Kansas City Strip

Stroke it: Roeland Park native and Olympic gold medalist Catherine Fox failed to qualify for the Olympics, but Kansas City still has hope for swimming glory.

This summer, in fact, a team of local swimmers returned triumphant from an international meet with a first-place trophy — having beaten, among others, squads from Paris, Toronto, and Chicago. Where’s the parade? The TV cameras at the airport? The D-1 story in The Kansas City Star?

“We sent a press release to The Star but they didn’t run it,” says Benno Landfair, coach and founder of the KC Wave, a group of competitive swimmers affiliated with both the United States Master’s Swimming organization and International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics. “Out of 27 teams, we got first place,” Landfair says of the international meet in New York in June.

The team plans to do it again this weekend — but not in Sydney, Australia. Landfair says 25 swimmers from Kansas City are headed for a Labor Day meet in Columbus, Ohio.

Landfair moved to Kansas City two years ago. In Columbus, he had been a member of the Ohio Splash, a swim team consisting mainly of gay men and lesbians. When he discovered that Kansas City didn’t have a similar team, he created one. Moving from zero to international triumph in 24 months — that’s quite a flip-turn.

“KC Wave is as fun as high school swimming without all the towel-snapping in the locker room,” says team member Derek McCracken, a triathlete. He says he got bored training alone and decided to give team training a try.

“I used to wonder what ‘gay pride’ meant,” he says. “Then I swam my first race as a member of KC Wave: the 400-meter individual medley. When I surfaced from my dive, I immediately heard my teammates cheering me on, right up until the finish. Gay? 24-7. Proud? Absolutely.”

Landfair attributes the team’s success to its diversity.

“We do well because we’re a mixed team,” he says. “Most teams do not recruit women. Our women are our strength; we understand the importance of women. And we have two straight people going with us to the meet in Columbus.”

KC Wave has 40 members, about 25 of them truly active. The team holds one structured practice a week at a Johnson County pool whose staff, Landfair says, “has been completely wonderful” (team members are expected to get more laps in on their own).

“What makes the team click is our willingness to train, raise funds, travel, compete, lose, win, and celebrate together,” McCracken says — and team members have been spotted whooping it up at such watering holes as The Fox in Overland Park and Sidekicks on Broadway, where a fundraiser in early August (complete with an Esther Williams-emulating drag queen) helped defray the cost of the Columbus meet.

Would the group take a dejected Fox into its fold? “Of course,” Landfair says. “We welcome all Master’s swimmers. Send us an e-mail at kcigla@aol.com.”

Categories: News