The Legendary 2-Man 400 Free Relay

By Coach Joe Auer aka SwimmerJoe

The Legendary 2-Man 400 Free Relay

In USA Swimming there are rules and regulations…everything is by the book, right?

Not so fast.

The Big Meet

The night was the finals of the Senior Region Meet (the old Junior Olympics for Seniors) at the old Sharidan Aquatic Club in Longwood, Florida. This was a very crowded warehouse enclosing a very fast 50-meter pool! There was no deck space to speak of; people were on top of people. So, when we started to line up for relays…we could only find two of the four swimmers!

Two of our fellow swimmers maybe had to leave early. (Or perhaps they never really showed up…I can’t remember, I’m old you know!) Anyway, the time was getting close to the end of the meet and you know what was coming… Relays!

Our Relay Tradition

What you may not realize is the Blue Dolfins always loved relays, because we held numerous National Records in them. We always seemed to do our personal best times on relays, and we always beat the competition by nearly a pool length. (No, I am not exaggerating!)

Blue Dolfins Craig Harris, Brian Weightman, Charlie Rose, & Joe Auer. The four owned 7 USA Swimming Age-Group National Relay Records by they time they were 11-12 year olds!

So as the end of this meet was drawing near and relay time was at hand, we looked around the pool deck and only my teammate Brian Donahue and I were standing there ready to swim.  

We were trying to figure out how we were going to get two more swimmers to join our relay. (There was no way we were going to scratch because we really wanted the points for our team. We were definitely doing the 400 Free Relay—that relay was one of our best!)

We looked around the 50-meter warehouse and could not find anybody to swim with us. Then we saw one of the best sights we could ever see…Eddie Rose. He's Charlie Rose’s father. (Yes, Coach Charlie Rose, the current head coach of the Blue Dolfins in Oviedo.) Back then, his dad was officiating lanes 6, 7 & 8 at the starting end.

Best Laid Plans

Brian and I looked at each other with excitement and came up with what seemed at the time like the most awesome idea: A two-man relay!

What? Not legal?! Well, we did it anyway.

I know, you guys think I am an angel. Well, I don’t think of it as breaking the rules, rather think of me as taking the initiative to get the job done!

To prepare, we needed to throw the officials off guard a little, so we got a couple suits, a couple different caps and laughed like crazy! To think we were actually going to try this at a championship meet!

On Your Mark...

So, the individual events were over; the relays were ready to start. Brian and I were all ready, extra caps and suits behind the bleachers, hidden close by. Only a couple of our friends knew our plan and in between their fits of laughter, they were anxious to see if we could pull it off.

Charlie’s dad, Eddie, officiating right next to our block, said, “Hey JooAaauuueer!” as I stepped up on the blocks. He had absolutely no idea…yet! I was swimming the first leg and took off the blocks like a wild man, going as hard as I could, wide open. We wanted to win! However, in hindsight, I should have been thinking about the fact that I had to get back on the block in less than 50 seconds to do it all again, after adding another cap and adding a suit….oops! I better hurry up and crawl out of the pool to get changing!

Brian took off the same way, swimming as hard as he could. We must have thought that getting our pulse up well over 200 and then doing it again 50 seconds later wasn’t a real big deal at the time.

So, I quickly ran around the bleachers, laughing while I slid on an additional suit and cap.

I must admit, I had trouble focusing and doing anything right the first go around, as I was in extreme oxygen debt, and Brian was turning on the 3rd wall.

Oh geez, I had to get up on the blocks and I was still behind the bleachers! So, I ran to the blocks, yes, absolutely completely out of air, still laughing but not taking any oxygen in. I get up and Mr. Rose looks at me and does a double-take. He had golf ball sized eyes that showed his surprise. But would he rat me out? Disqualify us? Here was the moment of truth!

Eddie paused a moment considering, and then put his hand on the side of his face to block out the sight of me. From that point, on I knew we were good.

Finishing the Race

I entered the water, still laughing—we were in probably 3rd at the time after the first two legs. My air was going out and not in. I was going as hard as I could but had no oxygen. How long did that last? I don’t know, probably 20 feet!

We went from 3rd to 6th—FAST!

You can imagine the massive pain and the size of the African elephant sitting on my chest…but somehow I was still laughing. In the meantime Brian is doing his thing behind the bleachers, adding a cap and suit. I am sure he saw me just falling off pace and into pieces as I floundered my way through the third leg of the relay.

So, I finally touch the wall, and Brian takes off. Same thing; we fall immediately to last place. Brian was laughing, choking on water, and going through the same pain that I did.

Meanwhile I couldn’t get out of the pool very easy either. The Sharidon pool had an extra 1’ ½” coping from the water that felt like I was hanging on a cliff! Oh man it hurt! But, to this day the image of Mr. Rose laughing lives in my mind and brings me a big smile.

As Brian, my partner in this swimming crime, finished the relay, he didn’t look good either. “We scored,” I wheezed out at him triumphantly.

“Yes!” he coughed.

So, who says you always have to play by the book? Who says meets aren’t fun? To this day, the 2-man 400 Free Relay, was probably the only 2-man relay that has ever scored in a championship meet.

True story!