The other day, some friends and I were talking about how different our lives were since we’d started swimming. Everyone had a different story about how they’d come to join our local Masters group. I started because I wanted to do a triathlon but I hadn’t swum competitively since childhood. Someone else said his wife, an accomplished swimmer, had introduced him to it. Several joined because they saw adults in the pool when they took their kids to swim practice and thought, “Hey, that looks like fun.”
Regardless of how we came to be part of our local club, everyone agreed: Even if they couldn’t remember the exact moment or reason they decided to join, it was one of the best decisions they’d ever made. And they weren’t referring to winning medals or being in the best shape of their lives—they were referring to the people they’d met along the way.
In U.S. Masters Swimming’s annual push to have April recognized as Adult Learn-to-Swim Month, much is made about the physical health benefits of swimming. Not only because learning to swim can literally save your life, but also because once you learn, you can use it as a lifelong form of healthy exercise. With more adults jumping in the pool for the first time, it’s important for this information to get out.
But it’s really exciting to think about what these new swimmers will be talking about a few years down the road. Sure, if they stick with it, they’ll get healthier— that part’s inevitable. But if they’re fortunate enough to have a fun group of likeminded adults in their community, they’ll find out soon how the social benefits of swimming come into play.
For many, joining a Masters club is like a reunion—as if all the people from your planet have been waiting for you to arrive, but your ship was delayed, and then it took you a while to find them on Earth. I still haven’t figured out why this phenomenon persists, despite thinking, reading, and writing about it a lot.
The camaraderie thing is understandable for the lifelong swimmers—shared memories of green hair, predawn workouts, and wearing pajama pants to school—but what is it about discussions during the morning kick set on topics such as the welcome-to-50 colonoscopy that makes people open their homes and their hearts to people they’ve just met?
At the risk of too much navel-gazing, I continue to believe that there’s something special about the people who are attracted to this sport. Or maybe chlorine creates some sort of covalent bond, in which swimmers with completely different backgrounds share the awesomeness and generosity-of-spirit electrons. Who knows?
Regardless, I continue to enjoy meeting people from Planet Swim, even by just reading about them in the pages of SWIMMER and at usms.org. In this issue, we meet two swimmers, Mark Grashow (page 9) and Taylor Krauss (page 18), who both, for different reasons, felt pulled to the African continent. There they’ve made significant differences in the lives of those affected by extreme poverty or violence.
We also meet swimmer Nancy Prouty (page 30), a scientist studying deep-sea corals to unlock the mysteries of Earth’s oceans—a world farther away, in terms of understanding, than the moon.
At usms.org, you’ll meet swimmer Tselane Gardner, whose learn-to-swim journey led her from personal trauma to teaching others.
If you’re new to Masters Swimming, welcome; we’re glad you’re here.
We receive a variety of correspondence at the U.S. Masters Swimming National Office, located in Sarasota, Fla. Sometimes readers write about articles they’ve read here in SWIMMER. Sometimes it’s a “reply-to” directly from our eNewsletter series, STREAMLINES. Members and potential members also contact us through our website, usms.org. There’s even a field where one can leave a general comment when registering or renewing USMS membership.
Some of the comments are compliments; some are not. This is a good thing, as we need your honest feedback to do our jobs well. Regardless of where you live or why or how much you swim, you deserve the best membership experience possible.
So, who’s on the other end of that keyboard when you press “send”?
I’ve written about our amazing publications staff here before, and our executive director, Rob Butcher, and education director, Bill Brenner, and their activities and respective insider and coach education blogs. Kyle Deery works closely with Rob and with our passionate USMS sponsors, in addition to working behind the scenes on our National Championship events. Marianne Groenings supports Bill with our rapidly expanding educational products in coach certification and adult learn-to-swim instructor certification.
But the entire USMS staff works together on your membership.
Anna Lea Matysek, a longtime swimmer, volunteer, and engineer in Kansas City before she became our membership director, is the one who receives all those comments from the registration software. She and Tracy Grilli, our longest-tenured staffer and a member of the Mighty Mermaids (an impressive sextet of open water swimmers who tackle big swims), go out of their way every day to answer questions large and small from our members. They have literally heard it all—I’m not sure there’s a question they can’t answer, given their combined total of 57 years experience inside USMS.
Our chief financial officer, Susan Kuhlman, is a new swimmer and triathlete. She comes from a cycling background, but her passion for USMS is contagious. She runs the financials to meet the strictest levels of professionalism and transparency. In the nonprofit world, this is a monumental task. Kathy Anderson supports her in this effort, handling our bank accounts and payables with such humor and good cheer that she brightens the entire office. Claudia Woods, a lifelong swimmer, is our office manager. She keeps us in line and supports us, in equal measure, so that we can support you. There isn’t a single staffer she doesn’t assist in some form or another. Claudia is a superhero.
Jim Matysek, creator and architect of usms.org, leads the information technology staff. He’s another lifelong swimmer and longtime USMS volunteer. As with Anna Lea and Tracy, his institutional knowledge runs deep. From repelling hackers to helping recover lost passwords, he’s done it all for usms.org users. Jeff Perout, a lifelong swimmer and scholar, has a broad background in software development, including accounting software packages, and spearheads the financial end of our registration software tools. Longtime Minnesota swimmer and volunteer Nancy Kryka and her husband, Jim Kryka, retired to Sarasota after successful software development careers at a Fortune 500 company. But to our distinct advantage, they couldn’t stay retired—they’ve joined the staff and are hard at work modernizing the back-end architecture of usms.org and will be contributing to exciting new features.
So the next time you write to us, if you want to know who will be answering your question or resolving an issue for you, take a peek at our staff bios and pictures.
We love swimming and we love working for USMS—let us know how we can help you make the most out of your membership.
