Blog entries from the national office staff
When I took the helm at SWIMMER in 2009, we occasionally reviewed swimming-related books or works by USMS members. As a lover of books, I was excited to have a reason to read more.
USMS boasts an array of talented writers across many genres: everything from children’s books and memoirs to science fiction novels and cookbooks. And not only writers, but artists, poets, musicians, photographers, and video storytellers. This is not to mention all the stroke technique, nutrition, and fitness books from industry publishers such as Velo Press and Human Kinetics.
There were so many that we couldn’t keep up with the volume of works submitted for review; the collection in my office could crush and bury me if an earthquake hits Southwest Florida.
But I have a solution: Announcing the USMS Book Club.
This idea isn’t newfangled. Several threads in the USMS Discussion Forums—started by other book lovers years ago—contain some great titles that we can include in our new club. For now, the club remains informal (in my brain and on this page) but stay tuned for future updates and opportunities to share reviews of your favorites.
To get us started, here’s a “six degrees of separation” breakdown of the connections between swimmers and books in this issue of SWIMMER alone:
The cover story, a feature profile of illustrator and author Lisa Congdon, by award-winning writer and SWIMMER’s managing editor, Elaine K. Howley, includes a review of Congdon’s latest book, “The Joy of Swimming.”The foreword to “The Joy of Swimming” was written by the legendary Lynne Cox, whose award-winning books have also been reviewed here. Several of the swimmers featured in Congdon’s book have written books, been featured in, or contributed to SWIMMER, including Karlyn Pipes, Jeff Commings, and Jane Katz.
Sports nutritionist Sunny Blende reviews Pip Taylor’s “The Athlete’s Fix” from Velo Press as part of her feature, “Five Steps to Creating and Following a Healthy Diet.” “Volunteer Profile” writer Kristina Henry also wrote the children's book, “The Fish Tank,” which was reviewed in a 2011 issue. And Susan Dawson-Cook, who wrote the Spring Nationals wrap feature, publishes steamy romance novels under the pseudonym Sabrina Devonshire.
Award-winning broadcast journalist Lynn Sherr of ABC’s “20/20,” whose list of accomplishments and awards—including a Peabody—is longer than many books, contributes an excellent review of the off-Broadway hit “Red Speedo” for the “Hot Tub.” A profile of Sherr appeared in our January-February 2013 issue, written by Laura S. Jones, whose collection of short stories, “Breaking and Entering," was also reviewed in these pages.
Sherr’s book, “SWIM: Why We Love the Water,” is a must-read in the ocean of swim literature. It will be my first official USMS Book Club recommendation. (See the masthead for more recommendations by the staff.)
Later this year, David McGlynn, whose darkly beautiful memoir “A Door in the Ocean” we reviewed in 2013, will be profiling New York Times bestselling author and swimmer, Susan Casey, who wrote the amazing nonfiction adventures “The Devil’s Teeth” and “The Wave.” McGlynn will review Casey’s latest book, “Voices in the Ocean.”
Summer is both swimming and reading season, so with this preliminary list of suggestions, I wish you happy reading, great swimming, and much enjoyment reading about swimming and swimmers.
Updated July 1st, 2016 at 05:16 PM by Editor
USMS’s new CEO offers perspectives on challenges and opportunities
Swimming has a way of sticking with you. Whether you learned to swim early or later in life, its impact is significant, and the lessons learned and skills acquired are numerous. For anyone who swam as a child, the chlorine call back to the pool is strong.
Fortunately for USMS, our new CEO, Dawson Hughes, a sports marketing professional with a strong background in leadership and nonprofit management, also happens to be a former swimmer. Dawson joined the National Office in March, after a nationwide search overseen by a special task force appointed by the Board of Directors.
Dawson most recently served as vice president of business development for the Orange Bowl Committee, a South Florida nonprofit sports organization that features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the Capital One Orange Bowl, a top-tier college football postseason bowl game. He’s also worked for both the San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball franchises.
However, as much as he’s accomplished in the greater sports world, Dawson’s heart is with swimming, the sport he started at age 5 and the one that eclipsed his other childhood sports interests.
SWIMMER asked him about his swimming background and his ideas for USMS moving forward.
SWIMMER: What’s first on deck for you?
Dawson Hughes: I’m currently getting to know USMS’s history, the team at the National Office, and our volunteers, including members of the Board, LMSC officers, and sponsors. Most important, I’m focused on getting to know our members.
We’ll be updating our strategic plan over the next several months and we want to continue to provide great benefits and opportunities, motivation, and support for adults who want to take advantage of all that swimming has to offer. Whether it’s learning to swim for the first time, getting in shape and staying fit, or competing, we want to ensure we’re able to meet the needs of all our members and potential members.
S: What’s your swimming background?
DH: Learning to swim started shortly after learning to walk. I grew up in Southern California and we had a backyard pool, so it was looked upon as a life skill in my family. The Balboa Island Yacht Club (which was more summer camp than yacht club) had programs that included paddle boarding, swimming, diving, rowing, and sailing competitions in Newport Harbor every summer for kids aged 4 to 16, so I was in the water constantly from age 5.
