When I left competitive swimming after high school, I never thought I would ever compete again, especially in any sort of national competition. Fast forward to 2010 when I joined U.S. Masters Swimming and entered Spring Nationals, because it was just up the freeway at Georgia Tech. Since then, I have swum at several Nationals, from Greensboro, North Carolina to Mission Viejo, California. Those experiences were huge for me, way beyond what I had ever dreamed of doing with my swimming. Now, here it is, four years into my Masters swimming “career,” and I am in Montreal, Canada competing at the 2014 FINA Masters World Championship!
Although it sounds impressive, the qualifying times for the Masters World Championships are actually slower than U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) national qualifying times. I qualified in every event except for one; whereas, this year I didn’t make qualifying times for Nationals. Since non-qualifiers still get to compete in three events (rather than six) at USMS Nationals, we’ll be heading to Maryland after Worlds and a few days of sightseeing in Quebec City.
I may be in the lowest 20% in my age group here at Worlds, but I’m so happy to be able to be here to compete. How fortunate the swim meet is just up north and located in one of the two Canadian cities on my bucket list (Quebec City being the other)! Last year it was in Italy, and next year it will take place in Russia.
Here in Montreal, there are 1,500 Americans competing in a group of 5,868 swimmers from 93 countries. In all, there are 9,000 athletes competing in Masters swimming, open water swimming, synchronized swimming, diving, and water polo.
The aquatic complex is a beehive of activity; tanned and (mostly) fit wet bodies ages 25 to 97 have completely taken over the Parc Jean-Drapeau Aquatic Complex. It’s insane! What a scene, and I’m lovin’ every minute of it.
The warm-up pool: 8 lanes for 5,868 swimmers! It got much more crowded than this…
Although FINA, the international governing body of five aquatic sports, has done a poor job of running this meet (the complaints are wide and universal amongst the international swimmers), it hasn’t dampened the spirit around the pools. The excitement and enthusiasm is contagious; I can’t think of a better place to people watch! It is really quite a festive atmosphere, seeing a bunch of fit swimmers in their racing suits, smiles on their faces, laughing, giving each other hugs and high-fives.
Under the big tent by the main competition pool, it’s one big international social scene. Teams gather in clusters, swimmers spread out their towels, and they sprawl out all over the place leaving no path to walk. (Thanks to FINA and the facility not supplying chairs.) To get from the warm-up pool to the marshaling zone where swimmers line up for their races, it’s an obstacle course. I’ve gotten pretty good at hopscotch!
Hanging out under the tent with Bruce, a couple of teammates, and my USMS Discussion Forums buddy, “King Frog” (aka Allen Stark). At the meet, Allen broke the world record in his age group for 200 breaststroke!
It’s a festive atmosphere with many different languages being spoken and many excited conversations going on at once. In addition to swimming talk amongst teammates, another “sport” is taking place between swimmers of different countries: trading swim caps, t-shirts, and pins. I got in on that action as can see in the photos below:
Andreas and I traded caps from Berlin and Auburn University.
My Canadian cap-trading partner.
This swimmer was from Costa Rica.
Damian, from Team Hong Kong
My new Chinese friend was out of team caps; however, he couldn’t wait to get his hands on my USMS cap (which I got for free at Nationals), in exchange for the official World Championships cap he had just purchased at the Speedo store for $11.99.
Yes, he’s Italian!
And, she’s from Brazil.
I was so happy to make a trade for an Australian cap after having spent so much time in her country over the years!
When I told Peter (next to me) that I loved his home town of Prague, he didn’t want to trade caps. Instead, he wanted to just GIVE me his competition cap as a gift! I insisted on giving him a U.S. Masters cap as a gift, too.
I keep a very limited presence on Facebook under an alias; however, I found it necessary to keep tabs on Team U.S.A.’s World’s page to get updates we weren’t receiving otherwise. In the process, I got to know Andy, a Canadian who graciously provided a lot of tourist information to us Americans, so we would enjoy our time in Montreal. I was so excited when I finally caught up with Andy and his wife on relay day. We even ended up swimming in the same heat of one of the two relays I competed in that day.
As for the actual racing, it has been exciting to see several of my teammates and U.S. Masters friends win some impressive hardware, including gold, silver, and bronze medals. Since I am not anywhere near that caliber of swimmer, I’m just happy to be able to be here and race. I’m having a blast!
Some of my Georgia Masters teammates with Tim Waud, Team U.S.A. Head Coach
Georgia Masters teammates
Bruce and I visited the Biosphere. (This is what you saw in the background of the photo at the warm-up pool.) Over my shoulder is a view down to the main competition pool at the Parc Jean-Drapeau Aquatic Complex.
For more photos from World’s, check out my album at: http://www.fototime.com/inv/DB1CA7062961254