Updated March 10th, 2015 at 03:28 PM by Editor
When you’re active in sports, regardless of your age, ability, or athleticism, the potential for injury is always there. Most of us consider this an acceptable risk—indeed, the damaging effects of a sedentary lifestyle are far worse. If you’re reading this magazine, there’s a good chance that you’ve been injured at some point. It might even be why you’re a swimmer—a previous sport finally broke you down.
Or maybe a zillion arm rotations or breaststroke kicks have landed you in the rehab lane. Could be an embarrassing tangle with gravity has reminded you of your aquatic origins. If you’re a triathlete you've for sure had had some down time in the House of Pain. Let’s face it, as superhuman as exercise makes us feel, our bodies don’t always cooperate with our Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
Maybe you’ve never had to (sheepishly) ask your coach to put your swim cap on for you because you’re rehabbing a shoulder, but you might have helped a teammate put one on. And in the locker room after practice, a true friend is one who knows how high you like your ponytail. These can be humbling moments.
But athletes, especially swimmers, are a gritty lot. And compliant—treating physical therapy sessions as serious cross training so they can get back to the pool. Fish, after all, are supposed to remain in the water. Regardless of the severity of the injury or how inconvenient working around it can be, the siren song of our watery happy place is almost impossible to resist, even if it means swimming in that outside lane—you know, the one with the ladder and the stable gutters.
You’ve seen that swimmer—he comes to practice with a brave smile and a body part immobilized in a Ziploc bag and duct tape. Or the swimmer who hobbles to the water’s edge on crutches and then slowly sinks in, where she can use the working parts of her body to propel herself through the water because it feels so darn good to be back in it.
Gradually the body heals; the scull becomes a dog paddle, the dog paddle becomes a pull, and the pull becomes a stroke. The next thing you know that guy you’re always racing is back to kicking your butt one lane over. Even this is welcome after a long rehab. Getting back to your starting point beats being out of the water any day, even if it means Mr. Fast gets to keep serving up slices of humble pie.
Several articles in this issue of SWIMMER may be helpful if you’ve found yourself on the injured reserve bench: Jim Thornton gleans advice from leading sports psychologists on the mental aspects of recovering from a physical injury in his Healthy Swimmer column, “Fish Out of Water” (page 14).
Allan Phillips takes a look at how taping certain injuries might go a long way toward keeping you in the practice pool in his Dryland Difference column, “Elastic Sports Tape: Help or Hype?” (page 12).
Laughter is always good medicine, so if your funny bone is (literally) sticking out, you’ll want to tickle it with Paul McGhee’s “Pyramids, Pythons, and Pigs” (page 30), illustrated by Ed Colley, which introduces creative vocabulary terms to describe swim practice sets.
Guest columnists Bob Burrow and Bob Fernald address the sobering conundrum of briefs versus jammers in Both Sides of the Lane Line (page 6).
And finally, Elaine K. Howley’s excellent Splashback piece on Victorian sea bathing machines (page 48) manages to be both informative and subtly hilarious.
And hang in there. This too, shall pass
To say that 2014 has been a banner year for U.S. Masters Swimming is a bit of an understatement.
Our Swimming Saves Lives Foundation launched the inaugural “April Is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month” campaign, gaining national attention from articles in USA Today and the New York Times, coverage by TV news stations, and radio interviews broadcast in hundreds of markets. Although we’re beyond excited about the publicity, what truly motivates us is the impact that learning to swim has had upon thousands of adults across the country.
Take Richmond, an ethnically diverse community in Northern California that sits on more than 30 miles of waterfront. Coach Benicia Rivera of the Richmond Plunge Masters used SSLF grant money to fund an adult learn-to-swim program. She documented its progress, interviewing her new swimmers about what learning to swim has meant to them—how it’s affected their lives on a day-to-day basis. Although she sent us the video as a thank-you for the grant, we’re deeply grateful for her dedication, as well as the accomplishments of all the coaches and instructors who are enabling significant, positive change in the lives of many.
Our coach certification programs continue to help coaches develop their skills and inspire their swimmers. Certification is also helping aquatics directors and instructors create new Masters Swimming programs in their facilities. By the end of 2014, we’ll have certified more than 680 new coaches this year alone. In addition, the Coaches Committee certified the first 10 Level 4 coaches this year—a significant accomplishment for the experienced coaches who met the stringent requirements for advanced certification.
New educational opportunities are coming in 2015. Adult learn-to-swim instructor certification will provide education for anyone who wants to teach adults the fundamentals of swimming.
And in 2014, we crossed the 60,000 mark in membership for the first time. More than 16,000 of you are first-time USMS members this year. Welcome to what the SwimToday campaign has dubbed the #FunnestSport! USMS is proud to be part of this inaugural campaign, which is headed up by USA Swimming and leading industry sponsors and organizations.
All of these milestones are important, and the best way we can think of to celebrate them is to continue to share the stories about the swimmers and coaches behind the milestones.
We’ll also continue to bring you technique articles, relevant health and nutrition information, product reviews, training advice from competitive and experienced swimmers and coaches, and much more in SWIMMER. Back issues can be read online and on mobile devices via your MyUSMS account at usms.org/myusms. Our STREAMLINES eNewsletters are archived at usms.org/admin/nycu, and you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And newly organized this year, three staff blogs, including these editorials, can be found in the blogs section of the USMS Discussion Forums at usms.org. Our executive director shares behind-the-scenes information about USMS, and the education director’s blog is a treasure trove for coaches and club administrators.
So whether you’ve registered for your 20th year or are new to USMS, we’re honored to have shared this exciting year with you and we can’t wait to see what 2015 brings.
Every year at the USMS annual meeting, during a House of Delegates session, the names of members who passed away during the year are read and a moment of silence is observed in their honor. Some of the names are those of well-known members; some are unfamiliar. Regardless, the reaction on the floor is the same: respectful silence and reflection.
This year the names of two of Masters Swimming’s founding members, both Ransom J. Arthur Award recipients who passed away peacefully in the embrace of loved ones—within a few weeks of each other this summer—will be on that list: June Krauser, 88, and Paul Hutinger, 89.
