Blog entries from the national office staff
“Dear Rob, I received a swim cap, bag tag and desk statue from USMS for my $100 contribution to the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation. By my math, you probably spent $30 on all this stuff (including postage). I expect when I make a donation that the contribution will go toward the cause and not be wasted like this.”
So went an email I received recently. This writer brings up a good point, one that other Swimming Saves Lives Foundation donors may have wondered about.
The good news is, 100 percent of donations to SSLF go to its core objectives: raising awareness and providing funding for adult learn-to-swim programs. Allow me to explain.
In 2010, we established the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation as a structured committee under the USMS nonprofit umbrella. By establishing SSLF as a committee under USMS, rather than a standalone nonprofit, we avoided the time consuming and expensive process to set up and maintain a nonprofit: monthly, quarterly, and annual tax filings, independent CPA firm audits, insurance, legal, seated board of directors, bylaws, etc. These processes are already in place for USMS as it was incorporated in 1978 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
This model allows USMS to absorb 100% of the costs to operate SSLF, which includes presenting donors with thank-you gifts and building the SSLF brand with bag tags, swim caps, and other items that can be displayed; as well as providing goggles, caps, and banners to program partners who are doing the core work: teaching adults to swim.
Thus, 100% of contributions made to SSLF go to a dedicated account for the benefit of SSLF. Our hope is that once adults learn to swim or improve their swimming skills, they’ll have the confidence and desire to continue swimming in a Masters Swimming program and experience the lifelong benefits of swimming.
Over the past two years, SSLF has awarded $110,000 in grants to more than 30 partners who are teaching adults to swim and providing opportunities for those adults to continue swimming once they learn. Each year the demand for grant support grows—the number of applications totaled more than 50 this past year.
The $110,000 provided was received from more than 6,000 USMS members who have generously made contributions to SSLF the past two years. If SSLF wasn’t under the USMS nonprofit umbrella, the costs to operate it as a standalone nonprofit would be so high that our ability to give and make a difference would be greatly diminished.
Experts have advised us that this model—SSLF under the USMS umbrella with USMS absorbing the costs—is the best strategy to make the greatest impact on our cause. Once SSLF reaches a base of about $2 million in its account, when it can potentially be self-sustaining, it would then make sense to review SSLF becoming a standalone nonprofit. As of January 1, 2015, the SSLF account has accumulated a balance of approximately $260,000.
There’s one other important point that should please donors and reinforce our support for SSLF: 100 percent of the USMS Board of Directors and 100 percent of the USMS National Office staff contributes to the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation.
Updated January 7th, 2015 at 01:57 PM by Rob Butcher
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
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.
Instinctually, I knew it. Surveys and feedback confirmed it: coaches have great impact on the tens of thousands of adults who are members of USMS.
Coaches who are welcoming, knowledgeable, and have empathy will retain and attract more adults to their Masters Swimming programs. Coaches who are aloof, inattentive, or unwelcoming will likely find their Masters Swimming programs headed toward extinction. We seek to support coaches and give them the tools they need to become better coaches and ambassadors for U.S. Masters Swimming.
USMS Takes Responsibility
In December of 2008, Chris Colburn, the Coaches Committee Chair at the time, Mel Goldstein, a past USMS president and current USMS coach educator, and I went to visit the American Swimming Coaches Association at its offices in Ft. Lauderdale. ASCA had administered a USMS coach certification program, which was offered as a self-study. The self-study course was written in 1997 by a group of USMS volunteers. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been updated in a decade and was no longer relevant. ASCA didn’t have the knowledge or resources to create a new Masters coach certification program, so we made the decision to take responsibility for the Masters coach education program.
John Leonard, ASCA’s executive director, imparted some sage wisdom as we embarked on the project: “Teach your coaches how a USMS program can generate revenue and teach pool operators how offering a Masters Swimming program can be beneficial to them.”
