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SWIMMER Editorials

Heeding the Chlorine Call (May-June 2016)

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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.

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Updated September 1st, 2016 at 11:26 AM by Editor

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