There’s a First Time for Everything

I didn’t intend on the year of my 50th birthday being a year of firsts, but it sure has turned out that way!  This has been a year full of firsts; our first time visiting Washington, D.C. and my first time seeing Chicago, for starters.  But, more than anything, it has been a year of fun firsts as a U.S. Masters swimmer.  What a blast!  But, first, before I get into that, there is another first I am very excited about…

In my July 1, 2012 post, I wrote about Cullen Jones, one of my favorite swimmers who I admire and respect not only as a swimmer, but more importantly,as a person.  If you watched the Olympics on August 3, you saw him in action, winning his first individual Olympic medal; a silver!  He even beat sprint great, Cesar Cielo, current world record holder in the 50 meter freestyle.  In addition, he won silver in the freestyle relay and gold in the medley (he swam in the preliminary heat).  Congratulations, Cullen Jones, now a medal winner in two Olympics!

My firsts in swimming are, ummm, extremely modest in comparison, but they are my firsts:

In February, I decided for the first time to sign up for the maximum allowed individual events in Auburn’s two-day short course (25 yards) meet; eight for that particular meet.  They were all 50’s and 100’s, besides the 200 yard breaststroke.  But, it was a lot for me at the time; especially since I was also placed in two relays.  I ended up with personal best times in three of my events, so I was happy!  And, encouraged to try it again…

I did it twice in April; once at my very first Senior Games.  Yes, at 50, I’m officially a geezer, so I now call Senior Games “Geezer Games”, since I am one of them and can get away with it now.  So, I entered five events at Gwinnett County’s Geezer Games and ended up having to swim them all in 1:15!  I won a gold and four silver medals for my efforts and enjoyed every minute of it.

I also signed up for five events at the one-day short course Georgia Championship Series meet, at Georgia Tech, hoping to have a shot at winning high points in my age group.  I also swam in two relays.  I ended up with another personal best time in one of my events and won the high points trophy.

At that point, Walter, our team relay coordinator, had a talk with me at the post-meet social and said, “As high points winner, you are now in the lead to win the Georgia Championship Series trophy for your age group.  So, you need to swim in two of the next three events in the series to qualify and be in the running.”

Well, I had already planned on swimming in the Athens long course (50 meter pool) meet, in June, as well as the short course meters meet at Georgia Tech, in December.  “But, what if you get sick or hurt and can’t make it to the meet?  You need to swim in the open water meet just to make sure you get your three events in and qualify!”  Walter was very convincing…

As you can see by my last post, I entered the open water swim at Lake Acworth and swam the 3k for a silver medal, immediately followed by the 1k, for the gold.  And, yes, it was another first; I had never competed in open water before and ended up winning high points.  (I also won high points the month before, in Athens).

So, without having to include December’s meet at Georgia Tech, I won the Georgia Championship Series for the first time.  (I still plan on entering the meet at Georgia Tech, though, and going for high points.)

That high points thing really got me thinking.  High points awards aren’t necessarily won by the fastest swimmer, because some of the fastest swimmers only enter their core events at meets to focus on getting their best times.  But, I don’t fall into that category.  Not only am I not the fastest breaststroker in my age group (I rank in the top 35-40%); I haven’t been able to beat my best time in quite awhile.  (Perhaps aging is working against me here!).

I’m in this for FUN.  And, as much as I love swimming breaststroke, beating my head up against the wall trying to beat my best time is getting to be NOT fun.  So, I’m trying new events and entering a lot of them at meets to see where my other strengths (if any) may be.  Having goals and working towards achieving them is what keeps me motivated and if I win a high points trophy along the way, all the better!

Two of the hardest events in swimming are the 400 IM (Individual Medley; 100 of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) and butterfly.  I had avoided them like the plague, because I didn’t think I had enough strength and endurance to tackle that much butterfly.  Besides, I’m a sprinter!  But, it was time to put my body to the test and see if I could prove myself wrong…

In my quest to see if I could swim 200 yards “fly” without needing lifeguard rescue, I actually kept going and ended up swimming 900 yards continuously.  Here it is:  http://youtu.be/4fmP1szg4mo .  Two weeks later, I decided to try it again and swam 2,000 yards of continuous fly.  I was so slow and the digital camera file was so large, the camera stopped at one point to write to the file.  So, the swim is in two files:  http://youtu.be/4PJouksr3wI  and http://youtu.be/BfKKZa3uUYM .

At that point, I realized something it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out:  If I could swim 2,000 yards of continuous butterfly, I surely could swim 200!  It may be slow, but I can do it!  So, that little exercise in endurance was a whole bunch of firsts that made June an exciting month of swimming for me.  And, at that point, my coach, Mike, declared me a “distance swimmer”; a very different pill to swallow, considering I was a breaststroke sprinter who walks fast, talks fast and basically does everything like a hare, rather than a tortoise.

For my next meet, I decided to enter a full slate of events at our regional championships, “Dixie Zone Long Course Championships”; 10 events in two days, in addition to getting recruited to swim in two team relays.  My new events on Saturday included 100 meter butterfly and 400 freestyle.  Sunday’s new events included 200 fly, 400 IM, and 800 free.  The goal:  SURVIVE.  Knowing there would be a bunch of fast swimmers at this meet, I knew I wouldn’t win high points.  And, I knew it was too much to expect of myself to get any personal best times, considering the circumstances; especially since my 400 free event didn’t go off until 7:30 PM, we didn’t get to the hotel until 9:00 PM (and still needed to eat dinner), and had to be back in the pool at 8:00 AM the following day for warm-ups.  To make matters worse, the indoor/outdoor “climate controlled” pool facility was not exactly climate controlled.  The huge doors were rolled up and it was very hot and humid in Greenville.  The only air conditioning to be found was in the locker room.  The locker room became my friend- as was the shower turned on COLD.

