In this election year, I vote for swimming.
Swimming gives back more than what you put into it, an ROI that should appeal to fiscal conservatives. Consider the benefits of tweaking your off-the-wall technique, as described in “Ask the Coach” on page 8: Just a small investment in your streamlines pays big dividends at your next meet.
In this issue we meet USMS members who have invested in swimming and received big health gains, including Kim Leigh (“Kicking Cancer,” page 6) and four swimmers who overcame significant obstacles to make it to Summer Nationals in Oregon (page 36). Voting to make swimming part of your life is indeed one of the best healthcare decisions you’ll ever make.
Swimming also provides an important social support structure, in which the rising-tide-lifts-all-boats viewpoint flourishes. In the Healthy Swimmer department (“Be True to Your Team,” page 14) Jim Thornton takes a look at scientific research that supports what we already know: Our swim friends are keeping us healthy and happy, and everyone deserves a hug, even if they cannot afford one.
Swimming has its mesh bag of problem peeps, to be sure. There are kickboard bullies, paddle pushers, and finners who never repent. Worse, the drill demagogue two lanes over who always complains that the interval is rigged. But with issues of pool overcrowding, rehabilitation is a better way to create harmony and ensure that everyone receives equal attention from the coach. Remember, someone might just need a hug.
Debate topics in swimming don’t need to go any further than pool versus open water, briefs versus jammers, or Waffle House versus IHOP for post-practice noshing. Granted, these topics can inflame the passions of their respective advocates, but it’s unlikely that anyone will be unfriended on Facebook over it. (Although partisan bickering between sprinters and distance swimmers has caused some coaches to erect a wall, or at least a bulkhead, between lanes.)
Thankfully, USMS elections are quite civilized. The House of Delegates votes on the officers and at-large members of the Board of Directors in alternating years. You can read about our new at-large directors, who were elected or reelected at the 2016 USMS annual meeting in Atlanta, in “Inside USMS,” on page 41.
Of course, the shenanigans from long-ago races will remain shrouded in mystery, as Managing Editor Elaine K. Howley discovered while researching the origins of the Peaks to Portland Swim, an event that spiked public interest in swimming in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Nowadays, stats are fact-checked in real time and races recorded electronically, making miscounts very rare.
So, when you go to the polls this November at usms.org/reg (registration opens November 1), please vote to renew your USMS membership, and help us make 2017 another great year!
Three years ago, I wrote here about how we, as an organization, needed to continue dispelling the myth that “Masters” Swimming means you’ve mastered the sport of swimming before joining USMS. (“The M Word,” May-June 2013). I’ve also written about our efforts to make learn-to-swim classes available to as many adults as possible. (“Milestones,” November-December 2014, “April Is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month,” March-April 2014, and “Fear of Water,” September-October 2011).
Diverse populations have been a topic, not only diversity in race (“The Swimming Race,” January-February 2010), but also in age (“Age Is a Whole Bunch of Numbers,” March-April 2016) and sexual orientation (“The Inclusive Sport—It’s All Good,” September-October 2010).
I’ve written about the labels “fitness swimmer” and “competitive swimmer,” and how they don’t often make sense (“Classification,” September-October 2013). Likewise, the differences between triathletes and swimmers, which are often nondifferences (“Triathletes and Swimmers,” July-August 2012.)
So when I write, “USMS is for everyone,” I’m really not exaggerating.
This August, our marketing team got creative and tried a few new things to welcome potential members and generate interest in the sport of swimming. First, we lowered the price of membership by $19 for the remainder of 2016 when purchased with a full 2017 membership.
Next, we created “Try Masters Swimming Day,” and encouraged members to invite friends and family to swim practice on August 15. And we encouraged coaches to invite local lap swimmers to try a workout. Our partner, Colorado Time Systems, is even donating a Pace Clock Pro to each of the five clubs who register the most new swimmers in the month of August.
But it takes a village.
At Spring Nationals I had the pleasure of meeting St. Pete (Fla.) Masters swimmer and legendary pitchman Anthony Sullivan of OxiClean fame. I asked him if he would tell his story for SWIMMER readers. He immediately turned my request for an interview around with a request of his own: “Swimming has done so much for me and I want to give back. What can I do for USMS?”