At the same time, I was swimming in summer league meets in the pool. After a couple of years competing at BIYC, I decided I didn’t like coming in second to the same kid every week and I wanted to start training all year so I could beat him the following summer. Around that time my parents realized that swimming was a good way to keep me tired and out of trouble, so I joined a year-round age-group team. The plan worked on both accounts, and I went on to swim competitively through high school and two years in college.
S: How have your early swimming experiences affected your life?
DH: While considering the opportunity to take the helm at USMS, I spent time reflecting upon my swimming background and realized that, although I’ve been away from the pool for 19 years, swimming has continued to have an influence on many aspects of my life. The teamwork, goal setting, work ethic, self-motivation, and competitiveness I learned as an age-group and college swimmer are characteristics I’ve carried into my career.
On the personal side, lifelong friendships were fostered during those years. And a fitness base was built that has helped me recover from stretches of inactivity a bit more quickly. My wife and I had our kids in water safety and swim lessons as early as possible, just as our parents had done for us. I could never have predicted that my career path would bring me back to my swimming roots, and I’m excited to be in a position to provide opportunities for adults to discover—or rediscover— all the benefits of swimming.
S: What are some of USMS’s opportunities and challenges?
DH: USMS has a strong tradition of competitive swimming and that will continue; for our members who love to compete, we’ll continue to provide great events.
And I believe there are opportunities to include many more adults of all ages and backgrounds.
There are thousands of former swimmers who find it challenging to balance their careers and family lives, let alone find time for a fitness routine. I put myself in this category. Throughout my 20s and 30s, building a career and starting a family has been my focus, and carving out time to exercise is a constant struggle.
Swimming was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t feel I was in shape enough or could commit the time that I assumed would be necessary for a Masters Swimming program. So I ended up at the gym with an inconsistent fitness routine: usually warming up on a treadmill followed by poorly executed weight training or the occasional outdoor run. Without a resource to easily obtain swim workouts, the encouragement of fellow swimmers, or a coach to provide structure, my motivation to get back to the pool waned.
Finding ways to make fitness swimming fit into the busy lives of those with careers and families is both a challenge and an opportunity for us. The misconceptions about perceived time commitment and getting in shape before starting need to be addressed. Providing resources and programs that don’t require more time than a run in the neighborhood, a visit to the local gym, or other fitness programs will be important.
Fitness is a trend that isn’t going away, and swimming is regularly acknowledged as a great way to get and stay in shape. But too often the ease of entry to other fitness activities stands in the way.
S: How are we going to accomplish this?
DH: USMS wants to appeal to adults regardless of their prior experience, fitness level, or competitive inclination. This includes adults who never had the opportunity to learn to swim. To do that, we must offer programs and benefits that appeal across many demographics, lifestyles, and goals.
In starting to get to know our members these past few weeks, it has become clear that they’re our biggest cheerleaders. I’ve been asking folks how they initially got involved with Masters Swimming. The answer is almost always that a member of a club or workout group approached them and convinced them not to be intimidated or concerned about their fitness level.
Those tens of thousands of passionate swimming ambassadors, combined with simple options and encouragement to help people learn to swim, meet fitness goals, compete if they want to, or simply live a healthier lifestyle, will be our best avenue to introducing more adults to Masters Swimming.
S: When can we expect to see you back in the pool?
DH: I’ve been back in the water a few times recently and I plan to stick with it as best as I can while balancing my family life and the responsibilities of my new role. My goal is simply to stay fit enough to keep up with our 3-year-old twins.
At a recent coaches meeting at my home pool, we were strategizing relays for an upcoming meet and surveying our swimmers in their various age groups and our head coach said: “Our team is aging.” After glaring at him for saying the word “aging” on a day I didn’t feel like contemplating it (is there ever a good day?), I had to agree with him.
We looked over our roster and, yep, our teammates— friends we’d been swimming with for the past 10 years— were all, well, a decade older. Our graying gang was gaining crows feet and losing hair right along with the rest of world, and we had 10 years of event photos to prove it.
This trend isn’t unique to our club. Between 1987 and 1993, the three largest age groups in USMS were 25-29, 30-34, and 35-39. Between 1994 and 2001, that shifted to 35-39, 40-44, and 45-49. The 2000s saw two more shifts in the same direction, and in 2015, the three largest age groups in USMS were 45-49, 50-54, and 55-59.
You can see where I’m going with this. Of course our volunteer leadership and national membership team are crunching these and other numbers, including U.S. Census data, in an ongoing effort to better understand and serve our members. And our marketing team is taking a hard look at these numbers and other research—attracting younger members is an increasingly important endeavor for us.
But what are we doing, as individual swimmers, coaches, and clubs, to encourage younger adults to join us?
Other coaches I’ve asked this question of have creative solutions. Some have reduced rates so that younger swimmers who are paying off college loans or raising young families can afford dues. Others recruit newly minted adults from their age-group programs and returning college kids on break. Not only does this encourage younger swimmers to join USMS, it can also be an effective way to win meets—as every coach knows, the deeper your roster, the more categories in which you can score.
It’s essential and comforting that motivated and knowledgeable people are working on these important issues, but my mind tends to wander (more so nowadays) to the less tangible aspects of our subculture—the empirical ether where those of us who are fascinated by the sociological aspects of it all live.
