Father and son both net national swimming titles in friendly family rivalry

MIDDLEBURY — Forth ’N Goal co-owner Dan McIntosh was talking about how much he enjoys 6 a.m. two-mile swims in Lake Dunmore along with other members of the Middlebury Muffintops swimming club.
It was so beautiful out there this past Wednesday, Dan said, he wanted to get his father and fellow Muffintop, Don McIntosh, to take a break and watch the mist drifting across the water.
“We were out there and the lake was like glass, and it was gorgeous,” said Dan, 48. “I stopped halfway just to look at the scenery.”
Don, also part of a conversation in the Forth ’N Goal basement on Main Street, quickly interrupted to say who was swimming in the lead.
“I was in front of him, by the way,” said Don, 70. “He had to grab my leg.”
The elder McIntosh wanted to make that point because on Aug. 17 the younger McIntosh for the first time ever posted a better time than his father in a distance swim after seven years of trying.
It’s not that the news was all bad for Don: On that day he added to his many U.S. Masters Swimming age-group titles by winning the 70-to-74-year-old Two-Mile Open Water national championship in Lake Placid, N.Y. The former college swimmer’s time in the Betsy Owen Memorial Swim over a course in Mirror Lake was 56:35:30, about 15 minutes faster than his closest age peer.
But Dan earned his first national Masters title in the same race, in the 45-49 age group, and in a faster time — 48:59.39.
Dan had swum in triathlons in the 1990s, but was never a competitive swimmer until 2006, and had never defeated Don in his father’s specialty, a distance race.
“He’s beaten me in a 50-yard sprint. That was the first thing he’s beaten me in. And I can concede that. My strength isn’t what it used to be in the sprints,” Don said. “But I still thought I was going to beat him in the distance. I just thought, ‘I’ll catch him. He’ll go out faster, but I’ll catch him. I have better experience.’ But I finally realized (I wouldn’t).”
Make no mistake, catching his dad was also a big deal for Dan, a former Middlebury Union High School football quarterback under longtime coach Hubie Wagner and then a college runner.
The competition has always been a two-way street, whether in table tennis (“You should see us play ping pong,” Don said. “He had to go to China to finally beat me.”), badminton, or a long-running card game they have played in for years with MUHS football coaches and others.
“We’re competitive in cards,” Dan said. “That’s probably where we’re most competitive.”
Don, better known as “Mr. Mac” when he taught physical education at Middlebury Union Middle School for 38 years before retiring in 2011, might disagree.
Two years ago, Dan technically defeated Don in a one-mile swim at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass., using allegedly questionable tactics. 
“Well, he cheated,” Don said.
“I don’t think I cheated,” Dan said. “As we were coming around to the end the beach gets really shallow, and you have to stand up. And you’ve got about 100 yards to the finish you’re in about knee-deep water, or a little less. What everyone was doing was standing up and walking to the finish in the order they got up out of the water. And about 30 yards ahead of me I see Don walking to the finish line. And I ran as fast as I could. And just about as the guy was about to hand Don his place, I jumped in front of him and grabbed it.”
Don offered a slightly different version as both laughed at the memory.
“Well, you knocked me down,” Don said. “And the guy says, ‘You can’t do that. You can’t do that.’ (I said) ‘He’s my son.’ (He said) ‘OK, you can do that.’ And he gives him the one ahead of me.”
“So on the actual official listing, I beat him,” Dan said.
“I think I had that victory,” Don said. “But the last race (on Aug. 17) was the one where he beat me.”
The swimming competition between the two began almost as soon as Dan took up the sport.
Dan recalled the first meet in which both swam, at the Middlebury College pool. Swimmers were assigned heats based on times, and behind Don’s back Dan substituted his dad’s results for his to ensure they would swim at the same time.
It didn’t end well for the younger swimmer.
“So in the first event I’m right next to Don in a 1,500-meter event, and he lapped me almost,” Dan said.
But, truly, there is no shame in losing a distance race to Don McIntosh.
His Masters career has been long and successful. Off the cuff, he wasn’t sure just how many national titles he has won, but he estimated about a dozen.
“Every time I change an age group, I have a chance to be up there in the nationals,” Don said. “I’ve just become 70, so I have a chance. And there are a couple pool meets where I have a chance to get in the top three or maybe win something. And I did when I was 65, and when I was 60, 55, 50.”
He also has a long-range goal.
“There’s a 100-year-old age group,” Don said. “When I’m 100 I want to be standing up on those blocks.”
Dan also plans on sticking with Masters competitions, partly because he enjoys those morning swims in Lake Dunmore so much.
“I think the lake just keeps me going for swimming,” Dan said. “I’ll keep doing it.”
Don said his son, because he turned to the sport so late, could still refine his technique and become more competitive. (Both acknowledged the field in Lake Placid was not as tough as it would have been in a larger population center.)
“He can be real good, I think so,” Don said. 
Of course, if both keep swimming, rematches are inevitable. Next up is the Masters World Championships in Montreal next July.
“I’m going to do the Open Water,” Dan said.
“I’ll do the Open Water, too,” Don said. “OK, we’ve just agreed. We’ll do the Open Water at the Montreal meet, and we’ll see what happens.”
Regardless of the result next summer, Don plans to get the last laugh.
“I’m going to outlive you, you know,” he told his son.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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