Well, if you’ve been on our social media channels in the past month, you’ve seen he’s been busy encouraging membership in a way that only he can—with a hilarious and fun infomercial-style video touting Masters Swimming as “The Greatest Workout of Them All.” He’s also sponsored a contest in which a grand-prize winner will receive a one-year USMS membership and some cool (signed!) OxiClean and Masters Swimming swag.
And we did land that interview; Managing Editor Elaine K. Howley’s profile on Sullivan, “As Seen on TV,” is on page 18.
Also in this issue (Swimming Life, page 6, by Gretchen Sanders), we meet Mamenasha Tesfaye and Thaddeus Gamory, both lifelong swimmers who are passionate about helping adults—especially people of color—learn to swim. Both are recipients of Swimming Saves Lives Foundation grants. We also meet two of their students: Randa Azab and Martha Paniagua, whose lives have been forever altered by learning to swim.
Finally, in “Olympians Among Us” (page 36), Katie O’Dair introduces us to a few of the many Olympians who use swimming to stay healthy and continue enjoying the sport they love. Although these swimmers have clearly mastered swimming, their stories, just like all of ours, originate from having taken that first leap into the pool one day long ago.
So, ask your friends and local lap swimmers: “What are you waiting for? Masters Swimming is for everyone and the water’s fine—come on in.”
Updated September 1st, 2016 at 11:41 AM by Editor
When I took the helm at SWIMMER in 2009, we occasionally reviewed swimming-related books or works by USMS members. As a lover of books, I was excited to have a reason to read more.
USMS boasts an array of talented writers across many genres: everything from children’s books and memoirs to science fiction novels and cookbooks. And not only writers, but artists, poets, musicians, photographers, and video storytellers. This is not to mention all the stroke technique, nutrition, and fitness books from industry publishers such as Velo Press and Human Kinetics.
There were so many that we couldn’t keep up with the volume of works submitted for review; the collection in my office could crush and bury me if an earthquake hits Southwest Florida.
But I have a solution: Announcing the USMS Book Club.
This idea isn’t newfangled. Several threads in the USMS Discussion Forums—started by other book lovers years ago—contain some great titles that we can include in our new club. For now, the club remains informal (in my brain and on this page) but stay tuned for future updates and opportunities to share reviews of your favorites.
To get us started, here’s a “six degrees of separation” breakdown of the connections between swimmers and books in this issue of SWIMMER alone:
The cover story, a feature profile of illustrator and author Lisa Congdon, by award-winning writer and SWIMMER’s managing editor, Elaine K. Howley, includes a review of Congdon’s latest book, “The Joy of Swimming.”The foreword to “The Joy of Swimming” was written by the legendary Lynne Cox, whose award-winning books have also been reviewed here. Several of the swimmers featured in Congdon’s book have written books, been featured in, or contributed to SWIMMER, including Karlyn Pipes, Jeff Commings, and Jane Katz.
Sports nutritionist Sunny Blende reviews Pip Taylor’s “The Athlete’s Fix” from Velo Press as part of her feature, “Five Steps to Creating and Following a Healthy Diet.” “Volunteer Profile” writer Kristina Henry also wrote the children's book, “The Fish Tank,” which was reviewed in a 2011 issue. And Susan Dawson-Cook, who wrote the Spring Nationals wrap feature, publishes steamy romance novels under the pseudonym Sabrina Devonshire.
Award-winning broadcast journalist Lynn Sherr of ABC’s “20/20,” whose list of accomplishments and awards—including a Peabody—is longer than many books, contributes an excellent review of the off-Broadway hit “Red Speedo” for the “Hot Tub.” A profile of Sherr appeared in our January-February 2013 issue, written by Laura S. Jones, whose collection of short stories, “Breaking and Entering," was also reviewed in these pages.
Sherr’s book, “SWIM: Why We Love the Water,” is a must-read in the ocean of swim literature. It will be my first official USMS Book Club recommendation. (See the masthead for more recommendations by the staff.)
Later this year, David McGlynn, whose darkly beautiful memoir “A Door in the Ocean” we reviewed in 2013, will be profiling New York Times bestselling author and swimmer, Susan Casey, who wrote the amazing nonfiction adventures “The Devil’s Teeth” and “The Wave.” McGlynn will review Casey’s latest book, “Voices in the Ocean.”
Summer is both swimming and reading season, so with this preliminary list of suggestions, I wish you happy reading, great swimming, and much enjoyment reading about swimming and swimmers.