And when I think of the younger swimmers who have joined us along the way— some of whom have become dear friends—I know that it’s just way more fun to be at swim practice and events with swimmers of all ages. It never occurs to me that there’s really much of an age difference until we’re at a restaurant and someone gets mistaken for someone else’s mother (please don’t ask).
And there are older swimmers with whom I’ve developed friendships. Not in the sometimes patronizing sense of older and wiser—but in the sense that I simply enjoy their company. Period.
So yes, we might be ripe for statistical speculation, but in a real-life, every-day, get-your-butt-to-workout, swim, laugh, gossip, party, prank-each-other sense, our community is stronger and much more enriching when we have swimmers of all ages sharing the fun, chaos, and beauty of it all.
Updated March 2nd, 2016 at 09:25 AM by Editor
U.S. Masters Swimming is fortunate to have great corporate partners. Some companies come and go; others have supported us for years. We’re grateful beyond measure for our partners—as a nonprofit membership association, we depend upon their support to offer more and better benefits to our members.
Sponsorship goes beyond writing USMS a check and getting ad space in SWIMMER magazine. Partners also provide products for special initiatives. Speedo gives hand paddles to coaches in Level 1 and 2 certification. FINIS provides coaches with several of their unique products, as well as donates directly to the Swimming Saves Lives Foundation. Aqua Sphere has given fins to coaches in certification classes. SwimOutlet.com created an entire line of USMS-branded products and donates goggles to Swimming Saves Lives Foundation grant recipients.
Our competitive members are familiar with nutrition partner P2Life, which provides samples of their products on deck at our national events. At those same events, personal product partners TRISWIM and Malibu C have stocked the locker rooms with chlorine-removal shampoos, conditioners, and lotions—much to the delight of swimmers—who are grateful for one less thing to pack.
Agon, Nationwide Insurance, and Malibu C have provided generous gifts and convention supplies for volunteers at our annual meeting. TYR and Speedo have provided polo shirts and hats for officials and staff at national events. And anyone who participated in Go the Distance between 2010 and 2014 received prizes from Nike for just meeting their mileage goals. If you’ve competed in a pool event since 2011, Active Network has made it easier for your results to be posted to our Top 10 database. And every year for the past five years, Colorado Timing Systems has donated four digital pace clocks to USMS clubs.
Most of our partners also provide discounts to USMS members. New partners this year, Rudy Project, XX2i Optics, and dryrobe, are offering discounts for USMS members, with special pricing for coaches. Also new this year, open water adventure company SwimTrek will be offering expanded trip options in North America. Nationwide Insurance offers a member discount on auto insurance—who among us doesn’t need that? And Endless Pools helped Indiana University with a custom pool for research purposes.
So, as well as ads in SWIMMER and exposure to our members at events, what do our partners get from us (besides our immense gratitude!)?
We try to find creative, sensible ways to connect you, our members, to our partners. We do this with targeted promotions and offers on products you’re likely already interested in. Each issue of our eNewsletter STREAMLINES contains an advertorial— an article researched and written by a partner on a swimming topic that concludes with how a particular product might be of interest to you.
How do they know you might be interested? Many owners and employees at our partner companies are swimmers, triathletes, and USMS members themselves. They aren’t just trying to sell products: They’re living and working in the aquatics world with the same passion for performance, quality, and the excitement of seeing others succeed—whether that success is learning to swim for the first time or breaking a world record—as we have. And that makes for a beautiful partnership.
So the next time you’re considering a purchase, please consider supporting these companies that make it possible for us to fulfill our mission of promoting health, wellness, fitness, and competition for adults through swimming.
In October of this year the USMS House of Delegates concluded its 43rd annual meeting, at the 2015 United States Aquatic Sports Convention in Kansas City, Mo.
During the annual meeting, officers are elected and rules and policies are voted upon. If you want to spend some time on the dry side of the sport you love, visit the “For Volunteers” tab at usms.org for more information.
Policy decisions and strategic planning are the purview of our dedicated volunteer leaders. The Executive Committee of the Board of Directors comprises the president, four vice-presidents (administration, local operations, programs, and community services), secretary, treasurer, immediate past president, and legal counsel. Eight at-large directors, one from each zone, sit on the greater BOD. Most of the 20 USMS committees report to one of the four vice presidents. The House of Delegates is composed of USMS members who’ve stepped up to represent their LMSCs and their number depends upon the size of their LMSCs.
The executive director oversees the National Office staff and reports to the Board of Directors. It’s the staff’s responsibility to enact the vision, mission, and strategic planning directives of the organization. This year, a special subcommittee of the BOD is tasked with an important job: choosing our next executive director.
For the past nearly eight years USMS’s current executive director, Rob Butcher, has presided over the period of the most growth and change USMS has seen in its 45-plus-year history—a period in which USMS evolved from an all-volunteer organization to a volunteer-led and professionally-managed one. His tenure started with establishing the first headquarters and hiring the National Office staff. It will end on December 31 this year with USMS having tripled its revenue and increased its membership by more than 50 percent.
When Rob started at USMS, he went on a fact-finding mission that would make NASA’s Mars Rover proud. He met with longtime volunteer leaders for hours on end, soaking up as much organizational history and culture as he could. He visited clubs, workout groups, and events all over the country, talking to anyone and everyone about Masters Swimming—in context of both the bigger picture and how they, as individuals, were experiencing it.