It would be impossible to capture here the impact June, known worldwide as “The Mother of Masters Swimming,” has had on USMS. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for her. Unlike many of our longtime members, I never had the opportunity to know her. Based on their remembrances, I know that I would have liked her very much: She demanded excellence in all things and spoke her mind, unencumbered by the burden of an overactive filter.
Paul Hutinger, who served on the Sports Medicine and Science, Recognition and Awards, and History and Archives Committees, and his wife Margie, have been familiar faces on pool decks around the country for many years. When USMS established its first national headquarters, the Hutingers stopped by with memorabilia from the early days of Masters Swimming, including a poster advertising the first long-course nationals in 1972, and it hangs in our office today.
Two other names that will be included on that list this year are swimmers who were taken abruptly during open water swims, of apparent heart attacks, within a few weeks of each other this summer: Bob Matysek, 58, and Chris Clarke, 45.
Bob and his brothers, including Jim Matysek, USMS IT director and creator of our website, usms.org, have an annual family tradition of doing the Chesapeake Bay Swim together, and this was Bob’s 20th year. Something went wrong about a mile and a half into the 4.4-mile swim, and Bob was pulled into a rescue boat. Jim, who was in the wave right after Bob, swam past that boat—not knowing his brother was on board.
A few days later, my close friend Chris Clarke, an avid open water swimmer and fierce competitor, and I were texting about Bob’s death and Chris wrote, “You never know when your time is up; live life every day!” A little more than a week later he too was gone, pulled less than a mile from the finish of a 2.4-mile race in a peaceful little lake in Indiana.
Loss is part of life, and as cliché as it sounds, I do cling to the belief that Bob and Chris died doing what they loved. They don’t appear to have suffered—the pain resides in the hearts of those they left behind.
Another way to honor those who precede us to that ultimate warm-down pool is to share their stories. We’ll be working with the History and Archives Committee to bring June’s and Paul’s stories back to the pages of SWIMMER and usms.org.
We’ll also be working with the Sports Medicine and Science Committee and other medical experts to continue publishing articles on health issues that affect our members. Those all-important conversations between adult athletes and their physicians must continue. In addition, case studies on sudden-death incidents assist medical staff, event directors, and our Open Water and Championship Committees in planning.
And no matter what, we’re not going to stop swimming. One September day in the future, our names will be called on the HOD floor and, just as June’s, Paul’s, Bob’s, and Chris’s will, we’ll want them to echo with the resonance of a life well swum.
In the meantime, get to know your lanemates. Share an anecdote with a younger swimmer. Ask an old-timer about “that time back when….” Talk to your doctor. Honor the contributions of those who came before by contributing your own verse to the ongoing, powerful song of Masters Swimming and of life.
The screech of that 4:45 a.m. alarm is rude. Very rude. But you comply, trying to forget about what awaits you at the pool. If it’s suitable for aggressive workout swimming, the water will feel chilly. Jumping in it is the second worst moment of the day. The moon is out, your teammates resemble a zombie horde, and if you’d stayed in bed dreaming, you’d still be gliding across a polished wooden floor with a tall, handsome stranger, kickin’ it with a fly Viennese waltz.
So what to do when you <gasp> no longer want to get out of bed before dawn and jump into a cold pool? Is taking a break an option?
Nonswimmers have no problem filing Masters Swimming Burnout under first-world problems. “Why would anyone want to get up that early anyway? Now you can ____________ (garden, join your homeowners association, take polka lessons),” they suggest helpfully.
But once you’ve invited swimming into your life, it’s hard to politely show it to the door like a distant relative, effuse about what fun you’ve had, and tell it you can’t wait to see it again next year.
Many swimmers demarcate their lives into BS (before swimming) and S (swimming). In this lifelong sport, I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to consider the permanence of AS (after swimming), so that leaves BTS (between swimming).
So how does one behave in a BTS period? For starters, you might want to consider how you’ll be meeting the exercise need that your swimmer’s appetite demands. Super. That will be running and cycling, with a side dish of P90X and a giant slice of Zumba for dessert, please.
What about reducing the number of practices? Maybe if you swim three times per week, instead of five or six? If you’re a sprinter, no problem, you might even maintain your current 50 freestyle time for another season with that plan, although you will lose your spot on the B relay. If you’re a distance swimmer, your prospects are more dismal. You’ll enter the 800 free at nationals with good intentions and feel terrible the entire time, especially when you see the scoreboard.
Even with a reduced schedule, you’ll still want to stay in touch with your swimming friends, especially your lanemates. But is it proper etiquette to show up for the Saturday post-workout breakfast with dry hair? It happened once on our team a few years ago. We still speak of it only in hushed tones.
What is it about swimming that makes it so hard to have a BTS hiatus? Is it the feeling we get at that perfect moment, right about the 175-yard mark after first jumping in? The chill is ebbing and your skin and soul are crackling—you’re about to reach the nirvana of weightlessness, perfect technique, and that delicate balance between effortless gliding and the grind awaiting you when the warm-up ends. (If only you could fast-forward to breakfast at that point.)
But you stick it out, and as the practice is ending, the sun is rising, the ghoulish pallor of the zombie horde has magically transformed into a flushed, healthy glow and bright smiles, and that amazing sense of accomplishment and renewed vigor reminds you that you could have been sweating it out in a hot yoga studio or waiting for your turn on the leg press at the gym.
But you weren’t, because you’re a swimmer. And whether you’re in the thick of a BTS period or not, once a swimmer, always a swimmer. This lifelong sport sticks around like a houseguest that never leaves. And in all honesty, that’s just the way we want it, isn’t it?
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:33 AM by Editor
The second week of April was National Volunteer Week. Not only did this dovetail nicely with our “April Is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month” campaign, but National Volunteer Week has been around almost as long as USMS has. Established in 1974, the week serves to encourage people to get involved in their communities. Points of Light, the volunteer organization that has sponsored the week since its inception, has this on its website:
“National Volunteer Week is about taking action and encouraging individuals and their respective communities to be at the center of social change—discovering and actively demonstrating their collective power to make a difference.”
