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Death of young swim coach inspires friends to chase world records

Tim Carls(left) Dave KinsellDavid Sims Vince Allegrpose pool College DuPage last month. Bryan “Beanie” Bateman is shown right. | Rich

Tim Carlson (left), Dave Kinsella, David Sims and Vince Allegra pose in the pool at College of DuPage last month. Bryan “Beanie” Bateman is shown at right. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 30, 2011 12:16AM

Vince Allegra and Dave Kinsella watched folks wait in a line that stretched the length of the funeral parlor and out the door to pay their last respects to Bryan “Beanie” Bateman — Kinsella’s cousin and Allegra’s best pal, who was really more like a brother to both of them.

Bateman — the beloved Hinsdale Hornets Swim Club coach — had died in a single-car crash on his way home after practice on Dec. 7, 2009. He had a seizure while driving, lost control and his car struck a tree. Bateman was just 32.

At the wake, folks gathered around a small TV to watch video clips of Bateman — a former high school state swim champ and two-time junior college national backstroke champion — furiously cutting through the water.

One of Bateman’s swim kids, a 9-year-old girl standing with her mother, sobbed near her coach’s body.

“Thousands of people who were touched by Beanie’s life were there. I’ll never forget,” Kinsella said. “It was heartbreaking.”

That night, Allegra remembered the best times he spent with Bateman back at Hinsdale Central High, where they double-dated to school dances and both won state swimming championships. Kinsella floated in his own chlorine-soaked memories of his cousin — his best friend from “when he was born until he died.” As boys they had raced at Westmont Swim Club and throughout high school.

Watching the video churned up something powerful inside both of them. Something they realized had been missing from their own lives for too long — that overwhelming desire to compete. In that moment, Allegra and Kinsella — a couple of 30-something, rather out-of-shape suburban dads — made a decision to get back in the pool.

Soon, they would set off on a journey to reclaim a little glory for Beanie’s sake.

To do it, though, they had to turn to an arch-rival — a swimmer who had stolen some of their past glory.

‘Quit your whining’

The morning of his first training session, Allegra could hardly get out of bed.

His young kids kept him up late the night before and the alarm clock buzzer sounded too quickly — 5:15 a.m.

“My first vision was of Beanie saying, ‘Get up and quit your whining,’ ” Allegra said. “He was always in the back of my mind. It’s easy to have excuses to slack off. I thought of Beanie and it kept me on track.”

When Allegra, a 33-year-old senior vice president at Mesirow Financial, hit the pool that first time, he was about 30 pounds overweight. After just a half-hour in the pool his legs hurt, his arms hurt, he couldn’t catch his breath. He was ready to quit.

In those moments of weakness, thoughts of his pal kept Allegra kicking. Racing the clock. Building up stamina.

“It took three or four months before I felt remotely human in the pool,” Allegra said. “I had no lung capacity, but I still had speed. If I turned it on, I could get racing.”

Kinsella, 33, who works as an accountant, trained separately but just as hard. He and Allegra, both fathers of young children, trusted each other to really go after it and not let their busy lives get in the way.

“To be a good swimmer takes a personality to be dedicated, willing to work hard and put a lot of time and effort to complete your goals,” Kinsella said. “These people who stick it out have common personality traits. Swimming draws people in who have those traits. Vince, Beanie and me, I guess, are those kind of guys.”

They had their eyes set on breaking a national U.S. Masters Swimming record for athletes 25 years and older in the 400- and 800-yard relays.

They needed two guys with speed to put a team together. If they really wanted to win, Kinsella knew who to call — local hero, former Olympian David Sims and Allegra’s biggest high school rival, Tim Carlson, a former NCAA All-American.

Allegra remembers Carlson like Cubs fans remember Steve Bartman. As a sophomore at Naperville North High School in 1996, Carlson spoiled Allegra’s and Bateman’s last shot to win their school, Hinsdale Central, a team state championship.

“Tim Carlson was the enemy,” Allegra said. “I know it’s been 15 years, but I was still pissed about 1996.”

But Carlson, now a 31-year-old Masters Swimming champ, was fast and they needed him.

Letting go of that high school grudge wasn’t easy, but Allegra got over it.

Their team was set.

Talk is cheap

Kinsella and Allegra didn’t tell their new-found teammates that they wanted to set records in their pal Beanie’s memory.

“It wasn’t a big secret or anything, but I didn’t want to put any undue pressure on Tim or Dave,” Kinsella said. “Plus, when we first got the relay together I didn’t know them that well, and it just never really came up.”

Besides, Kinsella and Allegra had selfish reasons for racing again, too.

This very focused hunt to break records was an attempt to recapture, if only for a few moments, the faded glory of their youth — times when Bateman was still with them.

“It’s been a while since I felt that . . . winning feeling. This became very personal for me wanting to prove myself to me,” Allegra said. “Because now, I’m in a mid-life crisis. I’ve got little kids and responsibility . . . but I can turn it on if I need to.”

That kind of talk is as cheap as a mouthful of pool water.

The first time all four swimmers got together — quality days, they called those practices — Sims didn’t think much of their chances.

They just weren’t fast enough. They weren’t strong enough. And they probably didn’t have the stamina to pull it off.

Allegra couldn’t even finish that first pool session. He wanted to quit, again.

But in the back of his mind — and in the photo on his refrigerator at home — was an image of Beanie that renewed his resolve.