He’s the kind of guy who would jump in your pool and join swimmers in a lively argument over why breaststroke is “better” than backstroke, then hang out at your after-workout pizza party getting to know you. Most importantly, he listened and remembered your concerns and ideas and used them to formulate winning strategies that transformed USMS. Every single one of us—and I mean all (as of this moment) 63,648 of us—has benefitted from Rob’s leadership and passion for Masters Swimming.
He’s been an integral part of every important initiative undertaken in the past eight years—from rebranding to educating and supporting coaches to USMS’s growing adult learn-to-swim movement.
On January 1, 2016, Rob will step into the president and CEO role at Swim Across America, a charitable organization that, through swimming events, raises money for cancer research.
Thanks to Rob’s and the Board’s hard work and dedication, USMS is positioned to continue thriving and growing, and providing you with an organization of which you can be a proud to call yourself a member.
My wife Alli asked me, “Are you sure? You have poured your heart into USMS and given so much. You love it and have so many relationships. We’d like to have you home more but we’ll be fine if this isn’t what you want to do.” The topic was whether I was going to leave USMS for the Swim Across America opportunity.
I vividly remember the USMS Executive Director interview process. It was intense, more mentally challenging than any exams I took in grad school. To the selection committee’s credit, an intense interview process was both intentional and necessary—whoever was hired as executive director was taking on a responsibility that was much greater than simply finding office space and beginning to generate new revenue through sponsorship sales.
Leading USMS is both science and art. The science part is fairly easy to quantify. Our logo was outdated so we created a new one that presents a more inclusive image. We created a Masters Coach certification program that reaches more than 500 coaches each year. Our magazine had been outsourced and wasn’t meeting our quality standards so we brought it in-house to have full control. We now measure member satisfaction as it relates to SWIMMER magazine, and many other programs, ensuring their relevancy.
The art of leading USMS, however, requires a very different skill set. Leading a nonprofit is not for the faint of heart. With boards that have term limits, turnover of the nonprofit leadership typically occurs somewhere in the three-to five-year range, so the original board that’s done the hiring is leaving and a new board comes in with its own ideas and visions of a leader.
Nonetheless, I showed a “fire in the belly” during the interview process and was hired. My charge was to implement a transformation process from a mostly volunteer-operated organization to one that would be professionally managed. Since USMS had been volunteer-operated for more than three decades, the transformation was not going to be overnight. And surely there would be speed bumps and even some brick walls.
In my eighth year as executive director, I reflect with pride on my time spent leading USMS. I am most proud of the National Office team we’ve assembled. They are passionate. They don’t have culture-destroying egos. Every day they ask “What can we do to make USMS better?”
And the scoreboard displays their many accomplishments. In Lane 3 are our member programs, which have increased our retention rates to nearly 70%; Lane 4 is our education group, which is helping coaches and instructors deliver a better Masters Swimming experience for members across the country; Lane 5 are our communications and publications, from SWIMMER magazine to our digital content that inspires and encourages adults to swim; and Lane 6 is our Swimming Saves Lives Foundation, which is providing adult learn-to-swim opportunities in communities across the country.
So if all is going well—and I survived the five-year mark with a new board supportive of my leadership—why leave?
My ethos is faith, family, and then career. Although there will be travel for Swim Across America, I will be home more with my family and remain within driving distance of Alli’s and my extended families. Our twins are four years old. In a blink, they’ll be off to college.
I evaluate my career options on several criteria: Is it a mission that I believe in? Is the culture a mutual fit? Is it a place I can grow and see myself making sustained positive contributions? To Alli’s question, after thoughtful consideration, my answer was yes.
I care deeply for USMS. I wake up every morning thankful that USMS and my life intersected. We found each other at the right time. I will forever cherish the relationships, stories, and accomplishments we’ve made and I will continue to be an enthusiastic ambassador for Masters Swimming.
Footnote: My last day as executive director will be December 31, 2015 providing time for me to help USMS find a successor and transition knowledge.
Updated September 25th, 2015 at 01:49 AM by Rob Butcher
In the August issue of STREAMLINES, we posted a survey link with 20 questions about your SWIMMER reading habits. We wanted to know which departments and columns you read regularly to help us determine which ones might need to be updated or discontinued.
Actually, we wanted to know lots of things, such as: Do you like historical articles? Do you like profiles about members who swim fast or ones who have interesting lives outside the pool, or both, or neither? Do you prefer reading SWIMMER online or on paper? (Overwhelmingly, the latter.) How does SWIMMER compare to other magazines you read? (Seventy-five percent say as good as or better.)
Nearly 84 percent of you responded that you read every issue and nearly 12 percent read most issues. About 80 percent of you agree that SWIMMER strengthens your connection to swimming. Technique, training, and science and health features are the most read and most desired articles.
Near the end of the survey, we asked some open-ended questions about your likes and dislikes, as well as what you’d like to see changed—this was your chance to sound off on anything and everything about the magazine.
Some of the findings were expected; some were a surprise. All the data will be used to help us plan future issues. As a group, your range of interests and goals means that meeting everyone’s desires in every issue is unlikely, but it’s a challenge we relish and commit to every day.