Three Days in Indianapolis
In the spring of 2009, USMS coaches Mel Goldstein, Lisa Dahl, Susan Ingraham, and Jim Halstead; and Mark Gill, USMS business development manager at the time, and I bunkered in a conference room in Indianapolis. We ate pizza, drank diet cokes, debated, scribbled thoughts on the white board, and planned. Over the course of three days we drafted a set of expectations, a blueprint, and a timeline for a new USMS coach certification program. We envisioned five levels to the program, with a goal of teaching the first two levels at the 2010 ASCA World Clinic.
We made an important decision that we continue to abide by today: our certifications would only be taught in live, classroom environments. USMS was prepared to make significant time and financial commitments to a traveling coach education program, believing that not only would the coaches receiving the education benefit more, but also that we would realize value in networking with Masters Swimming coaches—we knew the information needed to flow both ways and the most beneficial method would be face-to-face.
Here We Go
At the 2010 ASCA World Clinic, we unveiled our Level 1 and Level 2 certifications, taught by USMS coaches Frank Marcinkowski, Lisa Dahl, Susan Ingraham, Scott Bay, and Mel Goldstein. Those of us involved in developing the curriculum were bleary-eyed from months of looking at it and we asked the class to make recommendations for improvements. The 30 or so coaches in attendance provided great feedback with an overarching theme that resonated loudly: Masters Swimming coaches crave education and resources that will help them become better coaches and more successful at running their programs.
Since 2010, under the direction of USMS Education Director Bill Brenner, we’ve offered more than 90 teaching weekends and nearly 2,000 coaches have completed the Level 1 program. We followed up with Level 3 in 2012, and the first round of Level 4 coaches has just been certified in 2014.
Back in 2009, we thought the primary audience would be coaches who were with established USMS programs—we thought we’d be preaching to the choir. But we found that participants have diverse interests and reasons for attending. We get current Masters coaches, Masters Swimmers who don’t want to coach but want to make their swimming experience and programs better, triathlon coaches, aquatics directors, people and corporations curious about USMS, people with an interest in starting USMS programs, USA Swimming coaches, and LMSC volunteers, to name just a few.
Our coach education programs are a commitment to the USMS vision to be the premier resource for adult aquatic fitness—they are living, breathing products that we update to ensure continued accuracy and relevance.
Based on demand created during our inaugural “April Is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month” campaign, we’ve been back in the conference room—although this time with healthier food—writing the curriculum for a USMS Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor Certification Program. The ALTS instructor program will be a one-day, in-classroom learning experience with a required in-water test, in which attendees must pass the Red Cross five basic water competencies to achieve USMS ALTS instructor certification. The first two ALTS instructor teaching weekends are scheduled for January 3 in Indianapolis and January 17 in Great Barrington, Mass. ALTS Instructor Certification is being lead by Bill Brenner with additional teachings being scheduled for 2015.
We’ll continue to listen to participants who have attended our education programs. Their feedback is what leads us to develop future education products in support of the USMS vision of being the premiere resource for adult aquatic fitness and making swimming for fitness available for as many adults as possible.
Updated November 3rd, 2014 at 11:09 PM by Rob Butcher
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.
It was my privilege to deliver the State of Masters Swimming address at our annual meeting to the USMS House of Delegates.
2014 U.S. Masters Swimming Annual Meeting
Rob Butcher, Executive Director
September 14, 2014
It was 46 years ago, yes 46 years, a survey went out to 2,000 swim coaches, asking for suggestions to grow swimming. Ransom Arthur wrote back suggesting ASCA sponsor a committee of swimming for adults. In the social upheaval of that time—with the Vietnam War, and the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll culture—proposing that adults exercise for physical fitness and well-being was—well, at best, a fringe idea.
The graveyard of sports that thought they could create a national organization like USMS is overflowing. So the development of the idea that adults should exercise for health and embrace a lifestyle we know as Masters Swimming, and an organization that supports the journey is an incredibly rare success story— so rare that no other country in the world has a self-governed Masters Swimming organization. Not one, and that’s something we can’t and never should take for granted.