In the end, not only did I survive last weekend’s meet; I had a blast.  A swim buddy of my on the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums posted this about me and Bruce:  “Elaine had a great meet! She boldly took on the toughest events in the pool, including the 200 fly, and the 400 IM, and the 800 free, all on the same day! At the end of the day, she was still full of energy, bouncing up & down on the deck, saying, “Let’s do it again!” It was fun hanging out with Elaine and Bruce.”

And, after looking at my times in the 400 and 800 free, my coach, again, declared me a “distance swimmer”.  I will never give up sprint breaststroke, but it looks like I will be wearing a new hat (swim cap?), as well.

So, it was a weekend full of firsts!  And, it has been a year full of fun firsts.  I love firsts; it’s what makes life exciting, inspiring, and sweet.  But, I also learned something from all those firsts:  Always write your goals in pencil- and leave plenty of room at the bottom of the page to add more!

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These are my 400 Women’s Medley Relay teammates:  Gina Barber, Cheryl Ayers, and Nana Whalen.  Nana is 75 and won high points in her age group.  She swam butterfly in our relay and also swam the 400 IM and 800 free!

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After swimming my first 400 IM, I celebrated with my Georgia Masters Teammates:  David Miller, Malena Hankins, and Mike Stilles.  Malena and I swam on the 200 Mixed Freestyle Relay together.  The previous week, she swam in a 10 mile race!

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This is my buddy, Mark Rogers, immediately following the 800 free race.  He was in the lane next to me and made up for coming in after me in the 1k open water swim.  He beat me in this race by :45!

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Our team won the high points award against all teams who were from outside of South Carolina.  The only reason I’m holding the trophy was because Walter (far left) asked Bruce to shoot the picture!

Congratulations to Cullen Jones!

I have had my eyes glued to the computer screen and TV, watching the Olympic Trials in swimming.  Although there were more than a dozen U.S. Masters Swimming members who made cuts and were competing in Omaha, I was cheering the most for Cullen Jones.  Although Cullen won a gold medal, along with Michael Phelps, as a member of the freestyle relay team that won gold in 2008, he had just missed making the team in his two individual events:  50 meter and 100 meter freestyle.

I had the honor of meeting Cullen, in April, 2010, when I competed in my first U.S. Masters Swimming Nationals meet, at Georgia Tech.  It was only my second USMS meet as a newbie and I was a bit intimidated by the level of competition at the meet that included Olympians, such as Rowdy Gaines- and, Cullen Jones.  But, that quickly melted away when I met Cullen face-to-face…

While warming up in the dive tank, Cullen was in the next lane and we turned towards each other when we both reached the wall.  Recognizing him, I introduced myself and wished him luck in his 50 meter showdown against Nicholas Brunelli.  Cullen was friendly, humble, and gracious, while flashing his trademark HUGE smile that could melt any heart.

After the race (which he won), he was kind enough to pose for this photo:

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And, he honored the request of everyone else who either hoped for a photo or an autograph from the star swimmer.  He never stopped smiling…

Fast forward to USMS Spring Nationals, this past April, in Greensboro, NC, and there was Cullen, warming up in the lane next to mine- again.  Sure enough, we both came in at the wall and were face-to-face, just as we were back in 2010.  I said hello, again, and reminded him of that time two years prior when we first met.  Again, he was as friendly, humble, and gracious as could be.  And, when I asked him if I could get another photo taken with him (because the one in 2010 wasn’t as clear as I had hoped), he said, “Sure!”  So, I hopped out, ran up to the bleachers, grabbed my camera from Bruce, and high-tailed it back to the warm-up pool.  One of the volunteer staff members was kind enough to take photos for me, so I quickly gave him the camera and started towards the edge of the pool, so I could hop back in and stand next to Cullen.  But, before I could even get close, Cullen hopped out in a flash, threw his arm around me and flashed this million-dollar smile:

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He insisted on knowing if the photo came out and asked to take another one, just to make sure:

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Now, at this point, going above and way beyond, you would think he would have either hopped back in the pool to complete his warm-up or continue on his way to prepare for his big race against teammate Bryan Lundquist.  Instead, he started asking me questions about my camera and about the attachment (Flip Back) that I had on the back.  And, all the while, he was the nicest guy.

He did eventually get back in the pool and won his race.  Here is the post-race interview:

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What impresses me about Cullen Jones is where he has come, since almost drowning as a child, because he didn’t know how to swim.  Not only has he become an Olympian; he has done this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a80uWqrkivE   It’s a short video and well worth a look.

Now, in 2012, he was making another attempt at earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Swimming team; this time, hopefully, in individual events, as well as the relay.  Many had some doubts whether he would make the team, saying he was spending too much time with Make a Splash and not enough time training.

Cullen Jones proved his doubters wrong.  Not only did he earn the second spot on the team in the 100 meter freestyle (from an outside lane, no less); he beat out the entire field and WON the 50 meter freestyle!  Cullen Jones will be heading to London to compete in 2 individual events, four years after placing 3rd in both of those events, at the trials.

Cullen Jones may not come home from London with a gold- or even a medal- but he is good as gold in my book.  Good luck in London, Cullen!  I’ll be cheering for you from across the pond!

(For more info. about Make a Splash:  http://www.usaswimming.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabId=2093&Alias=rainbow&Lang=en )