The majority of the responses were positive—When asked what you’d like to see changed, many of you answered “nothing” or “12 issues instead of six!” That answer triggered gasps from our small but dedicated magazine staff, but we felt an immense sense of gratitude and honor that we’re able to produce something that our readers want more of.
But not everyone is happy with the magazine, and we appreciate the constructive criticism we received. It will help us become a better publication. To our relief, only a tiny few of the responses would be appropriate for the “Mean Tweets” skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your thoughts and suggestions. Thank you for your ongoing support and for helping us to continue making improvements to SWIMMER—this is your magazine and we want you to love it as much as we love working on it.
As always, you can contact me directly with your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 08:31 AM by Editor
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 04:31 PM by Editor
Each July, the USMS Board of Directors meets face-to-face for our summer meeting. The week leading into the board meeting, our National Office staff meets for its annual retreat. The retreat is an opportunity for our contractors, remote staff, and Sarasota staff to come together in one location, review the past year, plan for the next year, and continue preparations for our annual meeting.
Within retreat week, we set aside a day when all the staff goes offsite for team learning. Last year, we visited IMG Academy in Bradenton and learned from a renowned sports psychologist how great athletes overcome adversity. We also participated in an improv roleplaying exercise that pushed our comfort zones and required us to show vulnerability and trust in each other.
This year, a communications expert educated us on the concept of “emotional hijacking” and how we can help to prevent it. Emotional hijacking occurs as a result of an event, such as another driver cutting us off in traffic, and our perception of it. The perception we have or story we tell ourselves about the event can create an emotional hijack situation when our reaction—positive, negative, or neutral—may result in an undesirable consequence.
Learning is a promoted value in the USMS Strategic Plan. Our employees are encouraged to seek out professional learning opportunities. For example, CFO Susan Kuhlman is a member of the Sarasota CFO Network and participated this year in a 15-week Leadership Sarasota program. Marketing Director Kyle Deery has attended Sports Business Journal Marketing and TEAMS Conferences. Our IT team of Jeff Perout, Jim Kryka, Nancy Kryka and IT Director Jim Matysek last fall attended a PHP technology conference in Washington, D.C., where they were able to network with like-minded IT professionals and learn about industry trends. Communications and Publications Director Laura Hamel has attended workshops and developed meaningful relationships with the faculty of the Poynter Institute, the global leader in journalism education. At our annual meeting, our staff members are encouraged to seek out their peers from the other aquatic disciplines so relationships and opportunities for collaboration can be developed.
Our values are meaningless if we don’t support them. Providing opportunities for learning fosters a positive culture where employees want to work and are appreciated. We budget for professional learning activities, and I encourage our staffers to participate in them because they're valuable and necessary for individual and professional growth. Employees return from these learning experiences with an appreciative attitude and have enjoyed sharing these experiences with their colleagues.
One of the biggest rewards of having a staff that is learning and positive is better service to and relationships with our constituency of 63,000+ members, hundreds of engaged volunteers, and numerous other partners and supporters.
Updated August 13th, 2015 at 05:06 PM by Editor
Water. The 332,500,000 cubic miles of the life-sustaining essential compound contained in, on, and above our planet is largely responsible for our existence. At a molecular level, we are water.
We drink it. We grow and cook our food with it. Water cleanses, renews, and invigorates. When it falls out of the sky, we dance. When it falls out of our eyes, we feel better afterward. We migrate to the coasts, placing a higher value on homes near water.
Mismanagement of Earth’s most precious resource might be our undoing—the evidence that immediate worldwide changes are needed is easy to see from the American West to Micronesia to Africa.
Our connection to water runs deeper than its physical properties and uses.
Water is often a major character in novels, myths, fables, and recurring dreams. Human drama unfolds on the rolling sea, in driving rain, near crashing surf or raging rivers. We converse with gurgling brooks and contemplate the mirrored stillness of mountain lakes. Water’s prominence in our literature is but one way we honor it, and our fascination isn’t always about its life-giving properties: We give deadly storms human names and gender-specific pronouns.
Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize objects and nonhuman animals that are important to us—it makes us feel more connected to them. (Attributing human characteristics to furry household mammals has become an art form on YouTube—just try to watch “Dog Wants a Kitty” and not laugh out loud.)
So it’s no surprise that some swimmers describe water as a valued teammate and friend: one who is forgiving and tolerant, one who listens and consoles.
Masters megastar Karlyn Pipes shared her intensely personal story with Elaine K. Howley and in it describes the welcoming, healing properties of the medium that she says accepted her when she felt most broken (page 18).
On page 30, Linda Brown-Kuhn explores the palliative power of water. Whether we float in it, stand near it, or even just look at a picture of it, we could be deriving a lot more benefit than we realize at the surface. For the story, Brown-Kuhn interviewed marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols, author of “The Blue Mind,” about humans’ complex relationship with water and its potential to improve every aspect of our lives.
As swimmers, our intimate relationship with water is likely part and parcel of why we believe our sport and the people in it are so special—we share its bonds figuratively and literally—connected through its touch.