Walking through the four-plus decades of our history, we see the passion and indelible commitments that our founding fathers and generational leaders made to develop Masters Swimming and USMS. The fingerprints of Ransom Arthur, John Spannuth, Bob Beach, Ted Haartz, Dot Donnelly, Mel Goldstein, Tom Boak, Nancy Ridout, Rob Copeland, Jim Miller, and so many others are a permanent and lasting legacy.
On our wall of leaders are two other Hall of Famers: Paul Hutinger and June Krauser, the “Mother of Masters Swimming.” In our earliest days June and Paul established the framework of the USMS services that have richly benefitted each of us in our swimming journey.
Before there was the Internet, social media, text messages, and all our other communication channels, there was SwimMaster. SwimMaster was June’s brainchild—and it was a labor of love. SwimMaster was the original glue that attracted and bound many to the adult swimming community. June spent untold hours and energy gathering results from Masters Swimming competitions. She compiled the data, printed copies, and mailed it to members. When the content in SwimMaster began to expand to include educational information such as stroke improvement and workouts, we can begin to appreciate Paul’s contributions.
The principle of sharing information has been a bedrock value and one that we continue to uphold to fulfill our vision. June and Paul knew this principle and we are deeply indebted to them for their decades of service.
A lot of us started our swimming journey as age groupers or summer league swimmers. Although our motivations to swim may have changed now that we’re adults, we still hold inside each of us a genuine enthusiasm for this lifestyle we so love. If you didn’t still have that enthusiasm, why else would you get up predawn to go get in some laps? Or high-five a lanemate when you both finish a challenging set? Or hug your coach when he gave you stroke feedback that improved your swimming technique?
In the past few decades, a new generation of adults has joined in the Masters Swimming journey. Their backgrounds and interests are different than what we former age groupers have experienced. Some are on the journey simply to get in better shape. Some are triathletes who want to improve the swim part of their triathlon. And some are starting at the beginning—just wanting to learn the basic lifesaving skill of swimming. We’re a melting pot of diverse backgrounds and regardless of our motivation, age, or swimming ability, what binds us is the desire to swim.
As each of us is on our own swimming journey, USMS is also on a journey. And the journey for USMS includes a commitment to our vision to become the premier resource for adult aquatic fitness and make fitness through swimming available for as many adults as possible.
Surveys have reinforced the need for knowledgeable and motivated coaches. About 10 years ago, our volunteers came up with an idea to host a coach mentor conference. Several of you were the visionaries for this type of education and sharing. The goal of the conference was to provide a platform for our best and most respected coaches to share their knowledge and experience with other Masters Swimming coaches. Seeing the opportunity and benefit championed by our volunteers from that seed idea, USMS made a commitment to provide a professional-grade education program for Masters Swimming coaches, and today we can proudly say that nearly 2,000 Masters coaches have achieved certification.
We’ve not delegated or outsourced our education responsibilities—we take to heart that it’s up to us to promote the USMS values outlined in our strategic plan. Authoring and teaching our coach certification program has been a partnership between our education team and our Coaches Committee. It’s a massive and sustained commitment to create and manage a program of this scope—a scope that’s growing every day. It’s also a very wise investment. I’m pleased to report, not only do the newly certified coaches tell us we’re living up to that standard, but our program has become the model for other adult sports organizations in the U.S. and across the world.
With a show of hands, how many delegates have attended a Masters coach certification? That’s wonderful. But let’s not assume that our education programs are only speaking to the choir. We’ve invested significant time and considerable energy to develop partnerships with facilities leaders across the country with a goal of gaining more pool space for Masters Swimming programs. This year we have a record number of registered USMS clubs and workout groups as organizations such as Life Time Fitness, the Kroc Center, Sport & Health, and Debbie’s Swim School have signed on to offer Masters Swimming programs in their facilities. Even Google sees the Masters Swimming value and has registered a USMS club on its campus.
Our commitment to new and existing Masters Swimming programs includes a two-pronged approach: educate and support the aquatics directors who are sponsoring the programs, and educate and support the coaches who are, day in and day out, impacting our members. As a result, we’re seeing Masters Swimming programs crop up in new facilities across the Country.
