By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley Middle School Physical Education (PE) teacher Jasmine Stiles took home eight shiny new medals at the 2013 Marriott U.S. Masters Swimming Summer Nationals in Mission Viejo, Aug. 7-11.
In the 45-49 age group, Stiles was fifth in the 200-meter breaststroke, seventh in 100 -meter breaststroke, eighth in the 50-meter freestyle, eighth in the 100-meter freestyle and was part of four relays that finished in the top five in the country.
Her multiple medal showing was just one way the PE teacher, who also serves as the San Dieguito Union High School District’s PE coordinator, sets an example of a healthy lifestyle for her students.
“I believe that in order to motivate the students they have to see you do it too. I don’t believe in just talking, I believe in living it,” Stiles said.
Stiles pulled out her impressive performance at Nationals despite an extremely painful back injury in March that sidelined her for months. She was only able to train for the meet for five weeks.
“I’ve never been so humbled in my entire life as when I was not able to move. There is such a thing as the arrogance of good health,” Stiles said. “If you can move, don’t take that for granted.”
Stiles has been at Carmel Valley Middle since 2000, prior to that she taught PE at San Dieguito and La Costa Canyon high schools. The philosophy of her PE department is to instill a lifelong love of fitness in students and encourage the confidence to take on challenges without fear, stressing how good it feels to accomplish something they weren’t so sure they could.
“She is driven, motivated, she’s fun. Kids always want to come back and see her,” said fellow PE teacher Kasey Galik. “She motivates me and I’m excited to learn from her.”
At Carmel Valley Middle School, Stiles will be motivating 1,500 students this year, including more than 800 seventh graders.
The kids are introduced to a variety of sports and practice yoga — Stiles is excited to unleash some new strength and conditioning exercises to help with stability and injury prevention this year.
Throughout the year students train for a 5K in May, two loops around the CVMS campus.
“That is an amazing achievement for 12 to 14 year olds,” Stiles said. “In the beginning of the school year when you tell them they’re going to be running more than one mile they think you’re crazy. Often times a student will see a challenge and if they’re not sure they’ll succeed they don’t even want to attempt it. But they continue to work and get stronger and it’s pretty neat to see the sense of accomplishment when they finish.”
An avid surfer, when not in the pool Stiles can often be found surfing at Pacific Beach
She additionally teaches a free fitness class to Carmel Valley Middle staff once a week.
Stiles never swam competitively until her sophomore year at Cleveland State University, where she ran track and cross-country. A running injury forced her into the pool to keep up her conditioning and the swim coach took notice of her natural ability in the water.
She didn’t even know how to do a flip turn or really any of the strokes, but thanks to Coach Lorry Wagner she was able to catch up and got a fast enough 50-freestyle time to help the team.
“He had an incredible amount of patience and he took the extra time to help me with the experience and training I didn’t have,” said Stiles.
She started out as a sprint freestyler and eventually discovered her breaststroke skill.
After graduating, she moved to California in 1994 and as she was unaware of masters swimming, she kept active competing in triathlons, 5K and 10K races. She ran three marathons, including the 2007 Boston Marathon during a storm, battling 30 miles per hour wind.
At age 42 she rediscovered masters swimming. At first she competed unattached but it wasn’t as fun because she loves the team connection and the support they give one another. Now she is part of San Diego Swim Masters, practicing at the Mission Valley YMCA before school starts three times a week.
In 2010, Stiles was plagued by plantar fasciitis and she was forced to quit running and was able to focus most of her energy on swimming, competing at her first Masters Nationals in 2011.
This year, her third nationals, was the largest event they’ve ever had with over 1,400 athletes competing. Because the event was so large, athletes were only allowed to swim six individual events.
Being only able to train for five weeks Stiles said she could feel her lack of training in the last leg of all her races, but she still swam very well.
Her best race was the 50 free — she swam faster than her seed time but missed 10th place by one-10th of a second.
“Everyone swam faster at the meet but that was my best personal achievement after my back surgery,” Stiles said.
She said the most amazing experiences at the meet are not individual accomplishments but being around and meeting other Masters swimmers. She met Dara Torres, the 12-time Olympic medalist who competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics at age 41. Torres, who finished fourth at the 2012 Olympic Trials, only nine one-hundredths of a second behind the second qualifier for the 2013 Summer Olympics, gave Stiles her best advice for being a middle-age competitor: You can still go hard at any age but listen to your body and let your body recover.
Stiles also met a 96-year-old swimmer from Mission Viejo, Rita Simonton. Simonton broke two world records in the 95-99 age group in the 100-meter freestyle and the 50-meter backstroke.
“She’s unbelievably inspirational,” Stiles said. “That’s what the Masters Nationals are all about — people still challenging themselves at various ages and having a respect for life and knowing the importance of staying healthy.”
Stiles’ goal is to compete at next summer’s FINA World Masters Championships in Montreal. Another goal is to surf Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with her husband Andy.
Unbelievably, the super-fit Stiles noted that three years from now she’ll be able to compete at the National Senior Games.