Sometimes we can live on a particular street for years and sometimes never get to know all of the people who live there. Some of our neighbors have amazing tales to tell.
With two Masters degrees and having worked for Contra Costa County Office of Education as a School Psychologist for twenty-four years, most people would consider that a life’s work.
But Suzanne Heim-Bowen’s passion for helping others focused on children who were medically fragile, had severe behavior disorders, were intellectually delayed and some with autism. She went even further and spent her final seven years with the county at the Mt. McKinley School located at Juvenile Hall which itself is an amazing feat and achievement. She speaks about her experiences with passion, and it is clear these were special meaningful times for her.
But this amazing lady from Walnut Creek has another passion. She is the holder of 35 Masters World Swimming records. She won medals in the USA, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Bermuda, and England. With a swim record that covers multiple pages of her massive resume, it is difficult to single out some of her incredible achievements.
In her own words, “I was introduced to the water as a baby with the Mommy & Me classes at the local YMCA in Marin and as a youngster competed in AAU competitions. At age 14, I quit swimming to play boy’s water polo at San Rafael High School, and run cross country. I later helped start the Women’s Swim Team at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Fearful of the ocean due to a near drowning accident at age 5, I never stepped foot into the ocean again until age 18. At 19 I joined the San Francisco Dolphin Clubs and competed in 25K open water swims as part of the USA National Team.”
She began her long-distance swimming career in the late 1970s and in the 1980s pioneered many swims trying to understand what was swimmable with the notorious tides/currents of San Francisco Bay.
Suzanne was voted USA Long Distance National Swimmer of the Year and Team Captain in 1988 and represented the United States in the 1988 FINA World Cup in Lake Geneva where she won a Silver Medal (First Amateur) and the USA Team won a Gold Medal.
She swam the English Channel three times and has set numerous Open Water speed world records including a three-way, six-person relay, England-France-England-France that set the world record in 1986 at 32 hours and 54 minutes. She has swam around Angel Island, Alcatraz to San Quentin, Lake Tahoe (21.3 miles), Catalina Island to the mainland (20 miles), Manhattan Island (28.5 miles) and so much more. Her induction into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in 2007 reads:
“Many swimmers spend their youth focusing on pool swims and later turn to open water swims. It was the opposite for Suzanne Heim-Bowen.
“At 19, she teamed up with the San Francisco Dolphin Club competing in open water swims around the world. Some of these swims include three crossings of the English Channel, Lake Geneva, 17 swims in San Francisco Bay waters —many of her records have yet to be broken. In Masters open water events she has 29 age group first place finishes.
“Suzanne jokes that the 50 free is her favorite event. Returning to the pool, she has accumulated over 23 Masters World Records in freestyle events ranging from 100m to 1500m.”
At age 50, Suzanne was asked if she would like to swim distance events for Diablo Valley College. Since she still had her college eligibility she agreed and enrolled as a freshman where she outpaced most of her teammates 30 years younger who affectionately called her the Great Granny. She placed third in the State for Junior Colleges in the 1650-yard freestyle. In 2010 she was featured in a documentary which won several awards.
In 2021, she set the record at age 61 for the 33km DC Marathon Swim (20.5 miles) in the Potomac and remains one of the fastest swimmers from the Fastnet Rock in the southwest of Ireland to the mainland (13 miles), and held the overall speed record at age 61.
Suzanne continues to regularly place in the top five females in races from 1.5k to 25k competing at the International, National, and Amateur levels in open water swimming– pioneering swims, setting course records as well as completing traditional marathon swims. In January, she set the National record for 1500m short course for women age 65-69.
Take a walk to the Concord Pool on any Thursday, early in the morning and you might get to talk to this amazing lady where she continues to encourage and support up and coming swimmers with the Terrapin Swim Team. She also proudly serves as a lifeguard at the Concord Community Pool. She’s your neighbor and lives down the road.
Michael Barrington is a local humanitarian and author: his memoirs, “The Bishop Wears no Drawers”, a historical fiction navel, “Let the Peacock Sing”and romance novel, “Becoming Anya”. www.mbwriter.net.