Consider Ovetta Sampson. Ovetta is a triathlon coach and was seeking to expand her coaching business. She took our Masters coach certification program and tapped into the resources offered by our education services unit. Recently Ovetta wrote these words to Education Director Bill Brenner:
“I just wanted to personally thank you for coming to see the administration officials at the Kroc Center in Chicago. Because of your willingness to explain the USMS program, I really do believe that they decided to house my USMS club. Yesterday at our first practice we had 16 swimmers, all African-American or Latino and all USMS members! We're on our way to allowing more adults to enjoy swimming and triathlon. I just wanted to personally thank you and say ‘keep it up.’”
Results like Ovetta’s are happening because our treasure of top-tier coaches such as Scott Bay, Cokie Lepinski, Stu Kahn, and others genuinely enjoy teaching other coaches and are willing to travel the country to do it.
More Masters programs like Ovetta’s are starting and growing because our professional staff—our All Stars of Mel Goldstein and Bill Brenner—have the business skills and gravitas to convince facilities directors that sponsoring a Masters Swimming program benefits the facility and benefits adults in the community.
To everyone helping with our education outreach, we love your passion and thank you for your service.
At Convention last year, our Swimming Saves Lives Foundation Board of Trustees charted its new cause and provided grants to 11 programs that would teach adults to learn-to-swim. Tomorrow, Bill Meier, the New England LMSC Chair and a grant recipient, is going to lead an energetic workshop in which he shares how the LMSC administered their grant, recruited and trained volunteers, the impact they were able to make, and what steps your LMSC should take to replicate this type of program. The opportunity to teach adults the basic lifesaving skill of swimming is a natural fit to our vision of making fitness through swimming available for as many adults as possible.
Many of you saw the media buzz around our “April is Adult Learn-to-Swim Month” campaign. The New York Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle and 3,000 other media outlets published stories about our adult learn-to-swim cause. What you may not know is why the April Adult Learn-to-Swim month is so incredibly important and how it came to be.
It’s a wonderful story in which, once again, one of our volunteers planted a seed and the professional staff was able to act. A few weeks after last year’s Convention, Bill Meier phoned me and said, “Rob, listen. This adult learn-to-swim thing is huge. One third of American adults can’t swim the length of a pool and it’s a societal problem. The USMS mission is to encourage adults to swim and we can’t ignore the issue. We have the answer. We’re the only organization that actually has the answer. And here’s the deal: I know we can help a lot of adults by mobilizing our best asset, our volunteers. Imagine the impact we can make on society if we can encourage every USMS member to give the gift of swimming by teaching just a couple of other adults.”
Bill continued on, “I have an idea, Rob. We need to rally the base and put visibility on the issue. Let’s dedicate a month when all our LMSCs and Masters Swimming programs give back of their time to teach other adults. We need to declare April as Adult Learn-to-Swim Month. April is ideal as that is the time of year when many pools and other bodies of water are opening for spring and summer season. To add legitimacy, let’s write to every governor, Mayor and even the President to proclaim April as Adult Learn-to-Swim Month. If we get some governors on board and show what we are doing, mainstream media will follow the story. It’s too important for them to ignore. I’ve already got a template letter drafted. Can I send it to you?”
At our staff meeting the next week, I shared my conversation with Bill. I could see the staff’s wheels turning as they listened and immediately grasped how this would support the USMS vision. But I could also sense a feeling of “oh my goodness,” although that’s a decidedly polite way of putting it in mixed company.
You have to realize, programs in the national office have assigned professional staff that are accountable for performance and results. But the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation has no staff assignment. It was just two years ago the Board of Directors conducted a feasibility study to see if a foundation for USMS was possible, which the study confirmed it was, and then adopted a foundation strategic plan with a cause that would have societal impact.