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 08:32 AM by Editor
July 10, 2015, is circled and underscored on the USMS calendar; it’s an important date for anyone who has interest in USMS’s dry side operations.
Why? Because July 10 is the deadline for legislation and rules proposals to be submitted for consideration, discussion, and voting at this year’s annual meeting in Kansas City, Mo., to be held Sept. 30–Oct. 4, as part of the 2015 United States Aquatic Sports Convention.
Every fall, the USMS House of Delegates convenes at the USAS Convention to conduct its required responsibilities: elect officers, adopt the USMS budget, and vote on issues within the USMS Rule Book.
The Rule Book contains the legislation and rules of our competitions and the HOD—composed of approximately 250 USMS members—meets each year to discuss additions, changes, and deletions to the Rule Book. All USMS members can suggest legislation or rule changes to their LMSCs, which, in turn, will decide if it will sponsor the suggestion to the HOD.
Some changes can take years to pass. For example, it took five years for the HOD to come to agreement on relay age groups for short course yards. It took two years for the HOD to vote in favor of adding the 18–24 age group.
Last year, 25-yard swims and 100-yard relays were proposed by the Indiana LMSC and voted on by the HOD. It fell two votes short of meeting the required two-thirds vote to be adopted. Those who proposed the rule were encouraged that it had come so close to passing on its first try.
To some, the USMS democratic process, which often includes debate among 250 or so passionate volunteer delegates, can be a frustrating process. But in this structure, lies the opportunity for any USMS member to be heard.
Why do I bring all this up, you ask?
My contact information is published on usms.org and I enjoy hearing from members. Many letters pay compliments to our programs and services and members write to tell me how their Masters Swimming experience has changed their lives. Of course I love reading those emails.
But I’m also grateful and interested to hear from members offering constructive criticism: suggestions for new programs or benefits, or recommended policy changes. Whether I agree or disagree, I appreciate the feedback.
One topic that’s been appearing with more frequency in my inbox is the recommendation that USMS implement drug testing for Masters swimmers who are competing at the highest levels. My response to these members is this:
If you have a piece of legislation or rule that you believe USMS should adopt, please contact your LMSC representatives. They can help you with the process of submitting the suggestion. Just remember to have your submission in by July 10 if you want the House of Delegates to consider it.
Updated June 5th, 2015 at 03:03 PM by Rob Butcher
USMS has become the leader in the adult aquatics movement because of the secret ingredient in our sauce: our volunteers.
Last week, more than 400 volunteers in San Antonio gave of their time as officials, timers, greeters, on-deck coaches, and awards liaisons so Masters swimmers could enjoy a first class Nationwide USMS Spring National Championship.
We have 52 Local Masters Swimming Committees throughout the United States, operated by hundreds of volunteers making sure sanctions are approved and Top 10 times are recorded and countless other tasks. And many Masters clubs and workout groups would cease to exist were it not for the numerous volunteer coaches giving of their time so other adults can benefit.
If you feel a desire to volunteer but haven’t yet found the right opportunity, I encourage you to consider helping another adult learn to swim. While our adult learn-to-swim campaign is most visible during the month of April, teaching adults to swim is a year-round cause.
On the center of the usms.org home page are four words: Encouraging adults to swim. The CDC estimates 37% of American adults can’t swim the length of a swimming pool. If we’re going to encourage adults to swim, we have a responsibility to help those who can’t by creating opportunities to learn.
Teaching adults is different than teaching kids. Often, adults have to overcome longtime fears or self-doubt just to make it to the first lesson. Putting a bathing suit on for the first time and placing their trust in another adult is a big commitment, for both the adult learner and the instructor—teaching an adult to swim requires empathy and patience.
USMS has free resources to help Masters Swimming programs that want to participate in the adult learn-to-swim initiative. We also have a professionally taught adult learn-to-swim instructor certification program, which is available to any USMS member who wants to experience the rewards of sharing our sport.
Every month, my inbox is filled with emails and pictures from adults expressing gratitude and a renewed sense of self worth because they’ve learned to swim. I read the letters and feel the empowerment and victory in their words. It’s a gift that wouldn’t have been possible without Masters swimmer volunteers.
If you know how to swim and want to give back—if this message has stirred you—then please volunteer to teach another adult. As much as the adult learner will benefit, you, too, will receive the gift of making a significant difference in someone’s life by sharing the opportunity to experience the lifelong benefits of swimming.
The other day, some friends and I were talking about how different our lives were since we’d started swimming. Everyone had a different story about how they’d come to join our local Masters group. I started because I wanted to do a triathlon but I hadn’t swum competitively since childhood. Someone else said his wife, an accomplished swimmer, had introduced him to it. Several joined because they saw adults in the pool when they took their kids to swim practice and thought, “Hey, that looks like fun.”
Regardless of how we came to be part of our local club, everyone agreed: Even if they couldn’t remember the exact moment or reason they decided to join, it was one of the best decisions they’d ever made. And they weren’t referring to winning medals or being in the best shape of their lives—they were referring to the people they’d met along the way.
In U.S. Masters Swimming’s annual push to have April recognized as Adult Learn-to-Swim Month, much is made about the physical health benefits of swimming. Not only because learning to swim can literally save your life, but also because once you learn, you can use it as a lifelong form of healthy exercise. With more adults jumping in the pool for the first time, it’s important for this information to get out.
