Thursday, October 10, 2002

'I made it!'


Hawaii, by way of chlorine

map
Steam sends rivulets of sweat down the windows as Jay Osterman propels himself toward Pearl Harbor.

Sixty laps to go. Fifty. Now 40. He can see the shoreline in the distance. And then, finally.

“I made it!” Mr. Osterman says, emerging victoriously from the indoor pool at Four Seasons Country Club in Crestview Hills.

It is 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, and Mr. Osterman has just completed a 14-year odyssey: to swim the distance from Cincinnati to Pearl Harbor, one 25-yard lap at a time.

People shake his hand. His daughter, who came along this morning to swim and share the moment, beams.

“Four thousand, four hundred and thirty-seven miles,” Mr. Osterman says. “I'm going home to sleep.”

Crunching numbers

He will be 83 next month, and since June 1988, he has swum laps nearly every day. Even on trips away from Northern Kentucky, he tries to find pools where he can keep up the pace.

He knows swimming is good for him, but that's not why he does it. His ritual is all about the pleasure of writing it down.

In this sense, Jay Osterman is among the last of a breed. A retired savings-and-loan executive, he thrived in the era before computers, when numbers were crunched and records kept by hand.

When prompted, he will fondly recall the joys of manual bookkeeping — such as the two weeks he spent successfully tracking down a $10 error in the internal accounts of an $8 million company.

That was more than 30 years ago.

Today, Mr. Osterman still balances his checkbook to the penny and keeps meticulous notes of every repair to his car. He never did make the transition from typewriter to computer.

“My wife says I'll never get out of the thirties,” he says with a smile.

St. Louis first

About 12 years ago, Mr. Osterman started converting his laps to miles. One mile is equal to 70 and three-fifths laps, he says, and he usually swims for a mile and a half a day.

Each morning, he records his distance in a calendar, then transfers the numbers to a logbook at the end of every month.

First he swam 350 miles to St. Louis, where one of his sons lives.

“Then I thought, "Well, I'll go on to Denver,' ” he says, to “visit” another son.

Cincinnati to Denver took about eight years. From there it was on to San Francisco.

“We didn't know what he was going to do when he got there — if he was going to do a flip turn and come back,” says Lisa Engelhardt, the daughter who accompanied him to Four Seasons on Tuesday.

But Mr. Osterman didn't feel like turning around, so he set his sights for Pearl Harbor, where he had served in the Navy during World War II.

After Tuesday's milestone, Ms. Engelhardt urged her father to head for Tokyo next. At his current pace, he would get there in his 90s.

Mr. Osterman would make no promises. All he knows, he says, is that he'll be back in the pool tomorrow.

E-mail kgutierrez@enquirer.com or 859-578-5584.



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