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Staff Blogs

Blog entries from the national office staff

  1. The Inclusive Sport—It's All Good! (September-October 2010)

    by , September 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    We’ve all heard and experienced how wonderful swimming is. I don’t need to belabor that point. So many of you write to tell us how swimming has changed your lives. The lifesaving form of exercise that has allowed you to walk again, date again, go off your medications, etc. The physical benefits of our sport are pretty much universally accepted—and we love that.

    But what is it about the less tangible benefits of being around people who seem different from people in other sports? Why do swimmers seem to be a little more easygoing when it comes to acceptance and inclusiveness? Is it because as kids, swimmers train together—boys and girls? Until boys get to the 13-14 age group, they are often accustomed to being beaten by girls, who develop earlier. Does this make them more accepting and more respectful of women later in life?

    Are swimmers more tolerant of differences because of the unique differences within the sport? For pool swimming, there are four different strokes, contested at nine different lengths in three different courses, which add up to 53 different pool events. The muscular freestyle sprinter who just can’t master the breaststroke learns to respect the 98-pound natural breaststroker in the next lane over who sails past with ease, regardless of size or gender. And the differences in open water swimming are another whole world to explore: lakes, rivers, the deep blue sea; short and long distances. The physiological differences among people often guide them to the different strokes and events, and there is something for everyone.

    Maybe swimmers are more tolerant because of the “alone time in a group” phenomenon of a swim practice; each swimmer in his or her own water world, each with different goals and specialties, yet all working together as a group, sharing the water.

    In this issue, we meet USMS member Tyler Duckworth, lifelong swimmer, reality TV star, and gay man who has found that, with few exceptions, the swimming community doesn’t really care about his sexual orientation. In Jim Harper’s profile, we also learn that Duckworth has found more people outside the swimming community who have had trouble reconciling his sexuality with his athletic success.

    We also review another member’s newly published autobiography chronicling life as a gay, black swimmer. Jeff Commings, too, found that he was somewhat shielded from discrimination in the swimming world. Both of these men are accomplished swimmers who have been judged on their merits as athletes. Their differences, and the differences and inclusive nature of our members, are part of what make U.S. Masters Swimming such a great organization.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:54 AM by Editor

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  2. Happy Anniversary, USMS (July-August 2010)

    by , July 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    The Georgia Tech Hotel and Convention Center was the scene for the 40th Anniversary celebration that functioned as this year’s meet social at the 2010 Short Course Nation al Championships in Atlanta. Longtime USMS members gathered with brand new members to celebrate 40 years of competition and camaraderie.

    The first national Masters swimming championships were held in Amarillo, Texas, in 1970, when Masters swimming was first being organized. Capt. Ransom J. Arthur, a Navy doctor who envisioned swimming as a way for adults to stay physically and mentally fit as they aged, collaborated with John Spannuth, then president of the American Swimming Coaches Association, to hold that first meet.

    The meet social developed as a tradition over the years. This year, more than 300 athletes and guests were treated not only to a delicious catered meal, but also an interesting history lesson. Robert Beach with St. Petersburg Aquatics presented a slideshow highlighting some of the early days of Masters swimming. Beach, 79, one of the original members of USMS, has amassed a sizeable collection of memorabilia and was happy to share his reminiscences.

    Beach is also the founder of the longest running short course Masters meet in the country, and quite possibly the world. After consulting with Ransom Arthur and Richard Rahe, another Navy doctor and early organizer of Masters Swimming in 1970, Beach organized what was originally called the Southern Short Course Championships, which later became the St. Petersburg Short Course Championships. The first meet in 1970 had 17 competitors, but these days the meet averages about 300.

    Swimmers who love pool meets owe a debt of gratitude to these pioneers of Masters swimming: Arthur, Spannuth, Rahe, and others like June Krauser, Hal Onusseit, and Buster Crabbe. And their supporters—the early meet organizers, volunteers, and athletes, who showed up, swam, and worked to put down the foundation for the organization we enjoy today. Some of these athletes are still competing and were on hand to help celebrate in Atlanta, including Beach, Ted Haartz, Paul Hutinger, Jane Katz and Bumpy Jones. If you are fortunate to meet any of these members, be sure to thank them for their contributions to our great sport.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:54 AM by Editor

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

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

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

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

    The secret is getting out.

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

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

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

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  4. Spring Is in the Air (March-April 2010)

    by , March 1st, 2010 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    It is said that in spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love; so wrote poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I would posit that for USMS members, a young (and we are all young) swimmer’s fancy turns to competition. As Spring Nationals looms, we have included technique articles to help you prepare for Atlanta: Craig Keller at AGUA Masters has broken down relay transitions for us, Olympian Rada Owen gives us a quick tune-up on head position, and Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen reminds us of some critical training points.

    On many swimmers’ minds, however—the elephant seal in the living room—is the demise of the tech suit. Neros, LZRs, and the rest of the gang’s last hurrah is coming (at least for this year) and everyone has a different opinion. As I pondered what I might write on the subject, I remembered a thread on our Forums where members have posted their thoughts. Some are eulogies to their suits, others express good riddance, and some are creative haiku and poetry. There is even a full-length holiday song, “T’was the Night Before Zones.”

