We can’t be sure when exactly Dave Duveneck acquired the nickname “Super Dave”, but more than a few of his teammates have referred to him that way over his many years swimming with CalM–and with SCAM before that (and even before that with BAM). It’s a fitting moniker, not only for his–to put it modestly–above average athletic abilities and exploits, but for several other reasons we have learned, including that he is today, at age 71, a physical specimen that is a testament both to the miracles of modern medical science and the resilience of human physiology.
A second generation Californian descended from well-to-do Bostonians who emigrated from Massachusetts in the early part of the 20th century, Dave grew up on a ranch his grandparents had purchased in the Los Altos Hills in the early 1920’s and made the family’s homestead. There he roamed all of their 2,000 acres of the Adobe creek watershed and developed his passion for plants, trees and the outdoors. His grandparents named their estate Hidden Villa. It was a working ranch and farm, but Dave describes his grandparents as “gentleman farmers,” as well as visionaries with the means to begin making their visions a reality. They became Quakers, and strove to realize their ideal of a better world on their property. They had no fences or ‘no-trespassing’ signs around their land, leaving it open for the public to enjoy and recreate on as they pleased; in 1945 they opened the country’s first interracial summer camp for disadvantaged children at Hidden Villa–a camp Dave attended each summer of his childhood, and one which continues to serve kids to this day.
A stellar middle-distance runner in his youth, after graduating high school in 1965, Dave went on to enroll at the University of Oregon and walk on to the burgeoning track program there under legendary coach Bill Bowerman. “Everybody on that team started as a walk-on,” Dave says, “Bowerman didn’t believe in handing out scholarships the first semester, even if you had been a 4-minute miler in high school–he wanted to see if you could make it as a student first.” Dave soon realized he would not be a standout among the elite runners assembled at the U of O at that time. “I had been a big fish in a small pond,” he remembers, “at Oregon, I barely made the freshman cross-country team.”
While running on the track team for a year, Dave also got involved in the anti-Vietnam war protest movement–so heavily involved that after his sophomore year he transferred to UC Berkeley mainly because it was a center of the anti-war movement, and to join the Free Speech Movement that was consuming the campus at that time. Those activities also consumed all of David’s time, at the expense of his studies. “I wasn’t going to class,” he says, “and the draft was hanging over my head, so I applied for conscientious objector status.” This was not the easiest way to get out of being drafted, but Dave wasn’t looking for a way out of the draft, he was following a family tradition: his people were Quakers, and his father had served as a CO during WWII. “My draft Board was in Nevada City, and that’s cowboy country…I came in there with my bandana covering my long hair, and, boy, they didn’t like me; but my paperwork was so convincing that they realized I was ready to go to jail–I was not going off to kill people! So they just decided, ‘let’s get him out of our hair’, and granted me CO status.” CO status meant no more college at the time, so Dave became the youth director at Friends Outside, a San Jose organization that worked with prisoners families.
Dave wasn’t always completely comfortable in the pacifist and phas astoral ethos he was raised in. “[Pacifism] just wasn’t me–I didn’t want to, like, beat anybody up, but I wanted to experience stuff. It was a part of my personality that probably got me in a lot of trouble.” Berkeley youth culture in the late 60’s was immersed in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Experimentation in all of these was the experience Dave and most of his peers were indulging in, with the general approach that if something felt good, then more would feel better. “I used that probably in working out, too,” Dave says. “I was working out, and dissipating at the same time–pretty crazy.”
After completing his alternative service obligation, Dave did re-enroll at Cal, eventually earning a degree in Geography, and getting married and having a daughter along the way. After graduating, he took a job at Berkeley Horticulture where he wound up staying for three years, while, as he puts it, falling “in love with the trade.” He became a California Certified Nurseryman, and soon struck out on his own as a horticulturist and landscaper. As time rolled on, one daughter became four, one wife became three (in succession!), and Dave found himself one of six people living in a 900 square foot house in Albany. “I was living with five women–in a house with one bathroom,” he chuckles (now!).