There’s no doubt that our members have been a force for good in communities across the country. Local USMS volunteers work all year long to make Masters Swimming the best possible experience for their members. We’re grateful for the people in every club and workout group who make things happen on a daily basis for their fellow swimmers. And it works—we have the letters and emails to prove it.
But it doesn’t stop there. Our national-level volunteers build upon the hard work of the local volunteers and make it possible for USMS to accomplish great things. The Coaches Committee works tirelessly to train and support USMS coaches who are on deck every day changing lives. Many of the letters we receive are because a coach has had a significant impact on someone’s life.
The number of hours the Championship Committee dedicates to our national meets rivals their day jobs. The Sports Medicine and Science Committee provides valuable healthcare information at those meets, in addition to reviewing medical and science articles and topics throughout the year for all our publications. The Officials and Rules Committees are always deeply involved in our events—be sure to thank your meet officials when you see them on deck.
The Fitness Education Committee administers the USMS fitness events and searches for ways to connect with noncompetitive swimmers. The Open Water and Long Distance Committees oversee all things open water and our longer pool events. And probably the most relevant for National Volunteer Week, the Recognition and Awards Committee exists to celebrate and honor our USMS volunteers and recognize their service to our members. The History and Archives Committee collects information and images from all our events, so that the Masters Swimming journey is preserved for our future members.
It doesn’t stop there—running an organization this large also requires countless hours put in by the less visible, but critical, Audit, Compensation and Benefits, Finance, Governance, Investment, Legislation, LMSC Development, Policy, Records and Tabulation, and Registration Committees. Our Board of Directors and Executive Committee and Swimming Saves Lives Foundation are also all-volunteer, and their vision has helped bring USMS to new heights.
If you have the time, get involved at your local level—you’re needed there. And if you’d like to volunteer at the national level, you can find more information at usms.org/admin/content/volunteer
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:34 AM by Editor
My mother claimed that I learned to swim before I could walk. I was the first one in and the last one out of the pool in our backyard and the surf at Stinson Beach. I can’t ever remember not feeling completely comfortable and safe in my watery playground. Like many kids, I dreamed of being a mermaid or a dolphin, and I vowed to be the first gill transplant patient so I would never have to return to the surface and the big scary world of humans.
My story isn’t unique; many of our nearly 60,000 members learned to swim as young children: lessons at the Y, summers at the lake, surfing, swim team, or just a lifelong love of playing in the water and parents or geography that made it possible.
If you had the good fortune to enjoy opportunities to become safe, comfortable, and skilled in the water, you might never have considered what it would be like to learn right now, at your present age. Or what it would be like to know that if you fell in, you could become one of the 10 people who drown every day in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 37 percent of American adults can’t swim the length of a 25-yard pool. And of the 10 people who drown every day, eight of them are adults or young adults.
The Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, USMS’s charitable arm, wants to change these numbers. The foundation has declared the month of April Adult Learn-to- Swim Month, and has launched a nationwide campaign to promote the lifesaving benefits of swimming for adults. The governors of Indiana, Nebraska, and Washington have signed proclamations in support, and we’re working on getting more states onboard. You can learn more at usms.org/learntoswim.
Since 2012, the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation has provided more than $70,000 to programs that offer adult learn-to-swim lessons in their communities. Bill Meier, coach of the Simon’s Rock Pacemakers workout group of New England Masters, was teaching adults to swim even before his program became a Swimming Saves Lives partner. One of his favorite students is Chris Pompi of Adams, Mass.
Pompi, a father of three, was 38 years old when he went to Meier for swim lessons. “When I had kids, I realized that I needed to be able to swim in case anything ever happened to them in the water. And, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite—making them take lessons but not knowing how to swim myself.” Yet he kept his lessons a secret from his family until he was competent in the water.
“I just never learned as a kid,” Pompi says. He remembers hanging out at the Jersey Shore as a young adult, but not joining his friends in the water. “I stayed on the beach, soaking up the sun, and when we went out on a boat, I wore a lifejacket. All my friends and family could dive off the boat and have fun. I just watched in envy.”
Now Pompi, a civil engineer, enjoys swimming with his three children and is grateful for all Meier has done for his family. “I think the world of him, and so do my kids.”
The Swimming Saves Lives Foundation exists because of the generous donations from our members. There’s an opportunity to donate when you renew your USMS membership, or at anytime by visiting usms.org/giving. If you’re able to give, you can be part of the team that’s trying to change the truly big and scary numbers of adults drowning.
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:37 AM by Editor
In April 2013, longtime SWIMMER contributor Elaine K. Howley joined the staff as our associate editor. It would take a lot more than this column to fully explain how important her work has been for the magazine, as well as our other publications: the STREAMLINES series and content on usms.org.
A list of the articles she’s written can be found at usms.org/people/EKH20. Her SWIMMER profiles of Marisa Churchill and Andrea Kremer both won first place in the annual Writer’s Digest writing competition, in the Magazine Feature Article category. A Triple Crown marathon and ice swimmer, Athleta-sponsored athlete and Chi blogger, and multitalented writer and editor, Elaine’s contributions have allowed us to take our publications to a new level.
We read our mail, we study social media interactions with our members and potential members, and we talk to swimmers—lots of swimmers—about content, trying to find common threads that can be spun into new features or columns.
One thing many of you ask for is more training and technique advice. We’re thrilled that Jim Thornton, Men’s Health feature writer and a frequent contributor to our discussion forums, will be penning a new column in the Training and Technique department called “Evidence-Based Swimming,” in which he takes a look at current trends and research in swimming science.