    With apologies to Lord Tennyson, enjoy in good humor.

    • “Tech suit you were so good to me. You helped me keep it together when I was falling apart. Despite the rips and wardrobe malfunctions, we had some pretty good times together and it’s sad to think you’re really gonna split …” –Ande
    • “I hate you tech suit. You hurt me. You were so sleek and pretty, full of promises. You made me look good. Together I thought we could go where we had never gone before. It was a lie. You are a liar. Maybe I share some blame. I thought that money would keep us happy, but you and your ilk weren’t satisfied … We weren’t a team, you owned me … I was addicted to you. I couldn’t be happy without you. It was wrong. I see you crumpled up in the corner like a lost soul. I hear you tempting me. I miss your snug embrace. I think we can still be friends.” –Stillwater
    • Dear LZR, It is said that death is life’s way of saying you’re fired. Well you’re fired. –Lefty
    • Tech suit, I am glad I never knew ye. –Couroboros
    • Ah FINA had to mess
      With the tech suits for the rest
      But for me, the big dipper
      They took away my zipper –Swimshark

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

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  5. The Swimming Race (January-February 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  6. The Swimming Subculture (November-December 2009)

    by , November 1st, 2009 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    In Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, a subculture is defined as “an ethnic, regional, economic, or social group exhibiting characteristic patterns of behavior sufficient to distinguish it from others within an embracing culture or society.”

    One can indeed argue that Masters Swimming is a subculture in our society. Most of us have nonswimming friends and family that embrace us in spite of our strange proclivity for rising before dawn, braving unsavory weather, jumping into a concrete box of water and swimming back and forth for hours. This can make family reunions and cookouts with our nonswimmers interesting. Sometimes they view us as eccentric and amusing, but not really all there mentally. And some, in a less amusing light, albeit a sometimes-justified one, see us as selfish in our endless pursuit of that black line.

    Our fellow swimmers, however, offer us that no-need-to-say-anything sense of comfort that comes in the box with a subculture. The camaraderie is almost effortless, even for people stepping onto the pool deck for the first time. It always amazes me when I see a new swimmer approach with trepidation what many of us now consider our lifestyle, only to see them a month later joking and laughing with their lanemates as though they were lifelong friends. They bring their bikes to practice so they can ride together afterward, plan weekend trips with their families, and organize their free time around their new team of friends.

    As humans are sometimes wont to do, I used to think that my teammates and I had this special connection exclusively, that our team was, well, extra special. And of course it is to me. But, from reading all your letters and emails, and re-reading back issues of SWIMMER, it is clear that this phenomenon is widespread in the USMS community. And it goes beyond friendship or your standard social fare. Many of us know someone who has cooked and delivered meals to an injured teammate they barely know, or seen an entire team close ranks in support of a swimming family hit with a devastating loss.

    This subculture phenomenon is also prevalent in high-stress or high-demand professions such as medicine and emergency services. It would be interesting to know how many USMS members hail from professions like these, and who find solace in a different kind of subculture. One derived from a more pleasurable form of stress, where racing a teammate to the wall before dawn might not be the most important thing they have to do that day, but is every bit as rewarding.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:56 AM by Editor

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  7. SWIMMER Hears Your Feedback (September-October 2009)

    by , September 1st, 2009 at 12:00 AM (SWIMMER Editorials)
    This May, many of you responded to a member survey. The survey, which we will conduct annually, was designed to measure reader satisfaction and expectations with regard to our member communications, including SWIMMER magazine, our usms.org website, and the e-newsletters. Some of the survey results surprised us; others confirmed ideas we had. The important thing is that you have spoken and we are listening and responding.

    Overall, the feedback on SWIMMER was positive, which reflects the good job our former editor, Bill Volckening, and the Publications Management Committee, have done shepherding the publication over the years. Bill’s dedication and service are appreciated, and his and the committee’s groundwork will serve as a solid base from which to spring. As all things eventually do, SWIMMER will evolve. One thing that will remain present in our approach, however, is our responsiveness to our readers. As always, we encourage your feedback anytime. You can write me directly at editor@usms.org.

    Starting with this September-October issue, we are introducing a new guest editorial concept for SWIMMER called “Both Sides of the Lane Line.” In this column, we’ll publish two reader essays supporting different positions on issues that impact the world of Masters Swimming. Also in this issue, you’ll find that the Training and Technique department contains several new columns, designed to cater to the different types of swimmers within our organization. Whether you consider yourself a highly competitive pool swimmer, a beginner, a fitness swimmer, an open water aficionado, or any combination thereof, we want you to find information in SWIMMER that matters to you. With a diverse group of swimmers in our membership, it is essential that we continue to strive for a balance of content that accurately reflects our readers’ interests.

    Looking ahead, we hope you’ll see SWIMMER as a trusted resource, providing valuable information about the many events, products, and services we have to choose from as Masters swimmers. Next year, our Swim Bag department will take on a new flavor with independent product reviews. Our team will be taking a proactive approach to research when it comes to equipment, local meets, open water events, swim travel, and more. We hope to draw from the vast pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals who make up our membership. After all, one of the best things about being a USMS member is having thousands of teammates who are willing to share their wisdom and experience.

    Updated July 1st, 2014 at 10:56 AM by Editor

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