We provided 11 grants this year that offered about 1,500 learn-to-swim lessons to adults. And over the past 12 months our existing USMS staff has been developing the foundation infrastructure with such things as grant agreements and an online application with online reporting. We built online giving into membership registration and 3,500 USMS members donated.
Putting these processes in place is necessary to manage the Foundation so that Swimming Saves Lives fulfills the promise of its name: saving lives in the short term by combatting adult drowning, and saving lives in the long term by giving adults the ability to enjoy the lifelong benefits that swimming offers as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Our Masters Coach Certification Program and our commitment to our Foundation have revealed the need for an Adult Learn-to-Swim Instructor Certification Program. Although there are many youth-focused learn-to-swim instructor programs and special programs for terrified adults, there isn’t an all-purpose learn-to-swim program for the general adult population. Our education team is in the process of writing this instructor program. We’re adopting the Red Cross Five Basic Water Competencies as the test for instructors and students.
Our adult learn-to-swim instructor program will begin next year. Stay tuned to usms.org and STREAMLINES for more details and registration.
We continue to make other investments into programs and services where members have expectations and that support the USMS vision. In our recent new member survey, members said the benefit that would add the most value to USMS membership is more online technique videos. So, we are creating more technique videos to meet this expectation.
In the same survey, new members raved about the content and quality of SWIMMER magazine and the STREAMLINES eNewsletters. Many stories, features, and, especially, stroke videos, go viral upon publication. And as with our education services team, our communications and publications team doesn’t outsource or delegate responsibility. Our content is conceived, produced, and published in-house.
The idea of having USMS-created content was started, once again, by volunteers. Prior to 2009, volunteers penned articles for usms.org—a format that’s provided the framework for what has grown into a trusted resource across the world. We used to get excited when a web article hit a thousand views. Now we have articles with 45,000 views, and videos with half a million views.
New opportunities in social media and digital marketing are ours for the taking as we continue to build our organizational image across new platforms and reach new audiences. This is a continued commitment to our vision of becoming the trusted global resource on adult aquatic fitness.
Here’s a valuable takeaway and suggestion from members to LMSCs: New members want more stroke clinics. Kudos to the Utah LMSC for responding to this desire by sponsoring a free swim clinic to anyone who joins or renews their membership with USMS prior to January. We hope to see other LMSCs follow suit with similar programs.
With all this talk about investing in education, learn-to-swim, public relations, online videos and other services it’s natural to ask if we can afford it? Well, you should know this.
USMS has no debt. We have no lines of credit and we do not owe a single penny to anyone. In the past three years, our reserve has increased by more than $800,000. We have numerous checks and balances to ensure our fiscal strength and stability. With approval from the Board of Directors, we’ll be implementing programs that had been planned for 2016 by using a portion of our reserve.
There are many reasons USMS is a success story; Good governance; A sound financial model; and a strategic plan where we validate and publish results.
But it all starts with buy-in to our mission and shared mutual commitment to our vision that is allowing USMS to make a positive difference in the swimming journey of so many adults.
I trust this weekend will be a time that you hug old friends, make new ones, hopefully find a time to swim, and appreciate the good work you’re all doing for the benefit of so many. The policies you put in place have a very real effect on USMS and our ability to encourage the adult swimming journey.
Thank you and see you throughout the weekend.
Updated September 21st, 2014 at 12:53 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.
In 1968, the American Swimming Coaches Association was seeking ideas that would lead to growth. A survey went out to 2,000 swim coaches, asking for suggestions. Capt. Ransom Arthur, a Navy doctor, wrote back suggesting ASCA sponsor a committee of swimming for older ages. In the social upheaval of that time, the Vietnam War, and the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll culture, proposing that adults exercise for physical fitness and well-being was, at best, a fringe idea.
That suggestion to establish an adult swimming program was the beginning of Masters Swimming, and it was first proposed in a survey response.
Asking members, partners, and constituents for ideas on how to improve and grow is a business principle taught most business 101 classes. And for good reason—it works.