Updated September 1st, 2016 at 11:25 AM by Editor
USMS’s new CEO offers perspectives on challenges and opportunities
Swimming has a way of sticking with you. Whether you learned to swim early or later in life, its impact is significant, and the lessons learned and skills acquired are numerous. For anyone who swam as a child, the chlorine call back to the pool is strong.
Fortunately for USMS, our new CEO, Dawson Hughes, a sports marketing professional with a strong background in leadership and nonprofit management, also happens to be a former swimmer. Dawson joined the National Office in March, after a nationwide search overseen by a special task force appointed by the Board of Directors.
Dawson most recently served as vice president of business development for the Orange Bowl Committee, a South Florida nonprofit sports organization that features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl, a top-tier college football postseason bowl game. He’s also worked for both the San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball franchises.
However, as much as he’s accomplished in the greater sports world, Dawson’s heart is with swimming, the sport he started at age 5 and the one that eclipsed his other childhood sports interests.
SWIMMER asked him about his swimming background and his ideas for USMS moving forward.
SWIMMER: What’s first on deck for you?
Dawson Hughes: I’m currently getting to know USMS’s history, the team at the National Office, and our volunteers, including members of the Board, LMSC officers, and sponsors. Most important, I’m focused on getting to know our members.
We’ll be updating our strategic plan over the next several months and we want to continue to provide great benefits and opportunities, motivation, and support for adults who want to take advantage of all that swimming has to offer. Whether it’s learning to swim for the first time, getting in shape and staying fit, or competing, we want to ensure we’re able to meet the needs of all our members and potential members.
S: What’s your swimming background?
DH: Learning to swim started shortly after learning to walk. I grew up in Southern California and we had a backyard pool, so it was looked upon as a life skill in my family. The Balboa Island Yacht Club (which was more summer camp than yacht club) had programs that included paddle boarding, swimming, diving, rowing, and sailing competitions in Newport Harbor every summer for kids aged 4 to 16, so I was in the water constantly from age 5.
At the same time, I was swimming in summer league meets in the pool. After a couple of years competing at BIYC, I decided I didn’t like coming in second to the same kid every week and I wanted to start training all year so I could beat him the following summer. Around that time my parents realized that swimming was a good way to keep me tired and out of trouble, so I joined a year-round age-group team. The plan worked on both accounts, and I went on to swim competitively through high school and two years in college.
S: How have your early swimming experiences affected your life?
DH: While considering the opportunity to take the helm at USMS, I spent time reflecting upon my swimming background and realized that, although I’ve been away from the pool for 19 years, swimming has continued to have an influence on many aspects of my life. The teamwork, goal setting, work ethic, self-motivation, and competitiveness I learned as an age-group and college swimmer are characteristics I’ve carried into my career.
On the personal side, lifelong friendships were fostered during those years. And a fitness base was built that has helped me recover from stretches of inactivity a bit more quickly. My wife and I had our kids in water safety and swim lessons as early as possible, just as our parents had done for us. I could never have predicted that my career path would bring me back to my swimming roots, and I’m excited to be in a position to provide opportunities for adults to discover—or rediscover— all the benefits of swimming.
S: What are some of USMS’s opportunities and challenges?
DH: USMS has a strong tradition of competitive swimming and that will continue; for our members who love to compete, we’ll continue to provide great events.
And I believe there are opportunities to include many more adults of all ages and backgrounds.
There are thousands of former swimmers who find it challenging to balance their careers and family lives, let alone find time for a fitness routine. I put myself in this category. Throughout my 20s and 30s, building a career and starting a family has been my focus, and carving out time to exercise is a constant struggle.
Swimming was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t feel I was in shape enough or could commit the time that I assumed would be necessary for a Masters Swimming program. So I ended up at the gym with an inconsistent fitness routine: usually warming up on a treadmill followed by poorly executed weight training or the occasional outdoor run. Without a resource to easily obtain swim workouts, the encouragement of fellow swimmers, or a coach to provide structure, my motivation to get back to the pool waned.
Finding ways to make fitness swimming fit into the busy lives of those with careers and families is both a challenge and an opportunity for us. The misconceptions about perceived time commitment and getting in shape before starting need to be addressed. Providing resources and programs that don’t require more time than a run in the neighborhood, a visit to the local gym, or other fitness programs will be important.
Fitness is a trend that isn’t going away, and swimming is regularly acknowledged as a great way to get and stay in shape. But too often the ease of entry to other fitness activities stands in the way.
S: How are we going to accomplish this?
