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SWIMMER Editorials

  1. Triathletes and Swimmers (July-August 2012)

    by , July 1st, 2012 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    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

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  2. Aging Gracefully with USMS (May-June 2010)

    by , May 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    There’s always a lot of talk about age in Masters swimming. We don’t look our age—and some would argue, don’t act it—we age well, we age up, we age group. And then there are the adages: “Age is just a number,” “The older we get, the faster we were,” and “We don’t have to get faster, just older.”

    There’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the adult swimmer, something the nonswimmer can’t quite define. Most hit the pool deck in their swimsuits with confidence, no matter their shape, size, or age. Sort of like learning that it’s OK to send your food back in a restaurant—something many don’t feel comfortable doing until their 40s—we have a wee bit of entitlement as we stroll around at meets discussing our races with our teammates and competitors. After all, we have worked hard, in life and at practice, and we made all the necessary family arrangements back home. When we get to the meet, it is time to have fun.

    And we’re good at it—just ask the 592 swimmers, aged 18 to 91, who participated in the YMCA Masters National Championship on April 15-18 in Ft. Lauderdale. First-timers at the meet were amazed—remarking that everyone just looked so happy: big smiles, lots of cheering and laughing. There were throngs of noisy swimmers at the turn end shouting encouragement to their teammates, getting their splits, counting their laps—no matter what age. A nonswimmer friend, who noticed the complete lack of attention paid to age in this regard, remarked that Masters swimmers must have the best-kept secret in athletics.

    The secret is getting out.

    In the January-February issue of SWIMMER, Jim Thornton wrote about staying happy, and how aging Masters swimmers, on average, appear to be happier than nonswimmers. In this May-June issue, lifelong swimmer and noted author Dr. Phillip Whitten explores research into the physical side of aging swimmers. Again, Masters swimmers appear to come out on top—living longer, not surprisingly, than sedentary people and, something that did surprise researchers, longer than walkers and runners. Although the research is fairly new, it has sparked curiosity in the research community dedicated to aging and will undoubtedly be further explored.

    While we let the experts figure it out, we’ll continue to have fun; it’s how we roll.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:55 AM by Editor

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  3. The Swimming Race (January-February 2010)

    by , January 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks drowning as the second leading cause of accidental death among children. According to the USA Swimming Foundation, approximately six out of 10 African-American and Hispanic/Latino children cannot swim. Children in these groups are about twice as likely to drown as Caucasian children. The rate of youth drowning deaths in ethnically diverse communities is two to three times higher than the national average.

    These grim statistics have fueled swim programs nationwide – programs with the goal of making sure all kids are water-safe. An article in this issue’s Healthy Swimmer brings us up to date on USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash program, which is providing seed money for learn-to-swim programs in underserved areas of the country. Program spokesperson, Olympian Cullen Jones, completed a six-city tour this past summer to promote awareness and kick-start programs.

    Programs and progress are encouraging, but a failure to examine the root causes of problems often creates more problems. The dearth of swimming skills among modern African-Americans has perpetuated a belief that blacks were always poor swimmers, despite evidence to the contrary. Kevin Dawson, assistant professor of history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, contributes some of his research findings in Splashback. Professor Dawson shares accounts of skilled black swimmers dating back to the late 1600s. From the Middle Ages onward, most Europeans did not swim at all. As these Europeans came in contact with Africans, they were amazed at their swimming abilities. So what happened? How did we get to today?

    Some believe that slaves born in the U.S. were not taught to swim because they would use it as a means of escape. This may have been true in isolated cases, but Dawson says what happened during Reconstruction and on through the civil rights movement has had a bigger impact. “Bodies of water that were previously used for recreation by blacks were often repositories for victims of racial violence,” Dawson says. Water became closely associated with terror and violence.

    When people are afraid of water, their children seldom learn to swim. Ergo, many generations of African-Americans did not learn to swim. In 1969, a now widely discredited study titled “The Negro and Learning to Swim: The Buoyancy Problem Related to Reported Biological Difference,” claimed that, due to heavier bones and muscle mass, blacks were not buoyant enough to swim well. Throw segregation into the mix, with little or no access to public pools and beaches, and the lack of pools in ethnically diverse communities, and the cycle continued.

    How does this relate to Masters swimming? USMS is proud to support the USA Swimming Foundation and its efforts to eliminate childhood drowning due to unequal opportunity. The Foundation has a presence in SWIMMER, and many USMS members donate directly. USMS is a supporter of the Foundation’s annual banquet, Golden Goggles. All of us in the swimming community can work together to make sure opportunities to enjoy and be safe in water are available to everyone, regardless of race.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:55 AM by Editor

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