Another topic in high demand is nutrition information for swimmers of all abilities. Sports nutritionist Sunny Blende will be taking the reins of the “Mastering Nutrition” column in The Healthy Swimmer department. Sunny is a Masters swimmer and runner who understands the nutritional needs of our sport.
On the lighter side, we’ve added a new department in the front of the book titled “The Shallow End.” Here, Michael Gustafson, Tweeter Extraordinaire (@mikelgustafson), contributes a humor column, “The Hot Tub,” where he’ll write about the quirkier aspects of life as a swimmer in the 18-and-over crowd.
Also in "The Shallow End," you'll see a new comic strip, "Coach," by Ed Colley, cartoonist and official caricaturist of our "Volunteer Profile" column; the strip depicts life in the sometimes not-so-fast lane of coaching Masters swimmers. And, since we seem to have developed an infestation of talented Haiku writers within the readership, we’ll feature a swimming Haiku in “5–7–5,” which is not only the pattern of syllables in traditional Haiku, but is also a freestyle breathing pattern coaches use to torture swimmers of all ages.
The Letters department has been transformed into “Perspectives,” where we’ll have letter excerpts, social media quotes, and beautiful images from acclaimed swimming photographers, including Peter H. Bick, Mike Lewis, and others. We hope you enjoy the changes and, as always, we welcome your feedback.
All the best to you and your loved ones in 2014.
Knowledge, sometimes born from debate, is good for sports
I know next to nothing about sports other than swimming. I’m an anomaly in almost any crowd—my friends tease me for not knowing what a first down is or look aghast when I suggest that the stuff you endure at a live baseball game is manufactured to distract you from the low energy level (Hey! It’s time to stand up and sing now!).
Baseball, basketball, and football are so popular that many, many people know the rules of those games. Yes, there is controversy (betting, steroids, the NCAA, etc.), but the technical rules are generally understood (seemingly by everyone except me) and you can find lively, informed debate at watercoolers and in sports bars and broadcast booths around the country.
Swimming is pretty far behind the ball sports in terms of mainstream understanding, but intensive media coverage of the swimming events of the past two Olympics means your office mate—whose only previous definition of an IM was instant messaging in the 1990s—is now on a first-name basis with marquee swimmers: “Can’t wait to see Michael and Ryan go at it in the 400 IM!”
Not so much for open water, or more specifically, its lesser understood and gangly cousin, marathon swimming, which is currently experiencing growing pains thanks to the media coverage and subsequent controversy that surrounded Diana Nyad’s recent Cuba to Florida swim.
It didn’t take long for debate to brew around Nyad’s swim; within days of her staggering ashore in Florida, marathon swimming insiders began asking questions that touched off a lengthy, ongoing conversation about rules, transparency, and the very integrity of the sport. What bloomed online is a debate that most people don’t have any way of participating in because marathon swimming is not a watercooler topic in most places.
Still, most nonswimmers have heard of Nyad and her swim and comment frequently to us swimmers about it. It’s easy to see why her story has broad appeal: It touches on aging better, goal-setting, perseverance, and other inspirational themes that extend beyond the sport. And whether you know a lot or nothing about swimming, what she accomplished was impressive.
But marathon swimming is a sport with a rich history, traditions, and technical rules, just like other sports. The small but vocal group of experts—many of them accomplished marathon swimmers—who are asking questions about Nyad’s swim have the opportunity to educate journalists, so that journalists, in turn, can educate the public when they start asking questions around the watercooler: Are you allowed to touch the boat? What is the difference between a marathon swim and an exhibition swim? What is the difference between assisted and unassisted? When do we stand up and sing?
There will always be debate, and that’s a good thing, but knowledge is the key to informed debate. Let’s hope that Nyad’s swim and both its supporters and detractors bring a new level of understanding to a beautiful, sometimes brutal, sport that tests the limits of both physical and mental endurance in ways most people cannot imagine.
In this issue of SWIMMER, we’re excited to bring you profiles of two people who have been influential in helping us understand both marathon swimming and ball sports. Associate editor (and Triple Crown marathon swimmer) Elaine K. Howley writes about Michelle Macy’s amazing Ocean’s Seven feat in “Swimming Life” (Page 6) and frequent contributor Jim Harper writes about legendary sports journalist and Masters swimmer John Feinstein, who credits swimming with saving his life (Page 14). Reading his profile has made me want to read more about other sports. Feinstein is a gifted writer, and that’s something I can wrap my brain around, even if I don’t (yet) understand the seventh-inning stretch.
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:36 AM by Editor
What is it with our propensity to classify everything? The desire to separate, organize, and name singles and groups of anything seems to be hardwired. I’m pretty sure the hunter-gatherers had collections of the things they hunted and gathered stored up in the Paleolithic version of the freezer-bag-and-Sharpie or the alphabetized spice rack. In the 1700s Carl Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy (the science of naming stuff), wasn’t satisfied with only one label, so every known living thing got two or three names.
Obviously, Linnaeus was onto something. Based on the highly unscientific data collector known as Facebook, the email we get, and the conversations we’ve had on deck, it’s not so easy to classify swimmers with only one name; many consider themselves fitness swimmers who compete or competitive swimmers who swim open water, etc. So why do we go back and forth over the labels, fitness swimmer and competitive swimmer?
It’s undoubtedly another human trait to resist labels when they are placed upon us, and often with good reason. Since the dawn of time, humans have had a hard time with the concept of moderation when it comes to labeling—not all have used their powers for good. It’s fine when labeling meant: “This plant will cure your headache; this one will make you bleed out your eyeballs.” But when labels are applied to people, it can bring out the worst in Homo sapiens.
Whatever type of swimmer you consider yourself, we’re all good. We just want to make sure we’re providing content and services that you find valuable. We’ve labeled this issue as the first “Fitness Issue” of SWIMMER. It is not strictly fitness articles—Pan-Ams was a competitive event and Rich Burns, featured in “From the Center Lanes” would probably not be considered a fitness swimmer by anyone. But it’s a way for us to hunt and gather content that appeals to those who swim for myriad reasons.
