Phlipper’s Aqua Journey

Phil Jonckheer’s journey in finance began when he was our Stanford GSB classmate in 1978. His subsequent investment advisory career track brought him to a Managing Directorship at Equius Partners, where he’s helped clients plan and manage portfolios for more than 25 years.

Those of you involved in Project Redwood already know of Phil’s intense involvement in our venture. He also serves on the boards of Alchemia (serving the developmentally disabled through the arts), No Bully (developing students’ social and emotional intelligence) and Grace’s Kids (providing nutritional, educational, and medical support to African children).

In addition to all that, Phil has pursued a calling that’s got him drenched in water—pools, lakes, bays, channels, and oceans! Here, “Phlipper” talks about his life-long love of swimming.


What got you interested in swimming?

I began my aqua journey as a child in the Philippines. It was a way to deal with the brutal tropical heat. Playing in pools also was fun. When I began racing at six, my mom would stand at the end of each race with an ice cream cone. That too was a way to deal with the tropics: nothing quite like an ice cream cone from mom after a race. I miss my mom standing at the end of my races with that treat and there isn’t one race I swim when I don’t think about her with that chocolate-covered coconut ambrosia.


How would you characterize your “career” as a swimmer? What have been the high and low points?

My career as a swimmer began as a consumer of those ice cream cones, evolved to competing at NCAA Division I National Championships, then at World Championships as a master swimmer (which just means you have to be old), and now sharing stories and breakfast with my teammates after every practice. So I’m back to fun and food.

The high points were:

  • Setting a national record in the Philippines as a high school senior;
  • Beating Yale (forgive me Ken Inadomi);
  • Having my son, Will, with me at the Master’s World Championships in Perth, Australia (Will at the end of the pool was all the nourishment I needed); and
  • Standing on the scale in my college’s swimming locker room last year after Project Redwood’s Perkins School for the Blind gathering and weighing in at exactly my weight as a senior in college. Without swimming no telling what that scale would have read. For the record, my waist is way wider and my shoulders significantly slimmer.


The low point in my career is the dread I feel at practice before jumping in that chilly water at 6:30 every morning.


How do you deal with the repetition of swimming? Is it comforting, or challenging?

The repetition of lap swimming now is a form of meditation. The regular cadence of breathing (sort of important in swimming) puts me in a type of trance. If I can find a rhythm (my greatest challenge which sometimes I meet by swimming to a song in my head), then the practice appreciates to another and more meaningful level of physical currency. What also is crucial to staying in that chilly water is swimming with lane mates of a similar level. We swim in circles and our competitive juices begin to work through our systems as we lead and/or try to keep up with leaders during practice.

The rests, however brief, between the sets/stages of the practice are now sweetly punctuated with cool fragrant breezes which invite me to another level of meditation. That’s a lovely dividend and one that I never could have appreciated 45 years ago when competing in college since those practices were held indoors and I had a completely different mindset about pushing myself beyond pain in each practice. I shudder thinking about that now.


How did you find your way to the Harvard swim team? What was most memorable about that experience?

Although I was not recruited by Harvard’s swimming coach, I somehow managed to make the team. Over the four years of double day workouts and long weekends spent sitting on wet pool decks to swim a few minutes, I was the delighted and fortunate recipient of two rich dividends: Beating Yale, and a flood tide of social currency, which included Fred Mitchell, my roommate for three years and friend for life.


Why have you continued to swim as an adult?  Have you ever stopped swimming and come back to it?

The only time I took off swimming was the year after college while traveling through Europe on a fellowship. What’s different about swimming now is that I’m less inclined to compete and more driven to commune. Socializing has broadened to include evenings on the San Francisco Bay with lane mates, watching all sorts of sports events with them, and getting silly on Friday nights at each other’s homes (practice starts late on Saturday (7:30 AM) so we can stay out till the wee hours of 11:00 Friday nights). So I’m back to fun and food.


What’s your practice routine?

I swim year-round in a local high school’s outdoor pool. It’s heated. Thank God. My yardage has dropped to an average of about 3,000 yards daily except Sundays when I head to the gym for tummy and shoulder strengthening. When I compete, which is rare, I dial up the yardage to about 4,000 yards daily. My master’s team has hired a coach so the practices are rigorous and disciplined and targeted to train those who swim the meets which are held throughout the year.


Is there anything you do away from the water (mental or physical) that facilitates your swimming?

When I competed more regularly, the sight of men 15 years older than I looking 15 years younger both inspired me and made me crazy. When I asked them how they keep their physique, they all spoke about their diets. That and those pesky blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose numbers that refuse to decrease led me to change my diet. I’ve taken that meditation sensation from the water to my home where I do mindfulness work each night. I also find that if I don’t visit the gym once a week, my body reminds me that I am very mortal and vulnerable to shoulder and back pains.


What is competing like for you now? 

I’m now less inclined to compete in chlorine, preferring fresh and salt water events like the Trans Tahoe (across the width of Lake Tahoe) and Maui Channel (between Lanai and Maui) relays. There’s a priceless camaraderie that develops in those multi-hour swims and a whole lot of dining after the events. So I’m back to fun and food.

When I was competing in chlorine, four achievements stand out in the last 15 years: the world record (based on our [old] age group) set by the coed relay of which I was a part, and placing in the top ten of my age group in all three of my speciality stroke events during the World Championships in Perth, Australia. The world record brought me closer to three exceptional swimmers.

That achievement did not come without its stress: the night before I dreamt that after I swam my leg in the middle of the relay, the two women who were meant to complete the race looked at my time and left the pool deck in disgust. Motivation has many faces! As I mentioned earlier, the Perth events were witnessed by my son, Will, with whom I toured the glorious Margaret River wine region the week before the championship. Apparently training rituals also have many different faces (much to my coach’s chagrin). Those two weeks with Will brought us to a divinely deeper understanding of our spirits, and Australia’s.


What are your pre-meet and pre-race routines?

My pre-meet and pre-race routines are to visit the boys’ room with extraordinary regularity. When on the starting block I close my eyes, imagine the starter’s finger on the beeper’s release, and listen fiercely for that electronic blast. There are no false starts allowed — it only takes one to disqualify the guilty swimmer. When in the water I think about the third quarter of the race and do all I can to keep my stroke from collapsing while swimming that leg.


What has swimming added to your life? How much longer will you continue to do it?

Reveling in the appreciation of my social currency and arresting the significant depreciation of my physical currency are the two most precious dividends of my swimming career.

When at the Perth World Championships I bumped into an elderly swimmer — one of those dudes that looked 15 younger than I and who turned out to be much older. I asked him how he was doing. He answered, “I suppose I’m doing all right.” I asked about his results. He replied, “Well, I’ve managed to win five golds.” I responded, “That’s great!” He corrected me with, “Well, not really: At 95 I have no one competing with me, so all I had to do was finish.” I hope to be swimming when I’m 95 knowing that even if I don’t snag a few gold medals, I’ll still have rich, priceless, precious, and golden friendships. And maybe a body registering low blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose counts.

  1. Richard DeMarler Reply

    Nice story and inspiring. Now that I know that there is so much food involved I will be out there sooner than you can say “Flipper”!

  2. Ken Inadomi Reply

    Phil, some timeless life lessons here, thank you for sharing – and congrats on channeling the power of swimming to turn back the clock. If someone had to beat Yale I’m glad it was you.

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