DH: USMS wants to appeal to adults regardless of their prior experience, fitness level, or competitive inclination. This includes adults who never had the opportunity to learn to swim. To do that, we must offer programs and benefits that appeal across many demographics, lifestyles, and goals.
In starting to get to know our members these past few weeks, it has become clear that they’re our biggest cheerleaders. I’ve been asking folks how they initially got involved with Masters Swimming. The answer is almost always that a member of a club or workout group approached them and convinced them not to be intimidated or concerned about their fitness level.
Those tens of thousands of passionate swimming ambassadors, combined with simple options and encouragement to help people learn to swim, meet fitness goals, compete if they want to, or simply live a healthier lifestyle, will be our best avenue to introducing more adults to Masters Swimming.
S: When can we expect to see you back in the pool?
DH: I’ve been back in the water a few times recently and I plan to stick with it as best as I can while balancing my family life and the responsibilities of my new role. My goal is simply to stay fit enough to keep up with our 3-year-old twins.
Updated September 1st, 2016 at 11:26 AM by Editor
At a recent coaches meeting at my home pool, we were strategizing relays for an upcoming meet and surveying our swimmers in their various age groups and our head coach said: “Our team is aging.” After glaring at him for saying the word “aging” on a day I didn’t feel like contemplating it (is there ever a good day?), I had to agree with him.
We looked over our roster and, yep, our teammates— friends we’d been swimming with for the past 10 years— were all, well, a decade older. Our graying gang was gaining crows feet and losing hair right along with the rest of world, and we had 10 years of event photos to prove it.
This trend isn’t unique to our club. Between 1987 and 1993, the three largest age groups in USMS were 25-29, 30-34, and 35-39. Between 1994 and 2001, that shifted to 35-39, 40-44, and 45-49. The 2000s saw two more shifts in the same direction, and in 2015, the three largest age groups in USMS were 45-49, 50-54, and 55-59.
You can see where I’m going with this. Of course our volunteer leadership and national membership team are crunching these and other numbers, including U.S. Census data, in an ongoing effort to better understand and serve our members. And our marketing team is taking a hard look at these numbers and other research—attracting younger members is an increasingly important endeavor for us.
But what are we doing, as individual swimmers, coaches, and clubs, to encourage younger adults to join us?
Other coaches I’ve asked this question of have creative solutions. Some have reduced rates so that younger swimmers who are paying off college loans or raising young families can afford dues. Others recruit newly minted adults from their age-group programs and returning college kids on break. Not only does this encourage younger swimmers to join USMS, it can also be an effective way to win meets—as every coach knows, the deeper your roster, the more categories in which you can score.
It’s essential and comforting that motivated and knowledgeable people are working on these important issues, but my mind tends to wander (more so nowadays) to the less tangible aspects of our subculture—the empirical ether where those of us who are fascinated by the sociological aspects of it all live.
And when I think of the younger swimmers who have joined us along the way— some of whom have become dear friends—I know that it’s just way more fun to be at swim practice and events with swimmers of all ages. It never occurs to me that there’s really much of an age difference until we’re at a restaurant and someone gets mistaken for someone else’s mother (please don’t ask).
And there are older swimmers with whom I’ve developed friendships. Not in the sometimes patronizing sense of older and wiser—but in the sense that I simply enjoy their company. Period.
So yes, we might be ripe for statistical speculation, but in a real-life, every-day, get-your-butt-to-workout, swim, laugh, gossip, party, prank-each-other sense, our community is stronger and much more enriching when we have swimmers of all ages sharing the fun, chaos, and beauty of it all.
Updated September 1st, 2016 at 11:27 AM by Editor
U.S. Masters Swimming is fortunate to have great corporate partners. Some companies come and go; others have supported us for years. We’re grateful beyond measure for our partners—as a nonprofit membership association, we depend upon their support to offer more and better benefits to our members.
Sponsorship goes beyond writing USMS a check and getting ad space in SWIMMER magazine. Partners also provide products for special initiatives. Speedo gives hand paddles to coaches in Level 1 and 2 certification. FINIS provides coaches with several of their unique products, as well as donates directly to the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation. Aqua Sphere has given fins to coaches in certification classes. SwimOutlet.com created an entire line of USMS-branded products and donates goggles to Swimming Saves Lives Foundation grant recipients.
