If you don’t know long-time CALM stalwart, Jim Lunt, you’re probably not a mid-day or Saturday morning swimmer. If you are, you have, at the very least, heard Jim–let’s say he has a voice that carries, plus a distinctive and frequently deployed laugh. Jim may be found most weekdays in the 1:20 lane of the “country club” workout at Spieker. He’ll be the first to tell you he isn’t really a 1:20 swimmer–but give him a pull buoy, and he easily propels his narrow 6′ foot plus frame at that pace. Not a fan of IM or non-free strokes, Jim does grudgingly perform the occasional backstroke (while abusing the lane lines).
Jim got started with swimming early, growing up in Philadelphia, and spending every summer on an island off the coast of Maine (more on this later). Unlike many of us Masters who got into organized swimming only as adults, he participated on his high school swim team, albeit at a “really small” school that didn’t offer a lot of sports. Still, Jim says, “my life has really been sort of water-focused: I swim, I love to sail, and my professional life revolves around containing water.”
You see, Jim is a plumber by trade. Until (allegedly) retiring last year, he was a partner and co-owner of the plumbing contracters, Lunt-Marymor–but he arrived at his profession in an unusual way. Taking a class in Genetics near the end of his college years at Cornell University (yes, that’s an ivy league school–not known for turning out a lot of plumbers), he had an epiphany inspired by a room-mate who dropped his study of Astro-Physics to go work in his father’s plumbing business. “The appeal was doing something that had some tangible association with everyday life,” Jim says, noting that even before then, “most of my activity [in college] was not in the classroom.” He persisted long enough to graduate, however, and even applied to graduate programs in Veterinary Medicine and a Masters program in Biology. He was admitted to the latter, but found by then he was “burned out” on academics. At the suggestion of a fellow boating enthusiast–and plumber–he had met while “chasing a girl” out west, he ditched grad school and transplanted to Berkeley. The new partners paid the rent with their plumbing business by day, and in their spare time worked on a shared dream project of building a ferrous-cement boat to sail around the world. (There is insufficient time and space here to explain what a ferrous-cement boat is and how on earth you sail one–you’ll have to go to Jim directly on that).
The boat project–and the plumbing partnership–eventually foundered, due to a combination of the boat building taking a back seat to other pursuits more typical of young single males, and the inevitable conflict of two similarly strong personalities. Jim struck out on his own, and soon found himself living across the street from the MLK Middle School pool in north Berkeley with Jeanne, the woman who would soon become his spouse. The MLK pool was the home of the Berkeley Aquatic Masters (BAM), and Jim soon joined the team, finding the regular evening workouts to be the perfect antidote for the stresses of running a business and “…all the awkward things you were doing with your body in plumbing.” At some point in the mid ’90’s, King Pool developed some problems, and Jim, along with other BAM members–notably his current lane-mate Scott Adams–migrated to the team then known as SCAM, and, well, here we are.
You could say the rest is history…except that Jim’s water-focused life has a whole other side, back on the coast he left behind all those years ago. You see, that island that Jim spent all his summers on growing up is still a very big part of his life. Chebeague is a small island off the coast of Portland, Maine sporting only some 350 year-round inhabitants. In the summer the population can swell to 2000, but most of those are the same families returning year after year to summer cottages that they have owned in many cases for generations. “It was just a magical place for a kid,” says Jim. Each of the houses had sailboats–old dinghys and “day-sailers”, up to 18 feet–the kids could learn to sail on. They freely roamed the bay as long as they were never out of eyeshot of at least one of the cottages that dotted the shore, whose occupants all knew and watched out for each other’s children. There was a man known as “Uncle Phil,” a veteran sailor who was now paraplegic, and lived in a cottage up a hill with a wide view of the bay. “When we got a little older,” Jim says, “we actually organized races with this motley assortment of old boats–no two boats alike, and afterwards we would all go up to Uncle Phil’s house, and he would break down the race for us–what you did wrong, what you did right. It was just a great way to learn.”
Throughout his adult life in Berkeley, Jim and Jeanne and their sons, Morgan and Toby have returned to the family cottage on Chebeague each summer. “I’m living a child’s dream,” he says, “and because of this both my sons–and this so rarely the case these days–have grown up very much like I did.” It’s no coincidence both love the water and sailing as well. Jim and Jeanne were married on the island, ending the celebration by walking down to the beach, riding out to a chartered yacht and sailing away. Years later, his son Toby’s wedding took place on the island also, the ceremony presided over by the same local minister who had married Jim and Jeanne.
While Jim was getting started running his Berkeley business, his stays on Chebeague were shorter, while Jeanne and the boys would spend the summer (until Jeanne had enough with “camp Mom” and packed them off to an organized camp not far away). Jim did try running the plumbing business remotely. “I had a fax machine,” he recalls, “it was just a roll of paper and it didn’t cut. I would be out sailing, and come back to a ribbon of faxes, like twelve feet long. I’d have to cut it up into pieces and stick them together, because they had taken 81/2 x 11 sections of a building plan and faxed them.”
Over the years, his stays have grown longer. Now, with retirement, the opportunity to remain even longer on the island beckons. Recently he has built a studio near the cottage which will allow Jeanne, who is an artist, to do her work while they are there. His social ties to the people and his attachment to the community (Chebeague just this year celebrated its 10th anniversary as an official city–a move necessary to maintain the Islands only school) are strong, and has deepened with the years. In fact, Jim now plays a crucial role in the community: he is a clown in the annual 4th of July parade!
“It’s great,” he says, “…you can bring this brightness into people’s lives–everybody loves a clown!”
Jim the clown. We always knew he had it in him!