But it’s really exciting to think about what these new swimmers will be talking about a few years down the road. Sure, if they stick with it, they’ll get healthier— that part’s inevitable. But if they’re fortunate enough to have a fun group of likeminded adults in their community, they’ll find out soon how the social benefits of swimming come into play.
For many, joining a Masters club is like a reunion—as if all the people from your planet have been waiting for you to arrive, but your ship was delayed, and then it took you a while to find them on Earth. I still haven’t figured out why this phenomenon persists, despite thinking, reading, and writing about it a lot.
The camaraderie thing is understandable for the lifelong swimmers—shared memories of green hair, predawn workouts, and wearing pajama pants to school—but what is it about discussions during the morning kick set on topics such as the welcome-to-50 colonoscopy that makes people open their homes and their hearts to people they’ve just met?
At the risk of too much navel-gazing, I continue to believe that there’s something special about the people who are attracted to this sport. Or maybe chlorine creates some sort of covalent bond, in which swimmers with completely different backgrounds share the awesomeness and generosity-of-spirit electrons. Who knows?
Regardless, I continue to enjoy meeting people from Planet Swim, even by just reading about them in the pages of SWIMMER and at usms.org. In this issue, we meet two swimmers, Mark Grashow (page 9) and Taylor Krauss (page 18), who both, for different reasons, felt pulled to the African continent. There they’ve made significant differences in the lives of those affected by extreme poverty or violence.
We also meet swimmer Nancy Prouty (page 30), a scientist studying deep-sea corals to unlock the mysteries of Earth’s oceans—a world farther away, in terms of understanding, than the moon.
At usms.org, you’ll meet swimmer Tselane Gardner, whose learn-to-swim journey led her from personal trauma to teaching others.
If you’re new to Masters Swimming, welcome; we’re glad you’re here.
Last summer, I was on the phone with Gail Dummer, the chair of the Michigan Local Masters Swimming Committee. A longtime USA Swimming and USMS volunteer, Gail suggested USMS create a leadership summit for our LMSC chairs. Like the character Rod Tidwell says to Tom Cruise in the movie Jerry Maguire, “You had me (and USMS President Nadine Day) at hello.”
The inaugural USMS LMSC Leadership Summit was held March 13 through 15 in Phoenix and 41 of our 52 LMSCs sent representatives. Summit objectives included networking, exchange of ideas, education, communication, motivation, recognizing volunteers, and understanding governance. Sitting in the back row, I observed three things:
1. This first LMSC Leadership Summit was a significant undertaking that required an extraordinary team effort. The 11-member task force responsible for the planning and execution included chairs from large, medium, and small LMSCs. They came from the east coast and the west coast. Some are fitness swimmers and some are competitive. The task force was diverse. Healthy debate took place during the planning stages, and the task force members espoused the USMS values of respect and fun. They consciously listened, keeping their egos in check, both individually and as a group: The first agenda item of the planning task force was to survey our 52 LMSCs asking for input, suggestions, and ideas to shape the summit agenda. The desired outcome for the summit weekend was a conversation between our LMSC leaders, not a weekend lecture from the pulpit.
2. Serving Masters Swimming programs, members, coaches, and instructors is a partnership, with all the partners having responsibilities in the relationship. The National Office can’t do it all and neither can the LMSCs. We are each entrusted with resources that allow us to serve and advance our vision to be the premiere resource for adult swimming and to make fitness through swimming available for as many adults as possible. We can only fulfill this vision through a commitment to and respect for our partnership.
3. Many LMSCs have relatively new volunteer leaders and more are seeking new leadership. Another generation of leaders is emerging. Building upon successes of past leaders, the new ones are socializing and pioneering ideas to grow Masters Swimming. Our culture is evolving, and these committed and passionate leaders are excited to share their love of swimming with our members and invite others to join us and start their own Masters Swimming journeys.
Many thanks to the 54 volunteers who gave up time from their families and swimming activities to attend our first LMSC Leadership Summit. And one final observation: I’m confident that Masters Swimming will reap many dividends from the Summit experience.
We receive a variety of correspondence at the U.S. Masters Swimming National Office, located in Sarasota, Fla. Sometimes readers write about articles they’ve read here in SWIMMER. Sometimes it’s a “reply-to” directly from our eNewsletter series, STREAMLINES. Members and potential members also contact us through our website, usms.org. There’s even a field where one can leave a general comment when registering or renewing USMS membership.
Some of the comments are compliments; some are not. This is a good thing, as we need your honest feedback to do our jobs well. Regardless of where you live or why or how much you swim, you deserve the best membership experience possible.
So, who’s on the other end of that keyboard when you press “send”?
I’ve written about our amazing publications staff here before, and our executive director, Rob Butcher, and education director, Bill Brenner, and their activities and respective insider and coach education blogs. Kyle Deery works closely with Rob and with our passionate USMS sponsors, in addition to working behind the scenes on our National Championship events. Marianne Groenings supports Bill with our rapidly expanding educational products in coach certification and adult learn-to-swim instructor certification.
But the entire USMS staff works together on your membership.