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:38 AM by Editor
Each time Spring or Summer Nationals rolls around, I get excited about the people I’m going to meet. Just walking around on deck at a USMS national meet is a treat—seeing old friends and making new ones—and experiencing a great facility, friendly volunteers, and fast swimming. The media staff stays busy interviewing swimmers for the daily recap videos and, although we’re working hard, we’re having a great time.
This year in Indy was no exception. Olympic silver medalist Emily Silver joined us for commentary and, in a special project made possible by USMS partner SwimOutlet.com, Silver and the legendary gold medalist and relay anchor extraordinaire, Jason Lezak (yes, that Jason Lezak!), dropped in on the social for a SwimOutlet.com Gold Medal Delivery.
Silver and Lezak delivered some great SwimOutlet.com swag and made time for autograph signing and photos with Masters swimmers, who lined up for a chance to meet them. As part of the video project, an exhibition 200-yard mixed freestyle relay was planned. We needed two Masters swimmers to pair with the Olympians, and I remembered a story I’d read on SwimmingWorld.com about a young swimmer who was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma but who planned to swim in Indy.
Esmerelda Perez, just 18, was a graduating high school senior facing an operation to remove tumors in her chest cavity. She’d been through months of chemo and radiation, and doctors had implanted a port in her chest to deliver treatments. Through it all, she wanted to keep swimming. Swimming is what makes her happy. She’ll be swimming at Carthage College in the fall, but her immediate goal was USMS Spring Nationals.
Perez’s quiet maturity and deep love of the sport was inspiring to us all (her 25-something split on the relay was pretty amazing as well). She was thrilled at the opportunity to participate with these swimming heroes, but it was pretty clear that the Olympians were honored to swim on her relay.
The relay lasted only a few moments, but created a lasting impression. Silver led off, followed by Jon Shope, a local meet volunteer and lifelong swimmer. Perez swam third and, of course, Lezak was the anchor. Don’t miss the video at swimoutlet.com/goldmedaldelivery.
The project turned out to be more meaningful than we ever could have imagined and it brought together the best elements of a USMS national meet: sponsor support, great swimming, amazing venues and volunteers, and inspirational stories. Gold really was delivered in Indy, by all who participated.
What does the word Masters in Masters Swimming mean to you?
Masters, in USMS parlance, merely signifies that you are an adult: age 18 or older.
Over the years, we’ve heard different reactions: “It’s only for fast swimmers.” “It’s for swimmers age 50 and above.” “It’s only for swimmers who want to compete.” “It’s only for those who have mastered the sport.” “It’s only for pool swimmers.” And my personal favorite, from a young age-grouper at our pool, “It’s for old Sharks.” As perpetually young-at-heart athletes, many of us believe age is relative, but the reactions from new, would-be, and nonmembers runs the gamut.
In the 1960s, when Dr. Ransom Arthur was promoting organized adult swimming for fitness, the word Masters was borrowed from Masters Track and Field and it stuck. Some of the age misconceptions about Masters swimming may stem from this—USA Masters Track and Field does have lower age limits of 30 and 40, depending on the type of event.
Even Masters Swimming, which started as a committee of the American Swimming Coaches Association, migrated to a committee of the Amateur Athletic Union, and later morphed into the USMS we know today, had an initial lower age limit of 25. This was dropped to 19 in 1986, and then to 18 in 2002.
Age limits aside, the M word has been a topic of discussion at USMS annual meetings. In 2007, a branding task force considered the idea of dropping it in favor of something perhaps more inviting. But with so much equity and tradition invested into U.S. Masters Swimming, it was decided after careful thought that we would maintain our heritage while repositioning our identity and promoting education and services that would encourage more adults to swim.
Masters Swimming is open to anyone age 18 and older, regardless of age and ability. Some Masters programs even have adult learn-to-swim programs for those who have never set foot in the water. Our charitable arm, the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation (usms.org/giving), provides grants to clubs who create such opportunities for adults in their communities.
Our Facebook page (facebook.com/USMastersSwimmingFanPage), is packed with links to mainstream media stories about Masters swimmers. This is an exciting development, and we urge you to pitch stories to your local media outlets—they’re always looking for good content and are usually happy to do a piece on your local program, your coach, or a teammate who has an interesting story. Be sure to send us the link when it’s published. Sharing these stories helps dispel misconceptions about the M word and helps us to encourage more adults to swim.
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:39 AM by Editor
Variety, adventure, helping others, and inspiration. Mix well, repeat.
Each year my swimming friends and I combine an open water swim with some down time. In 2012, we chose the St. Croix Coral Reef Swim. Although our 5 miles was shortened to 2 miles after Tropical Storm Rafael blew through the racecourse, it was a great experience. The host resort, the Buccaneer, was a fantastic place for the race and the down time.
Future swims on our list include the Bermuda Round the Sound race and Race for the Conch Eco-SeaSwim in Turks and Caicos. We’ve even thrown some chillier swims up for discussion: This year’s 9+ Mile National Championship is in Vermont, and there’s chatter about putting together a relay for Lake Tahoe someday, or trying Alcatraz, the Tiburon Mile, La Jolla, Big Shoulders, or even one of the races in Alaska. The beauty is in the variety.
A variety of open water enthusiasts have contributed to our 2013 open water issue. Author and swimmer David McGlynn writes about swimming across Death’s Door in Lake Michigan. He makes the excellent point that many open water swims start with a group of people standing on a shoreline looking toward a distant shoreline with an adventurous eye.
It’s no doubt that a sense of adventure led USMS members Roberta St. Amour and Denise Stapley to audition for the 25th season of Survivor, set in the Philippines. Their stories are in “Swimming Life” on page 6. Also in Swimming Life, Patricia Sener and her Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers turn adversity into adventure as they recover from Superstorm Sandy, finding ways to help others in the process.