Our competitive members are familiar with nutrition partner P2Life, which provides samples of their products on deck at our national events. At those same events, personal product partners TRISWIM and Malibu C have stocked the locker rooms with chlorine-removal shampoos, conditioners, and lotions—much to the delight of swimmers—who are grateful for one less thing to pack.
Agon, Nationwide Insurance, and Malibu C have provided generous gifts and convention supplies for volunteers at our annual meeting. TYR and Speedo have provided polo shirts and hats for officials and staff at national events. And anyone who participated in Go the Distance between 2010 and 2014 received prizes from Nike for just meeting their mileage goals. If you’ve competed in a pool event since 2011, Active Network has made it easier for your results to be posted to our Top 10 database. And every year for the past five years, Colorado Timing Systems has donated four digital pace clocks to USMS clubs.
Most of our partners also provide discounts to USMS members. New partners this year, Rudy Project, XX2i Optics, and dryrobe, are offering discounts for USMS members, with special pricing for coaches. Also new this year, open water adventure company SwimTrek will be offering expanded trip options in North America. Nationwide Insurance offers a member discount on auto insurance—who among us doesn’t need that? And Endless Pools helped Indiana University with a custom pool for research purposes.
So, as well as ads in SWIMMER and exposure to our members at events, what do our partners get from us (besides our immense gratitude!)?
We try to find creative, sensible ways to connect you, our members, to our partners. We do this with targeted promotions and offers on products you’re likely already interested in. Each issue of our eNewsletter STREAMLINES contains an advertorial— an article researched and written by a partner on a swimming topic that concludes with how a particular product might be of interest to you.
How do they know you might be interested? Many owners and employees at our partner companies are swimmers, triathletes, and USMS members themselves. They aren’t just trying to sell products: They’re living and working in the aquatics world with the same passion for performance, quality, and the excitement of seeing others succeed—whether that success is learning to swim for the first time or breaking a world record—as we have. And that makes for a beautiful partnership.
So the next time you’re considering a purchase, please consider supporting these companies that make it possible for us to fulfill our mission of promoting health, wellness, fitness, and competition for adults through swimming.
In October of this year the USMS House of Delegates concluded its 43rd annual meeting, at the 2015 United States Aquatic Sports Convention in Kansas City, Mo.
During the annual meeting, officers are elected and rules and policies are voted upon. If you want to spend some time on the dry side of the sport you love, visit the “For Volunteers” tab at usms.org for more information.
Policy decisions and strategic planning are the purview of our dedicated volunteer leaders. The Executive Committee of the Board of Directors comprises the president, four vice-presidents (administration, local operations, programs, and community services), secretary, treasurer, immediate past president, and legal counsel. Eight at-large directors, one from each zone, sit on the greater BOD. Most of the 20 USMS committees report to one of the four vice presidents. The House of Delegates is composed of USMS members who’ve stepped up to represent their LMSCs and their number depends upon the size of their LMSCs.
The executive director oversees the National Office staff and reports to the Board of Directors. It’s the staff’s responsibility to enact the vision, mission, and strategic planning directives of the organization. This year, a special subcommittee of the BOD is tasked with an important job: choosing our next executive director.
For the past nearly eight years USMS’s current executive director, Rob Butcher, has presided over the period of the most growth and change USMS has seen in its 45-plus-year history—a period in which USMS evolved from an all-volunteer organization to a volunteer-led and professionally-managed one. His tenure started with establishing the first headquarters and hiring the National Office staff. It will end on December 31 this year with USMS having tripled its revenue and increased its membership by more than 50 percent.
When Rob started at USMS, he went on a fact-finding mission that would make NASA’s Mars Rover proud. He met with longtime volunteer leaders for hours on end, soaking up as much organizational history and culture as he could. He visited clubs, workout groups, and events all over the country, talking to anyone and everyone about Masters Swimming—in context of both the bigger picture and how they, as individuals, were experiencing it.
He’s the kind of guy who would jump in your pool and join swimmers in a lively argument over why breaststroke is “better” than backstroke, then hang out at your after-workout pizza party getting to know you. Most importantly, he listened and remembered your concerns and ideas and used them to formulate winning strategies that transformed USMS. Every single one of us—and I mean all (as of this moment) 63,648 of us—has benefitted from Rob’s leadership and passion for Masters Swimming.
He’s been an integral part of every important initiative undertaken in the past eight years—from rebranding to educating and supporting coaches to USMS’s growing adult learn-to-swim movement.