Anna Lea Matysek, a longtime swimmer, volunteer, and engineer in Kansas City before she became our membership director, is the one who receives all those comments from the registration software. She and Tracy Grilli, our longest-tenured staffer and a member of the Mighty Mermaids (an impressive sextet of open water swimmers who tackle big swims), go out of their way every day to answer questions large and small from our members. They have literally heard it all—I’m not sure there’s a question they can’t answer, given their combined total of 57 years experience inside USMS.
Our chief financial officer, Susan Kuhlman, is a new swimmer and triathlete. She comes from a cycling background, but her passion for USMS is contagious. She runs the financials to meet the strictest levels of professionalism and transparency. In the nonprofit world, this is a monumental task. Kathy Anderson supports her in this effort, handling our bank accounts and payables with such humor and good cheer that she brightens the entire office. Claudia Woods, a lifelong swimmer, is our office manager. She keeps us in line and supports us, in equal measure, so that we can support you. There isn’t a single staffer she doesn’t assist in some form or another. Claudia is a superhero.
Jim Matysek, creator and architect of usms.org, leads the information technology staff. He’s another lifelong swimmer and longtime USMS volunteer. As with Anna Lea and Tracy, his institutional knowledge runs deep. From repelling hackers to helping recover lost passwords, he’s done it all for usms.org users. Jeff Perout, a lifelong swimmer and scholar, has a broad background in software development, including accounting software packages, and spearheads the financial end of our registration software tools. Longtime Minnesota swimmer and volunteer Nancy Kryka and her husband, Jim Kryka, retired to Sarasota after successful software development careers at a Fortune 500 company. But to our distinct advantage, they couldn’t stay retired—they’ve joined the staff and are hard at work modernizing the back-end architecture of usms.org and will be contributing to exciting new features.
So the next time you write to us, if you want to know who will be answering your question or resolving an issue for you, take a peek at our staff bios and pictures.
We love swimming and we love working for USMS—let us know how we can help you make the most out of your membership.
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 08:33 AM by Editor
“Swim whisperer.” This is what I call someone who can calmly and maturely communicate with an upset member and turn a negative communication into a positive one.
I was included in a recent email exchange between a member and an LMSC chair. The member was initially antagonistic, and the chair took the time to respond in a personal and respectful manner. This response turned things around dramatically and the previously upset member, in kind, responded in a mature and thoughtful way after seeing the chair’s “swim whisperer” response.
Dear [USMS Member],
I was forwarded your comment on your USMS registration: “$47!?!? What a scam!” and I was requested to give you a reply. I’m sorry you feel this way toward the membership. You registered with [ABC] club, so I assume you swim with [ABC]. I suspect you pay more in a month for parking at the pool than the USMS registration. [ABC] club will not let us use their pool without a registered and insured organization—that is just one thing USMS provides. The insurance is only valid if all the Masters swimmers are registered with USMS. This insurance not only protects the facility and coaches (some who are volunteering to coach you), but provides liability insurance for the swimmers if they have no other insurance. You’d certainly pay more for a membership at the [XYZ] club (very expensive), or the … YMCA for $53/month. Of course, you may be able to find some pools that have free admission (lifeguards paid by taxes ... when they can be open for their limited hours and likely no coach or other adults too support you).
I usually feel insurance is a scam, too—no question it’s a “for big profit” business. But USMS offers much more than that. Our Masters Swimming programs are geared for adults who want to swim with others, swim for fitness, swim for competition, swim just to learn to be safer in the water, and we think it’s a benefit to have knowledgeable coaches on deck. When you travel, there’s a network of USMS programs around the country where you can swim with others. You also get a bimonthly magazine with swim information, swimming tips, health tips, and more, and a monthly eNewsletter. You can go online to usms.org and create a fitness log online to track your workouts. There are also ePostal events in which you can participate.
The [LMSC] only gets $10 of the $47 annual fee. In addition to maintaining a Masters Swimming organization here in [LMSC], we also put on … swim meets this year for free, which required paying some officials, renting the facility, etc.
We do regret we can’t do more for open water swimming, but the restrictions for a USMS-insured event just don’t mesh with the opportunities provided by the open water events already offered. There also aren’t enough participants….
If you still feel this is a scam, I’m sorry and hope you find another less expensive way to swim.
Dear [LMSC chair],
I appreciate your taking the time to detail thoroughly the benefits afforded to me through the USMS registration. I apologize for my tone in my comment during the registration process. I felt that I had been “nickeled and dimed” on another issue earlier in the day and wasn’t in the most pleasant of moods when registering with USMS. Your taking the time to write me is in some odd way worth the registration fee to me in itself.
Dear [USMS Member],
Thank you for your reply. We’ve all had days like you describe, where it’s hard to contain frustrations that sometimes come out of nowhere. As it happens, that’s one thing swimming helps me with personally—relaxing my mind … on those tough days. Thanks for joining Masters. I think it’s the cheapest “health insurance” there is.
My personal thanks to this wise LMSC chair who recognized an opportunity and took a little extra time to help this member understand the value of membership and community of Masters Swimming.
Updated February 25th, 2015 at 09:36 AM by Rob Butcher
“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 12:57 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
Updated September 21st, 2015 at 08:34 AM by Editor
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 10:09 PM by Rob Butcher