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From the Executive Director: U.S. Masters Swimming's Journey

  1. The Joy of Masters Swimming

    by , August 13th, 2015 at 05:15 PM (From the Executive Director: U.S. Masters Swimming's Journey)
    Tuesday, August 4, was a busy and important day for us. Many of our staffers and volunteers were traveling to Cleveland for the 2015 USMS Summer National Championship to support the 963 Masters swimmers who would be competing.

    Nationals week is both fun and stressful for our staff. On the fun ledger, we get to spend time with our volunteers and sponsor partners, cheer for the first-timers, and share inspiring stories and images via social media. Of course our Spring and Summer Nationals come with stress: Livestreaming is an all-day, manually operated job that can have unexpected delivery challenges, and most of the physical set up and breakdown starts daily before dawn and goes well into the nighttime hours.

    Something else happened on August 4. I got the first glimpse of its impact when my phone buzzed at 5:15 a.m., with an image of the front page of the Wall Street Journal Health & Wellness section headline “The Joy of Masters Swimming.” With a 2,400,000 circulation, WSJ is the largest printed newspaper. Throughout the day, as I was driving to Cleveland for the Summer Nationals, I received a steady stream of texts and phone calls. Coaches, partners, and members who saw the story offered congratulations and praise for the article’s message.

    Although I had spent a good deal of time on the phone with the reporter Kevin Helliker, I didn’t know what he was going to write and I didn’t know that the piece would be on the front page. During our conversation, Kevin observed that the USMS business model is distinctly different than other participation sports such as triathlon, Tough Mudder, and Color Runs. Those organizations have seen large participation increases due primarily to an event growth strategy.

    USMS, by contrast, still offers relatively the same number of events at about the same level of participation as we did 10 years ago. In fact, the number of USMS open water sanctioned events is down from just five years ago. Yet, since 2005, USMS membership has increased from 42,490 to more than 63,000 members. Which provoked Kevin to ask this question: “Has USMS growth been intentional or by accident?”

    Well, the answer is intentional, but with the long view, and without compromising the experiences we are providing to our members.

    With resources provided by our Board of Directors and House of Delegates, we’ve made sustained and conscious investments into areas that are creating a more inclusive USMS. We rebranded in 2009 with an identity welcoming to any adult who wants to swim. Content in SWIMMER magazine and at usms.org resonates with all swimmers: those new to swimming, triathletes, those rediscovering swimming after a long break, and competitive swimmers. Nearly 1,500 coaches and instructors have attended our Masters coach certification teachings in the past four years. Our Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor Program, launched this year, has certified 230 instructors. The past two years, our Swimming Saves Lives Foundation program partners have served nearly 5,000 adults with introductory swim lessons.

    So yes, it’s our intention to grow, but to do so mindfully with inclusive programs for our members, and by supporting our coaches, instructors, and aquatic directors—the influencers who are having a direct impact in the daily experience that our members have through our 1,500 local Masters Swimming programs across the country. By doing so, we hope to foster a welcoming culture so more adults can experience the joy of Masters Swimming, as shared by the excellent Wall Street Journal piece, and as narrated by Rowdy Gaines in “Masters Swimming is a Journey." .”

    Updated August 13th, 2015 at 05:31 PM by Editor

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  2. The Adult Learn-to-Swim Story

    by , July 1st, 2014 at 01:00 AM (From the Executive Director: U.S. Masters Swimming's Journey)
    In 2011, U.S. Masters Swimming adopted a strategic plan that set forth a vision to be the premier resource for adult aquatic fitness in the United States and make fitness through swimming available for as many adults as possible. This meant we no longer wanted to be the best-kept secret in the adult athletics and fitness world.

    Research published by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association shows that swimming for exercise is one of the most desirable fitness activities for adults. Other research, from the Centers for Disease Control, shows that 37% of American adults cannot swim the length of a standard pool, which puts them at risk of becoming one of the eight adults or young adults who drown every day in this country.

    USMS’s resources and expertise uniquely positions us to address both society’s interest in swimming for fitness and the serious problem of adult drowning. In 2012, we launched our charitable arm, the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation to advocate and raise awareness, and to secure contributions so we can provide resources to our local partner programs across the country that are teaching adults to swim.

    Our hope is twofold: offer adults the basic life saving skill of swimming and instill in them the confidence and desire to continue swimming in a Masters Swimming program and experience the lifelong benefits of swimming. Hence the foundation name, Swimming Saves Lives.

    The focus on adult learn-to-swim lessons is our stake-in-the-ground cause. To generate awareness and rally our 60,000 members, many who are volunteering to teach other adults, we declared the month of April, “Adult Learn-to-Swim Month.” USMS volunteers and staff began applying for proclamations in states across the country to have the month officially designated. In 2014, we received 12 proclamations.

    We knew our cause had the potential to spread and bring about real change in communities across the country. And we knew that the individual stories of the learn-to-swim participants—who were having life-changing experiences—were the key to that process. In January of 2014, we engaged Allison Moore of Get Moore PR to help us shape the message and generate mainstream media coverage.

    Allison’s decades of professional journalism helped her see our story with fresh eyes and consider it from all angles—most importantly—the angles that would generate interest from writers, editors, and producers in the consumer space. She and her team went to work promoting the April is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month campaign into media outlets across the country.

    Allison created a radio media tour that kept me busy speaking to radio stations about the adult learn-to-swim initiative. She also recognized that one of our members, Olympic gold medalist Misty Hyman, could be a big asset in the campaign, so she booked a series of radio interviews for her as well. In total, Misty and I spoke to 51 radio stations in different regions and thanks to a couple of syndicated shows, our message was heard on 1,500 radio stations nationwide.

    Another one of our members and Masters Swimmer, Olympic gold medalist, and NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines, helped us create a public service announcement and Allison pushed that out through her PR channels. To date, the Rowdy Gaines television PSA has been broadcast 125 times in 28 states, reaching an audience of over 61,496,000.



    And yet another Masters Swimmer, Mitch Daniels, the former governor of Indiana and the current president of Purdue University, kicked off the month of April swimming alongside new adult swimmers in the Purdue pool, with media in attendance, getting the word out about how important it is for adults to learn to swim.

    The Adult Learn-to-Swim story found its way to Darlene Hill of Chicago’s FOX News affiliate. Darlene took our message to heart: She didn’t know how to swim, so she decided to take her first swimming lesson on camera, bringing even more attention to the importance of drowning prevention for adults.

    We were seeing the adult learn-to-swim story pop up all over the country, and we knew we’d tapped into an important public concern when The New York Times, USA Today, and ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer reached out to us based on the coverage and pitching efforts of Allison and her team of talented professionals.

    Jane Brody, NYT’s health writer, wrote “The Stroke You Must Have,” which referenced a family member who had drowned. Michelle Healy of USA Today wrote “Learning life-saving strokes at any age,” and ABC World News Tonight filmed an adult learn-to-swim lesson in New England.

    To say that the cause resonates is an understatement. Masters Swimmers across the country are eagerly signing up to teach and share the joy of swimming with other adults.

    So how can you get involved? Well, two ways. One, encourage your Masters Swimming program to apply for a grant or become a Swimming Saves Lives Foundation partner. The grant application deadline is July 25, 2014. Two, make an online contribution.

    To be sure, April 2015 will be Adult Learn-to-Swim month. As we get into winter and spring of 2015, we will roll out an education program for instructors and programs that want to participate.