Helping others is a mantra in the marathon swimming world, and successful swimmers consider it a point of pride to extend a hand and pay it forward. Contributing writer Elaine K. Howley, an accomplished marathoner and Triple Crown swimmer herself, has always admired the pioneering women who preceded her. In “Splashback,” on page 48, she looks at the accomplishments of the legendary Florence Chadwick and how she inspired others.
Inspirational is often used to describe pro triathletes and USMS members Jarrod Shoemaker and Sara McLarty, both of whom are featured in this issue.
However you like your open water, enjoy it, protect it, and help others enjoy it. You don’t have to live near the coast or travel to an exotic locale, although it’s a great way to spend a vacation. There are many lakes and rivers in landlocked states that are plenty exciting to swim in. There’s something special about being in natural waters, and it’s even more special when you share the experience with the people in your life who matter.
Updated September 8th, 2014 at 04:43 PM by Editor
As I write this, two very exciting things are happening at the USMS National Office. By the time you read this, they should both be up and running. (Since huge projects have a way of taking on lives of their own, I write with only a wee bit of trepidation.)
The first is that we’ve asked our publication partner, Anthem Media Group, to create a digital version of SWIMMER, one that can be read on your computer, tablet, or, if you have a hankering and really good eyes, your smartphone. The digital version is available to any current member, and can be accessed through your MyUSMS account. (If you haven’t set that up yet, visit usms. org/admin/lmschb/usms_create_forums_acct. pdf for step-by-step instructions). In addition, we’re busy digitizing previous issues of SWIMMER, so check the Archive tray on the left side of the screen and watch the library grow.
We’re not going all Newsweek on you, though; the paper edition will still be delivered to you unless you unsubscribe from it through your LMSC registrar.
The second project is a redesign of usms.org. If you haven’t visited in a while, you need to—we think you’ll love the new look and feel. Our website has always been a work beast, with many customized tools that have aided our volunteer leaders in digitizing, organizing, and presenting information for our members. It still does all that and more, only now it does it in a sleek and gorgeous new skin. We’re also sourcing new content and have created a video gallery, where you’ll find technique videos, product reviews, event recaps, and more.
As always, we welcome your feedback. For comments, questions, and suggestions about SWIMMER or the stories and articles on usms.org, you can email me directly at email@example.com. For the website redesign, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you the very best in 2013.
While cleaning out a box of old files, I came across a manila folder—the darker, older kind with a metal, two-hole fastener at the upper right. Inside I found, meticulously handwritten on accounting ledger paper by my father, a complete record of my brief competitive swimming history—1973 to 1977.
What a difference a generation makes. My son just checks USA Swimming’s Deck Pass app on his iPhone if he wants to know his times. USMS members have digital options as well—we can log in to our MyUSMS accounts at usms.org, view our Swimmer Info pages, and there, like magic, are our times and more.
As staff writer Laura Jones conveys in her feature on event directors (“Take 5,” page 32), it takes dedicated volunteers to put on a good event—that has never changed. But knowing that meets of yesteryear were run with paper and pencil, and the results hand-printed or maybe typewritten, is hard to fathom. Most meet directors and volunteers I know would not want to go back to life before Hy-Tek.
In addition to helping events run more smoothly, technology can benefit us at practice. Heart-rate monitors keep you in the zone. You can wear a wristwatch that will keep track of your yardage. And I can’t be alone in my amazement that some of these devices even know what stroke you're swimming. We take a look at these and other gadgets in Swim Bag on page 38.
Open water swimming has its gadgets as well. You can affix a small GPS unit to your goggle strap and, when you get home to your computer, upload the data and see your swim: how far, how fast, what pace—even a map showing the zig-zags where you had sighting problems. (New contributor to SWIMMER, Kristin Bender, takes a look at the history of GPS in Splashback, page 48.)
As much as I love the incredible computing power, convenience, and flexibility offered by today’s technologies, I miss one thing: the starter’s pistol. Its clear and commanding report is way cooler than the sterile *bemph* we hear now.
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:43 AM by Editor
Love it or hate it, social media has become a part of everyday life. Understanding its impact means more than deciphering those little symbols above the number keys that we never used very much before. #whatisahashtaganyway @MastersSwimming?!
For anyone born before 1990, the rapidity with which information flies around can be stunning. We now rely on smartphone apps for things we used to have to wait hours or days for: weather forecasts, news, sports scores, all available at the touch of a button. With apps such as Active’s Meet Mobile, how many of us get irritated when the splits of our last race aren’t posted by the time we get out of the warm-down pool? #behonest
As with any newfangled thing, many people who’ve been around longer than the technology will grumble. Others will try it and find creative ways to use it, discarding what they don’t like. The young’uns will just wonder what all the fuss is about. Some of them will never realize that in the old days, during a dining experience, people faced each other and exchanged information—often referred to as conversation—with those actually seated at the table. y r u lookn at ur napkin?
Did you follow the Olympics via Twitter and Facebook? Or did you wait until prime time, with the hope that none of your social media–crazy friends would let slip what they saw on their Twitter feeds or post spoilers on their Facebook timelines? NBC didn’t need social media to spoil results when it aired promos of interviews with gold-medalist Missy Franklin when it hadn’t yet aired the actual gold-medal race. #epicfail
As a 42-year-old organization that hopes to attract members of all ages, USMS is using these tools to encourage conversation and sharing. Ben Christoffel of Liquid Media manages USMS social media platforms: “Social media is not replacing traditional means of communication, but rather enhancing the way we communicate as a whole.”
USMS clubs are using social media to keep their swimmers engaged. Some coaches tweet pool closures or other last-minute practice changes. Having a Facebook page is nothing new, but using Facebook instead of a club website has become an attractive option for clubs that don’t have the funds or in-house expertise to build and maintain a traditional website.
With social media tools, says Christoffel, “Masters programs can communicate, encourage and inform by posting real-time updates and media-rich content to keep their members involved outside the pool." Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay.