Throughout, Dave kept running, training in the Berkeley hills for the celebrated and grueling Dipsea Race, a 7.2-mile road race that stretches from Mill Valley over Mt. Tamalpais to Stinson Beach. He competed in the race four times, once earning a 7th place overall. He also added martial arts to his athletic repertoire, taking up kenpo karate and kung fu and eventually competing and winning tournaments in those disciplines. Then, in his mid-thirties, after all this activity had taken a toll on his knees, Dave turned to swimming. He started with lap swimming at the nearby MLK Middle School pool, where he soon joined the Berkeley Aquatic Masters (BAM). When a few BAM friends switched to SCAM, Dave joined them. He discovered open water and Bay swimming, and before long was competing–and winning his age group–in some of those events.
At the beginning of his fifth decade, Dave–having just recently finished first in his age group in both the Alcatraz and Golden Gate swims–developed a cardiac arrhythmia that landed him in the emergency ward. He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a degenerative heart condition, and ventricular tachycardia that would cause his heartbeat to soar above 300 beats per minute without warning. That his first episode of this didn’t kill him can be attributed to his level of fitness: “At one point, I was doing training runs where I would sustain very high heart rates for up to an hour or more,” he says. A body less conditioned to that kind of stress would have given out then and there, but Dave survived and recovered. He was put on medications hthat lowered his heart rate, and implanted with a pacemaker that included an internal defibrillator to shock him back into sinus rhythm if his heart went into tachycardia. This turn of events understandably knocked him out of sports for a while. “That was taken away from me,” he says, “and I went through all the stages: denial, anger, et cetera.” Eventually, with the encouragement of a friend and fellow CalM swimmer, Dave got back in the pool, and even into competing. “For the longest time, I was still–most of the time–in what’s called normal sinus rhythm, so I had some pretty good swims,” he says, “but the last three or four years, I’ve been in persistent atrial fibrillation, and my capacity’s dropped, and won’t go back up.” Still, with the help of a pull buoy to reduce the effort of large muscle groups, he continues to do regular swim workouts. In a wetsuit that makes him “floaty” so he uses less energy, he even keeps up in an Alcatraz swim each year.
Early on there were times the internal defibrillator in his chest would shock his heart when it began to beat too fast–an experience Dave describes as a less than pleasant, and one that necessitated additional ambulance rides to the hospital. This hasn’t happened in several years, but his close brushes with death have definitely changed Dave’s outlook on life: for one thing, he’s eight years clean and sober, after a couple of earlier rehab attempts didn’t stick. Realizing that his drinking was threatening the marriage to his third wife, Marty, he reached out to a rehab program at Kaiser, and hasn’t looked back.
In a way, Dave has returned to–and reconciled himself with–the gentler, idealistic values and optimism that are the legacy of his grandparents. “This morning, Marty and I were talking about how grateful we are,” he says”…you know, it’s so easy to get down with the way things are with politics, and climate change and on and on, but on the other hand…we just started clicking off all these things in our lives that are good–that say that we have a great life, and it’s just good to raise that up and honor that.”
Dave has also returned to his roots in a more concrete way: fourteen years ago, he joined the governing board of Hidden Villa, which has grown into a non-profit organization that, in addition to the summer camps for dis-advantaged youngsters, now offers educational, cultural and technical programs for people of all ages year-round. “Around 55,000 people per year come through Hidden Villa for some kind of program,” he says, “adults, children…and there’s a huge crew of volunteers that are docents.” On the Board of Trustees, composed of 23 members possessing resources and expertise in various aspects of non-profit governance, Dave fulfills what he calls the “legacy” function: connecting the organization with its origins and history. He admits that initially, seeing the place he grew up having been turned into an institution took some getting used to: “It was tricky sailing at first, because you feel kind of possessive…but that dissipates really quickly when you see all the good these programs are doing.” As reflected in a recent Holiday update he sent out to friends and family, Dave has become a strong advocate for Hidden Villa as a place that offers opportunities for learning, volunteering and support. If you’d like to learn more, it’s well worth checking out their website: https://www.hiddenvilla.org
Sad to say, this profile comes just at a time when Dave is leaving the Bay Area and CalM. In 2018, he and Marty purchased a home in Monterey, and they have been making a slow transition to there from the Bay Area the past several months. Dave was still swimming workouts at Spieker pool four days of most weeks, while Marty was finishing her job leading a large non-profit organization in also San Francisco. Now that she has retired, they are living full-time in Monterey. However, Dave promises to keep in touch with his CalM teammates, who have become life-long friends–and to continue inviting them to his and Marty’s celebrated annual holiday wreath-making parties; as good a reason as any for a visit to Monterey!