Phil Ireland is a former baseball player from Plimpton, New York who took a circuitous route to the competitive open water swimming world.

Ireland started swimming after an injury stalled his budding professional baseball career as a pitcher. In a freakish accident, Ireland tried to field a bunt as he can running towards the ball and crashed into his third baseman Hayden Finch. As the two smashed into one another, Ireland flipped onto Finch.

Ireland broke his throwing arm and thumb as Finch landed even more awkwardly and broke his femur. The teammates underwent rehabilitation, but their budding baseball careers were essentially over at the age of 20.

The friends, dejected after their contracts were not renewed, moved to California to start a new chapter in their life. They matriculated to Pomona College and moved into an old home with an Endless Pool built-in the backyard. When they read about its rehabilitative uses by adult swimmers, Ireland and Hayden Finch started to swim before and after classes. Both naturally oriented to obsessive behavior, it did not take long for them to start using their newly found Endless Pool day and night.

While they never regained their touch on the baseball diamond, they both found the water to be solution to their immediate situation as students with an overabundance of energy.

Hayden Finch loved learning about the mechanics of swimming efficiently and eventually became a USA Swimming, U.S. Masters Swimming and FINA swimming official while Ireland literally put his head down and unearthed a new obsession and talent.

Ireland, a gifted cross country runner in his youth, had run a national best of 4:16 in the mile as a junior high school runner before focusing on baseball. But his natural aerobic capabilities blossomed in the water with the Endless Pool in his backyard and a fortuitous meeting. In their last semester at Pomona College, they met Dr. Penny Dean, then the English Channel and Catalina Channel record holder in a requisite physical education course. Impressed with her stories of training and swimming across channels and inspired by her life as a professional marathon swimmer, Ireland’s career soon took off on another athlete tangent.

With increasing intensity, occasionally described as an obsession by his rivals in the sport, Ireland started to compete in open water swims throughout his adopted California beginning with the La Jolla Rough Water Swim. To date, he has competed in over 350 different events in California, Hawaii, Bermuda, Fiji, Oregon, Ohio, Florida, Australia, Illinois, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maryland, Texas, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, St. Croix, Mexico, Cayman Islands, and Turks & Caicos.

As he ages and “ages up” in different masters swimming divisions, his success continues to grow. Besides winning the famous Boston Light Swim, he also won the 10km Coronado Island Swim and the 10km Castaic Lake Marathon Swim over one weekend in 2012.

Originally, I just wanted to rehabilitate with my teammate and friend Hayden Finch. We were feeling sorry for ourselves and needed something to give us a spark. We needed something to channel our energies and focus. In our last year at Pomona, luck was on our side. Not only did we meet Penny Dean, but we also moved into this great old home that had a built-in Endless Pool in it. We were going to just let it sit there, but then we read an article about rehabilitation in the water. We just turned on the jets and off we went.

We could turn the temperature on warm during the winter and let the pool cool during the summer. Swimming always seemed so natural to me, although I had not done any real swimming since I was a kid. But people always told me that I had a great stroke. Anyway, swimming in our newly found Endless Pool was the perfect solution for my energies.

It helped me regain my aerobic capabilities, increased my flexibility and I never thought again about my baseball career and what I could have been. I refocused and thought about what I could become.”

Phil Ireland is a former baseball player from Plimpton, New York who took a circuitous route to the competitive open water swimming world.

Photo shows Phil Ireland swimming in Fort Lauderdale with official Hayden Finch looking on.

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source