Swimming for some is survival. For others, like Santa Rosa JC's Matt Stuhr, swimming is a transformation. When he dives into the pool to race, Stuhr is no longer one of those two-footed, land-loving mammals. His body goes through the water like a flat stone skipping along the surface, the only difference being this stone never stops skipping. A fact his opponents know all too well.
"Matt usually wins the race the minute he hits the water," said Jill McCormick, SRJC's swim and dive coach, agreeing that Stuhr wins many races just by his presence. "You don't strike fear into an opponent without exuding a high level of confidence. It's like Matt is telling everyone, &‘Catch me if you can.'"
That so few have — in so many events by the way — makes Stuhr, 20-year-old sophomore, the most remarkable male swimmer in school history. Of the 19 possible school swimming records, Stuhr has the fastest time in eight individual events and is a relay member on two other records. Owning outright or sharing 10 of 19 school records, that's a nice chunk of a compliment. But, at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial, Wait! There's more!
Stuhr is a 2011 national champion in three events, the 50 free, the 500 free and the 200 butterfly. In 2010 Stuhr was the national champion — defined as having the fastest time, not winning a race, per se — in the 100 butterfly. He's been an individual state champion four times. This last weekend at state, he successfully defended his 500 free title and won the 200 butterfly, part of a strong SRJC contingent in which both the men and women finished third in the state.
"Are you more comfortable in the water than out of it?" I asked.
"Probably," said Stuhr, a 2009 Maria Carrillo grad. "I feel super comfortable in the pool. It doesn't feel like work at all."
Stuhr is so comfortable he estimated he can go only three days ("at most") without being in the water.
"I start to feel lazy," said Stuhr, 6-foot-2, 155 pounds. When he goes to the beach, as he did recently in Maui, he doesn't stay on the beach "to get a tan." He swims in the Pacific. In a pinch, he'd do laps in a bathtub, I bet. That he loves swimming so much, and that he has to spend so much time in the pool — McCormick has her troops swimming 7,000 yards some days — Stuhr could blow off steam from such a commitment by acting like the stereotypical college kid.
"I have never taken a drink and I have never done drugs," Stuhr said. "Being myself is really important to me. There's a lot of pressure in college to be in social groups, to try to be someone else to please others. I have friends and I like a good time, but when I have been asked to go to parties in which there's a lot of drinking, I don't. I don't fall to peer pressure at all."
Stuhr is not on a campaign to change the world, doesn't pretend to be a goody-two-shoes. He just listens to his inner voice, what it tells him, including which song to sing. Stuhr sings songs to himself, especially on those 7,000-yard practice swims. The Beach Boys get a lot of air play, "Barbara Ann" in particular. Stuhr also sings out of water, pool side, loud enough so nearly everyone at the pool can hear.