On January 1, 2016, Rob will step into the president and CEO role at Swim Across America, a charitable organization that, through swimming events, raises money for cancer research.
Thanks to Rob’s and the Board’s hard work and dedication, USMS is positioned to continue thriving and growing, and providing you with an organization of which you can be a proud to call yourself a member.
In the August issue of STREAMLINES, we posted a survey link with 20 questions about your SWIMMER reading habits. We wanted to know which departments and columns you read regularly to help us determine which ones might need to be updated or discontinued.
Actually, we wanted to know lots of things, such as: Do you like historical articles? Do you like profiles about members who swim fast or ones who have interesting lives outside the pool, or both, or neither? Do you prefer reading SWIMMER online or on paper? (Overwhelmingly, the latter.) How does SWIMMER compare to other magazines you read? (Seventy-five percent say as good as or better.)
Nearly 84 percent of you responded that you read every issue and nearly 12 percent read most issues. About 80 percent of you agree that SWIMMER strengthens your connection to swimming. Technique, training, and science and health features are the most read and most desired articles.
Near the end of the survey, we asked some open-ended questions about your likes and dislikes, as well as what you’d like to see changed—this was your chance to sound off on anything and everything about the magazine.
Some of the findings were expected; some were a surprise. All the data will be used to help us plan future issues. As a group, your range of interests and goals means that meeting everyone’s desires in every issue is unlikely, but it’s a challenge we relish and commit to every day.
The majority of the responses were positive—When asked what you’d like to see changed, many of you answered “nothing” or “12 issues instead of six!” That answer triggered gasps from our small but dedicated magazine staff, but we felt an immense sense of gratitude and honor that we’re able to produce something that our readers want more of.
But not everyone is happy with the magazine, and we appreciate the constructive criticism we received. It will help us become a better publication. To our relief, only a tiny few of the responses would be appropriate for the “Mean Tweets” skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your thoughts and suggestions. Thank you for your ongoing support and for helping us to continue making improvements to SWIMMER—this is your magazine and we want you to love it as much as we love working on it.
As always, you can contact me directly with your feedback at email@example.com.
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 09:31 AM by Editor
Water. The 332,500,000 cubic miles of the life-sustaining essential compound contained in, on, and above our planet is largely responsible for our existence. At a molecular level, we are water.
We drink it. We grow and cook our food with it. Water cleanses, renews, and invigorates. When it falls out of the sky, we dance. When it falls out of our eyes, we feel better afterward. We migrate to the coasts, placing a higher value on homes near water.
Mismanagement of Earth’s most precious resource might be our undoing—the evidence that immediate worldwide changes are needed is easy to see from the American West to Micronesia to Africa.
Our connection to water runs deeper than its physical properties and uses.
Water is often a major character in novels, myths, fables, and recurring dreams. Human drama unfolds on the rolling sea, in driving rain, near crashing surf or raging rivers. We converse with gurgling brooks and contemplate the mirrored stillness of mountain lakes. Water’s prominence in our literature is but one way we honor it, and our fascination isn’t always about its life-giving properties: We give deadly storms human names and gender-specific pronouns.
Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize objects and nonhuman animals that are important to us—it makes us feel more connected to them. (Attributing human characteristics to furry household mammals has become an art form on YouTube—just try to watch “Dog Wants a Kitty” and not laugh out loud.)
So it’s no surprise that some swimmers describe water as a valued teammate and friend: one who is forgiving and tolerant, one who listens and consoles.
Masters megastar Karlyn Pipes shared her intensely personal story with Elaine K. Howley and in it describes the welcoming, healing properties of the medium that she says accepted her when she felt most broken (page 18).
On page 30, Linda Brown-Kuhn explores the palliative power of water. Whether we float in it, stand near it, or even just look at a picture of it, we could be deriving a lot more benefit than we realize at the surface. For the story, Brown-Kuhn interviewed marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, author of “The Blue Mind,” about humans’ complex relationship with water and its potential to improve every aspect of our lives.
As swimmers, our intimate relationship with water is likely part and parcel of why we believe our sport and the people in it are so special—we share its bonds figuratively and literally—connected through its touch.
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 09:32 AM by Editor
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 September 21st, 2015 at 09:33 AM 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
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 09:34 AM by Editor
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.
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 09:36 AM by Editor
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 11:33 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 11:34 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 11:37 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 September 15th, 2016 at 05:07 PM 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 11:38 AM by Editor