Renewing a “Rivalry” by Chance - July 2019 Athlete of the Month

Bob Shannon, 66, Alameda, CA and Jeff Johanson, 65, Arnold, CA

It’s not that unusual for senior athletes to know others from their youthful sporting days who also participate in National Senior Games. But it’s quite another thing to realize that the guy in the lane next to you is someone you used to compete with-and against-in school who you haven’t seen in 47 years.

Bob Shannon, 66 and Jeff Johanson, 65, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bob swam for El Camino High School and Jeff was on the South San Francisco swim team in the early 70s. “We were crosstown rivals and our teams were die-hard competitors,” Bob recalls. “Jeff was phenomenal in breaststroke and I was pretty good at backstroke and butterfly.” Due to their specialties, the two only competed against each other in medleys and relays, but they knew each other well.

After high school, both wanted to keep swimming and went to College of San Mateo, where they swam and competed together on the water polo team. Jeff went on to swim two more years at San Francisco State and dabbled with masters swimming for the next decade before he and his wife set out for international education careers. “1997 was the last time I swam even a workout,” Jeff says. “Now I’m semi-retired and decided to get back into training last year.”

“I got a glimpse of Jeff back in December at the Encore Games when I qualified. There was even another San Mateo teammate there,” Bob says with some amazement. “But when I signed up for Albuquerque I didn’t expect to see him or Jeff.”

The natatorium was packed with a lot of swimmers milling around, so they didn’t see each other until the two stepped onto the blocks for the first race and saw they were right next to each other. “We gave each other a nod,” Jeff recalls.

Bob got fired up. “Besides going for my personal best, I’m now thinking, ‘It’s on’! There’s no way he’s beating me in the 50 backstroke, and I knew he was thinking he would beat me in the breaststroke.” They directly competed in two races. As expected, Bob beat Jeff in his best discipline and achieved a personal goal to exceed his swim time when he was a high school sophomore. Jeff not only beat Bob, he captured a silver medal in the 200-yard breaststroke.

“The 200 breast has always been my best event, but it was still a shocker when I won the silver,” Jeff says. “It was icing on the cake at that point. We’re now one and one against each other in the sprint races, which is pretty cool,” Jeff adds.

“We were able to spend some time together when we got out of the pool. It was great seeing Jeff,” Bob says. “It added a whole other dimension to the Senior Games, which were mind-blowing to begin with.”


Both say staying fit is their big motivation. “I will still swim in some meets, but it’s really just great exercise for me,” Jeff explains. “I’ve got orthopedic issues, back issues and hip issues. But all those kinda melt away when I get into the water. It’s also been a lot of fun starting over and seeing if I can get better.”

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