IT FEELS GREAT TO BE BACK!

The following is something I recently read that may seem quite basic, but it really hit home as I soaked in the atmosphere of the Georgia Tech competition pool this past weekend:

“Make a list of the things that make you happy.

Make a list of the things you do every day.

Compare the lists.

Adjust accordingly.”

It had been since September, 2014 since I had last competed in a U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) meet due to my hip injury and surgery.  Although I was able to compete in the Georgia Games Open Water Meet last July, I popped the scar tissue in my hip the following month which set me back from race-pace training and competition for the rest of the year.

Over the past few months, I have been joyfully working my way back, savoring every day I’m in the pool.  Swimming is definitely on my lists of what makes me happy and what I do every day (well, six days per week, to be more accurate).

Adding yoga to the physical therapy and stretching exercises I do on deck following my swims, I’ve been improving my flexibility, strength, and balance.  As I see improvement and my ability to master more difficult poses, the resulting satisfaction I feel has convinced me that yoga is up on those lists right after swimming.  The two go hand-in-hand as part of my regular routine.

Returning to competition, though, was something I was itching to add back to my “to do” list, even though it’s not something that can be done daily.

This past weekend, I was able to “adjust accordingly” and compete at the USMS Dixie Zone Championships at Georgia Tech, home of the 1996 Olympic swimming competition.

As my husband, Bruce and I entered the swim deck, butterflies returned to my stomach, something I hadn’t felt in a too-long period of time.  I smiled to myself, remembering how it used to feel, and how I had to learn to embrace rather than fight it.

For this two-day meet, I decided I would go all in and sign up for the maximum events (ten) figuring I could always scratch races if my hip wasn’t up to the task.  Practicing my chosen events in order over two days in March, I knew I could do it.  The difference, however, was not having to swim the extra warm-up and cool-down yardage in between events that weren’t scheduled back-to-back.  In practice, I had done all five events sequentially each day with only a couple minutes of rest in between each one.  Although it definitely gave me the confidence I needed for the meet, I wasn’t sure how my hip would respond with the additional yardage, starting blocks, and cooler water temperature—all important factors.

In addition to signing up for the maximum events, I entered what is considered some of the most difficult events, because those are the races I enjoy competing in the most.  I also threw in a couple of sprints for variety, even though I knew I would have to protect my hip by not going all-out in my kicking.

Saturday’s line-up:  400 Yard Individual Medley, 50 Yard Breaststroke back-to-back with 100 Yard Butterfly, 200 Yard Breaststroke, and 500 Yard Freestyle.

Sunday’s line-up:  1650 Yard (the “mile”) Freestyle, 200 Yard Butterfly, and 100 Yard Breaststroke back-to-back-to-back with 200 Yard Backstroke and 50 Yard Butterfly.  The day concluded with me swimming freestyle on the Women’s 400 Yard Medley Relay.

Although my race times were (much!) slower than before my hip surgery, I enjoyed every stroke that I swam in that pool, and I was thrilled to end the meet in second place in my age group.  (Ok, I’ll ‘fess up.  There were only three in our age group, because several of the other swimmers I usually compete against didn’t enter the meet for one reason or another.)

Still, regardless of my race times or the colors of my ribbons, just being able to compete was a fabulous feeling.  Just as wonderful, though, was seeing my friends and making new ones.  That is what USMS is all about:  Enjoying swimming and competing with others who feel just as passionately about it as you do.

Swimming is what makes me happy, and it’s what I will keep on doing as long as I can.  It feels great to be back!

Elaine-Blocks

That’s me in a timid-looking (careful!) block start in Lane 4 sporting a blue Georgia Masters swim cap that clashes with my suit!

GOIN’ DOWN IN A BLAZE OF GLORY: POST-MORDEM

Although I only needed to complete one race at the St. Nick’s Dixie Zone Short Course Meters Championships this past weekend, I was determined to win the Georgia Championship Series for my (50-54) age group with an exclamation point. That’s just me; do it right or go home.

In my case, the only way I would have gone home early was if my bad hip wouldn’t have allowed me to complete the 10 races I had signed up to race. Fortunately, Dr. Andrachuk wrote me a medical note to give the chief official, so I wouldn’t get a DQ for not being able to kick breaststroke. Instead, I had to use an easy dolphin kick and basically let my legs drag behind me. Of course, eliminating the frog kick slows the stroke down to tadpole speed rather than frog speed, so I had a huge disadvantage in my 400 Meter Individual Medley Relay race. I lost a full minute having to pull my way through the breaststroke during the 100 meter leg of that race. As slow as it was, though, I completed it without getting disqualified, and the Georgia Championship Series was in the bag; signed, sealed, and delivered, it was MINE.

The remainder of the day was a blast! I managed to clock my worst times ever in the 100 Freestyle, 100 Butterfly, 100 Backstroke, and 400 Freestyle, but I sure had fun doing it! It felt so much better being horizontal in the pool rather than vertical on land. What a relief it was to get in and swim each time, even if I had to drag my right leg along for the ride as practically dead weight!

Sunday was a tougher race line-up for me: 1500 Freestyle, 100 Individual Medley back-to-back with the 200 Butterfly, and 50 Butterfly back-to-back with the 200 Freestyle.

Once I completed the 200 Butterfly, I was over the hump with my no-DQ race record intact! Not being able to kick butterfly, I wasn’t sure how long my shoulders would hold up, but I did it! It may have taken five minutes to do it, but I DID IT!!

By no means am I the fastest swimmer in my age group, especially now with my bad hip. There are other swimmers so much faster than me that it would be completely unrealistic to think I could ever by fast enough to beat them, even if I trained much harder than I already do.

That’s why I strive to win the Georgia Championship Series; it gives us slower gals and guys something to shoot for each year. Competing at all four meets doesn’t guarantee a win, but to have a fighting chance, it’s a must. It’s also advantageous to sign up for the maximum amount of races allowed at each meet to get as many points as possible. Two of the gals I beat for the series are not only faster than me; they are Top 10 swimmers IN THE WORLD. They didn’t compete in the open water meet though, so I gained 10 points (of a maximum 40 for the series) on them by competing in the 3K and 1K at the Georgia Games Open Water Meet.

Their goals are loftier than mine; they are racing national and world rankings. I’m not fast enough for that, so I thoroughly enjoy training and competing in the four different strokes and all of the distances. It also kills me to miss a meet, because I miss out on all the fun!

Today was my last swim of the year, and I enjoyed it with gusto (including a hefty dose of butterfly). Tomorrow, I undergo hip arthroscopy. My 2-1/2 weeks out of the pool will be my longest dry streak in more than four years, and I’m hating the idea of that!

My three-year Georgia Championship Series winning streak comes to an end due to being forced out of next year’s early meets, but I’ll be back in 2016!

Meanwhile, congratulations to my buddy Mark Rogers for winning the series in his age group. It’s been a fun year at the meets with you, Mark! Keep your streak going in 2015, buddy!

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!

GinaBarber,ElaineKrugman,CherylAyers,NanaWhalen

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!

DavidMiller,ElaineKrugman,MalenaHankins,MikeStilles.jpg

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!

MarkRogers-ElaineKrugman-Post800Free.JPG

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!

GAJA.JPG

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!