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

  1. Can One Person Make a Difference?

    by , December 11th, 2014 at 02:56 PM (From the Executive Director: U.S. Masters Swimming's Journey)
    It was Thursday, November 13, around 3 p.m., when I received a concerning voice mail, “Rob, please call me. Laura’s been in an accident.”

    Many Masters swimmers know Laura Hamel from her editorials in SWIMMER magazine, our glossy print publication that she leads. Although her official title is Communications and Publications Director, she is so much more to us.

    I met Laura in 2008. She was a Masters swimmer and volunteer with a grassroots committee that was making the case for USMS to establish its headquarters in Sarasota. The proposal that Laura authored and submitted made a great impression. It was professionally produced and spoke to the opportunities available to USMS if it were headquartered in Sarasota. Indeed, our Board of Directors selected Sarasota, and I went on several location scouting trips with Laura.

    During that time, I learned that she was raising a son, also a swimmer, and that she had gone back to college in her 30s, earning a degree in organizational studies from Eckerd College. An overachiever, Laura graduated with a 4.0 GPA. She had then gone on to build a successful consulting practice helping small local businesses create their communications and publications strategies in an evolving business climate in which a digital presence was crucial to their success. She also wrote and edited for a variety of media and organizations.

    When Laura wasn’t working or swimming and volunteering with her local USMS program, she was volunteering as a USA Swimming official for her son’s swim meets. I also learned that prior to going back to college, she’d been a police officer—a street cop no less—for 10 years. All of this explains her attention to detail, time management, and organizational skills. (And her occasionally colorful language.)

    When Laura joined the USMS staff in 2009, our “office” was the local Whole Foods lounge, as renovations were ongoing at the USMS headquarters and we hadn’t yet taken occupancy. My dad taught me a valuable lesson that applies to my respect for Laura; you really discover someone’s true character when things are messy and unpredictable. Well, during that period, there were many unknowns, including our ability to migrate SWIMMER magazine from an outsourced publication to one that we produced in-house.

    Bringing SWIMMER in-house was the first and our most important step in our long-term plan to be in control of our content so that we could fulfill our vision to become the trusted resource for adult aquatics. The membership had provided us resources with the dues increase so that we could improve programs and services. Our reputation would, understandably, be in question if we couldn’t seamlessly transition SWIMMER to the national office while at the same time enhancing the quality of the publication that bears our name. Results were expected and excuses not tolerated.

    I’m incredibly proud, and from the comments we continue to receive from members and constituents, they are too, of the work that Laura has accomplished and continues to deliver as SWIMMER magazine is the trusted voice for the adult swimming community.

    After changes to SWIMMER were under way, Laura began to take on other responsibilities, such as creating our STREAMLINES eNewsletters, of which we produce 30 issues a year; establishing our social media programs; archiving our rich digital assets; scripting and helping produce award-winning videos that bring the Masters Swimming story to life, helping to redesign our flagship digital property, usms.org; and most recently, the PR efforts for our April is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month campaign. Her fingerprints are on creative projects that come out of the national office.

    There’s a truism that you can have great strategy, but if you have the wrong people, the strategy will fail. The reason our communications and publications programs have succeeded, and so many of our other programs for that matter, is because we have all-star professionals such as Laura Hamel.

    So, about that call from the emergency room on November 13. After a road bike crash that would have had tragic consequences if not for a good helmet, Laura is doing well but has a long road ahead of her with shoulder rehab. At a recent staff meeting, I had to chuckle to hear her say, “You know, I really don’t have time to be on the shelf. We have so much good going on and I want to continue to be part of it all.”

    So, my tongue-and-cheek advice to Laura is: stick to the water! Because we do, too, we do, too.
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