for a car, she walks three to five times a week from her residence near La Jolla Cove, a mile from the pool. Once she’s in the water, she’s all business, which you’d expect from the woman who has won the La Jolla Rough Water Swim in her age group more times than she can remember. She no longer has any competition, she says, but still does the swim with her sons and their wives.
After being regaled with so many stories from people who’ve led such colorful lives, it’s hard to choose a favorite. One of the most memorable, though, had to be the discovery that Jim Boily, a wiry and wily 79 years young, was teaching Garrison Keillor how to ride a horse six decades ago at a camp in Minnesota. For him, the fountain of youth is the hot tub he can soak in after his daily run or tennis match. (Keillor is known to most people as the voice of Prairie Home Companion on NPR.)
Older role model
The most senior, and perhaps most regular patron, at the pool is Bill Watts. At 94, he isn’t as fast on land as he once was, but he’s still non-stop for a half hour or more each day in the pool. Mixing up backstroke and freestyle the way he weaves together his stories about life before World War II, Bill is a looked up to as a great role model, for obvious reasons. After all, who wouldn’t want to be independent, still driving, still swimming daily, and making new — and sometimes old — friends well into your 10th decade of a long, happy life? Don’t be surprised if Bill celebrates his 100th birthday in 2016 at the pool.
If you spend enough time at Coggan, the inescapable conclusion is that you will get to keep coming back for a long time. Just ask Bill, Joan, Virginia, or any of the other dozen or so happy swimmers enjoying life well after retirement age. But you’ll have to ask them when they’re on the deck- you won’t catch them hanging onto the wall. They’ll probably tell you they relish life out of the water as much as they do in it … or vice versa.
• One of the few, if not only standalone, unsubsidized public pools in the county.
• Opened in Sept. 2002
• Offers daily, 10-swim, monthly and annual rates ($5 a day or $360 a year for anyone 65 or older)
• Offers lessons for all ages, water polo and swimming teams, masters swimming, summer camps•