In the tank7/5/2017
Old school passion with a twist
During the workday, Joseph Chapman is all business. As the chief of environmental management service at the VA hospital, he manages the housekeeping, laundry, linen, waste removal, interior design and pest control. While he’s doing that, he wears a suit, tie and starched shirt. But when 5 o’clock rolls around, Joseph Chapman puts all of that away, grabs a different kind of suit — a Speedo — and heads for the Des Moines Water Polo Club.
“I forget about the world and all the worries,” he says. “And we just have a blast playing some polo.”
As a youth, Chapman was a competitive swimmer in the Twin Cities. He did well swimming competitively for as long as he can remember, but water polo is another animal all together.
Chapman was first exposed to water polo when he arrived on campus at St. John’s University. The first time he jumped in the tank — which is what water polo players call the pool — it didn’t go as well as he had hoped. He struggled a bit, but he was hooked. He fell in love with the sport and played for his school the next four years.
“In the heartland, it’s very rare to have polo experience until the collegiate level,” he says.
After college, he began a career, and he’s worked for the VA for 10 years. But after moving to Des Moines, he felt himself falling off the fitness cliff.
“I was letting myself go,” he laughs.
As such, he did what most any millennial would do. He picked up the phone and said: “OK Google: Des Moines water polo.”
An old adage says, “seek and you will find.” And lo and behold, he found the city had a legit water polo club.
“There is a rich history of water polo here,” he says, noting the local YMCA’s longtime participation in the sport. “I love that. To see such a vibrant club here in Des Moines is neat.
“At that first practice, I didn’t even have a Speedo that fit, so I literally had to go buy a Speedo,” he says. “But I immediately liked the guys.”
He began getting back in shape. As he did, the old competitive fire from his past returned, too.
The local club was strong, but the travel team had fallen off. Joseph started to help build it back up.
Seven players swim at a time in water polo, but it’s a grueling sport, and it’s helpful to have 14 players on a squad so they can take breaks.
The group has grown from a handful of players to more than 20.
Chapman says this is “modern water polo with an old-fashioned twist.” The twist being: to be successful in the tank, you have to show up and do your job.
“We have guys who have been doing that for 30 years,” he says. “To be a part of that is more than exciting, especially with the group we have here locally in Des Moines.”
Bragging isn’t something Chapman is prone to do, but he does admit that his squad is the best team in the city.
“For sure,” he states flatly. “We’re the only team in the city, so by default, we’re the best.” ♦