Masters Swimming continues to utilize surveys to check in with our members and volunteer leaders. In 2011, prior to writing our current USMS strategic plan, we surveyed our LMSC officers, committee chairs, and House of Delegates members. The collective feedback was paramount in assessing our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and in shaping our vision.
This spring, we conducted a survey of 2014 USMS members who registered with USMS for the first time. We wanted to learn from first-time members why they joined USMS, what they valued about USMS membership, and what benefits they believed would add more value to their membership.
We received 1,256 completed surveys, about an 11% response rate. We learned some interesting things about our new members:
33% had never been part of any organized team, and 34% swam on a club or summer league team as a child and/or a high school team.71% joined USMS because membership was required to swim in an activity such as a practice, clinic, or event, meaning 29% joined USMS by choice.Of that 29%, the most popular reasons given for joining were: “I swim for fitness and thought being a USMS member would improve my swimming experience,” and “I wanted to improve my triathlon and thought being a USMS member would help me,” and “My Masters Swimming coach encouraged (but did not require) me to become a USMS member.”The two most requested benefits—the ones new members believed would add more value to their USMS memberships—were more online technique videos and more stroke clinics.We left a blank field at the end of the survey, open for any comments or suggestions. An overwhelming number or respondents told us how much they liked the quality and content of SWIMMER magazine and the STREAMLINES eNewsletters.
All of this information is valuable to us. It lets us know what we’re doing well and where we can improve. But by far the most interesting result was not at all what we expected.
Prior to publishing the survey, a staffer suggested we ask a question about new members’ perceptions of USMS prior to becoming members. Several us spoke up, saying we already knew what they think: “The word Masters is intimidating,” and “USMS is for people who want to compete,” and “You have to be 40 or older to become a member.” We decided to include the perception question, believing the answers would fall across those preconceived notions.
And wouldn’t you know it, we were wrong.
It turns out, 58% of new members did not have any perception of USMS prior to joining. In fact, most had never heard of us. This is valuable information—we see it as an opportunity to market the USMS brand without having to focus so much on dispelling what we thought were still popular misconceptions about Masters Swimming.
Surveys will continue to be an important information-gathering tool. Should you happen to receive one from us, please know that your input is truly valuable and we take seriously all the feedback we receive. We pledge to continue to ask you how we’re doing, and how we can improve your member experience.
Updated August 10th, 2014 at 09:35 AM by Rob Butcher
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
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.
I learned to swim as a youngster, playing the game “Marco Polo” with my brothers in our grandparents’ swimming pool. I also swam a couple of years with summer league programs. It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I had my first swim team experience. I had the minimal talent required to swim four years at Georgia Southern University, and it was there that I discovered my love of swimming.
After college, I swam on several Masters teams and ended up qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Trials at the age of 28. At the Trials, I was in an outside lane in the first heat, which is reserved for those who barely make the qualifying time. Nonetheless, I was in the big dance and my swimming dreams were fulfilled. Or so I thought.
Inspired by Michael Jordan and the “Just Do It” era, I told my college swim coach that I wanted a career in sports marketing. Thinking I had starry eyes for what sports marketing meant, he gave me a job cleaning our football stadium. Two years later, surprised I hadn't quit, he gave me a job selling tickets via telemarketing and selling program ads by cold calling businesses on foot.
When I graduated, my alma mater created a sports marketing internship for me and paid for my grad school. I learned that when you just won't quit, and you carry yourself with integrity, perseverance, and the right attitude, it will pay off in the long run.
Twenty-four years later, I’m having fun leading a national governing body in the swimming industry. My swimming journey and dream of inspiring others to swim continues on.
Today, I consider myself a fitness swimmer. Balancing a rewarding and busy career with twin toddler boys doesn't leave as much time as I'd like for training. I sit on several industry boards and I'm on a mission to make sure our favorite form of exercise is no longer the best kept fitness secret in this country.
Updated July 18th, 2014 at 04:30 PM by Rob Butcher
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 July 1st, 2014 at 11:36 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 11:38 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 11:39 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 05:43 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For the website redesign, email email@example.com.
Wishing you the very best in 2013.