Maximum propulsion

The key to swimming fast is to obtain and maintain “maximum propulsion.”

“Water is a soft surface and you don’t have anything to push against. You have to use every little bit of leverage your body can provide,” said Sims, who qualified for the 1980 Olympic team and received the Congressional Gold Medal for participating in the U.S. boycott of those games. “You can’t go fast without your total body being in shape. You have to be efficient. If you turn over too fast or kick too much, it’s counterproductive. It’s about kicking. You need strong legs, good flexibility and a strong upper back.”

This is especially important for three 30-somethings and Sims, who is 48, trying to break two national records most people expect to be set by guys in their mid-20s.

“Preparing to swim that fast when you’re 48 is pretty hard. You don’t have the strength you have in your early 30s, so it’s a lot harder to stay in shape,” Sims said. “I trained with a lot of intensity.”

He did most of his workouts at the College of DuPage pool — the last place Bateman swam competitively.

Kinsella was a coach at COD in 2000 when Bateman joined the college team.

Bateman had his first seizure during a rather tough workout in the pool.

He sank to the bottom and teammates thought Bateman, often a prankster, was pulling a fast one. Then, he didn’t come up. A teammate brought him to the surface and Kinsella pulled him on to the deck. Bateman’s heart was beating but he wasn’t breathing.

“It was terrifying. He was blue,” Kinsella said. “The worst experience I’ve ever had. My best friend and cousin looked like he was going to die right in from of me.”

The head coach revived Bateman using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Bateman recovered, but never swam competitively again. He lived nine more years. He had worked for the family’s metal finishing company until finding his niche as a youth swim coach.

“He used to tell me that he got more of a thrill seeing kids that he coached perform well than he did as a swimmer,” said his father, Bryan Bateman Sr.

On your mark

About 16 months after Beanie Bateman’s death, and after more than a year of training — perfecting exchanges, flip turns and pushing to beat the clock — it was time for Allegra and Kinsella to take a shot at a record.

Only a few people were left in the stands at the Vernon Hills High School pool on April 8 when Kinsella climbed up on the starting block for the 800-yard relay to attempt to break the longest-standing record in Masters Swimming — a record time of just over 7 minutes set in 1994.

“On your mark,” an electronic voice echoed.

Kinsella grabbed the end of the board.

At the starting gun — a doorbell buzz — he lunged forward into the pool. He kicked with purpose and power — as quick as a drum roll.

“I took it out too fast, way too fast. Kinda died at the end,” Kinsella said.

But he got the time he needed — just over 1 minute and 45 seconds — to keep them in the hunt.

As Kinsella’s fingernail touched the wall, Carlson’s toes left the starting block — the kind of exchange that saves a relay team a precious half-second.

Carlson, the youngest guy on the relay team — Bateman and Allegra’s high school rival — turned in the best time, just over 1 minute and 43 seconds.

The few people there clapped and cheered as Allegra entered the water and powered his way through four lengths — 200 yards — in just over 1 minute and 44 seconds.

It was up to Sims — their anchorman and the local swimming hero who didn’t qualify for the Olympic team again after the 1980 boycott.

When the 48-year-old touched the wall in record-breaking time for the entire relay, 6:59:13, Allegra lifted his arms skyward. He hugged Kinsella.

“We had no business swimming that relay that fast,” Allegra said later. “I think we had a little help from someplace else.”

“It was like we had a fifth member out there,” Kinsella said. “That was pretty cool.”

Friendship after death

They weren’t done, yet. Two days later on April 10, the guys set out to take down the 400-yard relay record. It’s a sprint — the kind of race dominated by younger, stronger men.

Both Allegra, who didn’t swim well in an individual race the day before, and Kinsella, who suffered through a bout of diarrhea, didn’t really feel up to it.

“If someone would have said, ‘Hey, it’s a nice day out. Let’s go have a beer,’ I would have said, ‘OK,’ ” said Allegra. “I called my wife. She said, ‘Remember why you’re doing this. Get out there and leave it in the pool.’ I thought about Beanie.”

Word had spread among local swimmers that the guys were going for another record and 200 swim fans filled the gym.

As Kinsella climbed onto the starting block, this time someone started a slow clap that increased in intensity as the guys sped through the water.

“That’s when the adrenaline really kicked in,” Allegra said.

In the end, Sims touched the wall at 3:06.31 to break the national record by more than a full second.

Exhausted, Sims had his teammates lift him from the pool in celebration.

Allegra was overwhelmed.

“I couldn’t help but feel, and I’m not a spiritual person, that there was help. The way it all came together. I swam above what I was worthy of swimming,” he said. “You just got to get up every time and do it. You don’t know what you’re capable of . . . sometimes you’ll surprise yourself.”

A few days after the win, Allegra and Kinsella let Sims and Carlson in on the Beanie Bateman backstory that helped them bring a happy end to their journey to capture a few records for their late pal.

“I was glad I could contribute to something these guys wanted to accomplish,” Carlson said. “For me I knew Bryan Bateman a little bit from competing against him. It made this experience after the fact even more special.”

Bryan Bateman Sr. says his son’s friends and what they accomplished in the pool touched him.

“I’d like to believe as Bryan’s father that little extra thought of him kept their mind off the pain of what they’re doing,” he said. “I hope it made it not a question of, ‘Is this something I can do?’ But a matter of, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ It made me very proud. . . . To see their friendship continue after death is very heartwarming.”

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