Updated September 3rd, 2014 at 11:20 AM by Editor
When I started Masters swimming, I was training for a triathlon. My nonremarkable age-group swimming career ended somewhere around age 12 or 13, and I didn’t really see myself as a swimmer anymore, since I had pursued other sports after my early days at the pool.
So back to the pool I went. I found that I didn’t need to spend a lot of time learning an efficient freestyle—30 years had not erased the basics; swimming felt good and natural. I did a few triathlons, became a semidecent cyclist, but never amounted to much on the run. However, one thing became very clear: Training to be competent in three sports, done in rapid succession at varying distances, is exhausting.
What about the person who takes on this challenge with little or no swimming background? Many triathletes start from scratch in all three disciplines, but most agree that swimming is the toughest of the three. Swimmers who can’t remember not knowing how to swim efficiently don’t understand how this feels unless, perhaps, they’ve taken up French or the violin as a midlife crisis hobby.
Why is swimming so difficult? My guess is because it’s one of the few sports in which your brain has to first accept that you’re in a hostile environment—one in which failure to get to the surface to breathe means death—then you need to learn the rest of the sport: stroke technique, lane etiquette, how to use all those groovy plastic toys.
Of course, most of us don’t think we are going to die while we’re swimming laps, but a part of our brains undoubtedly remains on alert as a survival technique. This nifty capacity to automate the mechanics so we can enjoy ourselves and focus on efficiency and power is a noticeable difference between swimmers who started early and swimmers who are new to the sport.
In this issue, Jim Harper, who trained for and recently competed in his first triathlon, takes a lighthearted look at some of the differences between swimmers and our multisport brethren. He talks with some USMS coaches who have found innovative ways to ensure that triathletes in their programs are getting what they need to improve the swim leg of the tri.
We’ve heard the jokes and stereotypes, watched the xtranormal.com videos of “Swimmer Guy and Triathlon Girl,” we’ve reviewed Jef Mallet’s excellent treatise, “Trizophrenia” in SWIMMER. As long as we can all laugh at ourselves, our differences shouldn’t preclude a shared enjoyment of the water and mutual respect for our different abilities and goals. Let’s continue to welcome triathletes to our ranks in USMS.
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:48 AM by Editor
Few things are as emotional as watching a swimmer look to the scoreboard after touching the wall in the race of a lifetime. The sheer tonnage of toil spanning years— the missed vacations, the freakishly scheduled adolescence, the pain—all add up to a single moment and, by the looks on their faces, these swimmers would do it all over again. That single moment seems to make all the sacrifices worth it.
These moments of glory are not limited to Olympians—you can see it in swimmers at B meets, developmental meets, high school championships, Masters meets—pretty much anywhere swimmers race. And depending on the circumstances, it may be one of many “races of a lifetime.” After all, the road is long—and advances in training, nutrition and sports science have extended the run for all of us.
But watching the elite athletes in our sport can be an out-of-body experience. Many of us know what it feels like to swim efficiently: We train hard, we compete, we cut back on beer and chocolate during our tapers. But seeing the elites swim (thanks to advances in underwater videography) can be like seeing the strokes for the first time. The words “grace,” “beauty” and “freakin’ fast” seem inadequate at best.
USMS counts a number of Olympians—from all over the world and from different sports—in its current and former membership rolls. (For a list, see usms. org/hist/oly.) And this year, more than a dozen USMS members have made Olympic Trials cuts and are eligible to compete in Omaha.
With more than 1800 swimmers vying for 52 spots, odds of an Olympic berth are long for everyone. As fans and members of the greater swimming community gather to cheer for their favorite swimmers, we're especially thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of those who've been part of the USMS family.
Three days later, some of us will jump into that same water in Omaha and reach for our own “Olympic” moments. Although most of us won’t ever share our moments with millions of television viewers, we get to share them with our teammates and loved ones, which makes all our sacrifices—dietary or otherwise—so worth it.
While gathering articles and information for our annual open water issue, I was struck by the sense of community in the world of open water swimming. As vast as the world’s waters are, the passionate group of swimmers who inhabit them seems like a small family.
Many open water swimmers, particularly marathon swimmers, know each other well. They share tips, exchange advice and accompany one another on long training swims. They reminisce over swims from the past and dream up great swims for the future. They are also competitive. In this issue, Elaine K. Howley, an experienced marathoner herself, looks at the how challenges are thrown down in “Farther, Faster, Colder, First.”
As in all families, the members don’t always agree on everything. This issue’s “Both Sides of the Lane Line” presents two views of the media’s role in the open water world. Both are well thought-out and both convey the passion these swimmers feel for their sport.
And whether arguing or agreeing, this open water family is always happy to share. When we needed some advice about what marathoners use to prevent chafing and protect their skin, several greatly respected swimmers shared their secrets. (See “What the Experts Do” in “Swim Bag.”)
Learning from those who have swum before is deeply ingrained in the family. It’s as though swimmers undergo a transformation once they’ve tackled cold water, jellyfish and fatigue. They’re grateful for help along the way, and want the cycle to continue. Laura Jones interviewed Craig Lenning about his North Channel swim for “Swimming Life,” and he repeats the mantra we’ve heard from so many of these amazing athletes: Pay it forward.
One family member who does that on a daily basis is Steven Munatones. He might seem like the godfather of this family, but he’s really more like the Kevin Bacon of open water swimming—only with one or two degrees of separation, rather than six—from everyone else. It’s become nigh impossible to research, reference, quote, edit or write anything about open water swimming without coming across one of his creations: the Daily News of Open Water Swimming, Openwaterpedia, Oceans Seven and many more.
Munatones penned two of the articles in this issue: the technique feature, "Open Water Feeding” and “Splashback” on how marathon swimming became an Olympic event. His new book, “Open Water Swimming,” is reviewed in “Swimming Life.” His passion for the sport and for recognizing the accomplishments of the rest of the family comes through in everything he does.
Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:49 AM by Editor