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


Marianne Countryman


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


Kitchen Drawer is a very cool (“Free to a good home”) magazine based in Griffin, Georgia. I started writing artist profiles for the magazine last year, and my first one appeared in the November/December issue. In addition to my artist profile in the current issue (Volume 6 Issue 3), another article I wrote was published. Check it out here: http://issuu.com/kitchendrawer/docs/6_3_final?e=0/8465165

Thanks to Betsy Harris, my writing mentor/editor/friend who encouraged me to submit this article. Allison Smyly and her staff at Kitchen Drawer get a big thanks for choosing to publish it! Finally, the biggest thanks of all goes out to my husband, Bruce Cook who always patiently honors my request to photograph and/or video my races. I love you!



These are photos Bruce shot that didn’t make the cut:


My surgeon, Dr. Richard Braun


U.S. Masters Swimming 2013 Summer Nationals


I’m like a Timex watch; I take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

Having a left leg 1/2″ longer than the right and a pelvis that tilts to the right throws the entire body out of proper alignment, and is one of the causes of many of the injuries I have experienced. Couple that with inheriting a whole host of ugglies from my father, including severe degenerative disk and joint disease, I am an accident waiting to happen.

Just as I was finally getting my injuries under control and having great results from trigger point dry needling physical therapy, I showed up to U.S. Masters Swimming Summer Nationals with what I thought was a mildly strained muscle in my torso. Swimming made it feel better; however, I think I jammed my leg and hip on a misstep on uneven terrain. On the night before my biggest day of competition, I had severe muscle spasms and was up all night. So, the following morning, I went to the sports medicine massage tent, prior to my 400 Meter Individual Medley race.

As it turns out, the muscles spasms had caused my 1/2″ longer left leg to appear to be 1-1/2″ longer, according to the therapist, Chuck. He said I had a subluxation (dislocation) of my last rib which is a floating rib. The dislocated rib was pressing on my kidney, causing the pain. So, he did what he could to get the spasms under control, however, he wasn’t qualified to set the rib back in place. He said to return on Sunday to see Dr. Mike.

Unfortunately, Dr. Mike didn’t arrive until I was just about to swim the 200 Meter Butterfly, so I had to see him after the race to get my rib set. As it turned out, I ended up racing my 400 IM, 200 breaststroke and 200 fly (three of the most difficult races in competitive swimming) with a dislocated rib poking my kidney on every stroke.

Although I was unable to race at my top speed, I completed all of my races successfully without getting disqualified. I ended up 9th in 200 Meter Breaststroke, winning my first individual Nationals medal (top ten win medals) and placed 4th in 200 Meter Butterfly for my other individual medal. My time was 1:13 slower than when I raced the same event last summer at a long course meters meet at Greenville (and much slower than my 2,000 yard butterfly pace), but I did it!

Now, there is a disclaimer I should add to that 4th place. Out of 88 women competing in my age group, only seven signed up to race in that grueling event and five showed up to the blocks to race it. And, one of the women got disqualified. Hey, you can’t win a medal if you don’t show up!

Of the five individual races and one relay I competed in, the highlight was racing breaststroke in the Women’s Mixed Medley Relay (and winning my third medal) with three of my teammates, including Diann Uustal, a multiple world record holder. Only seven of us from Georgia attended Nationals, so I was fortunate to have that opportunity. Not only is Diann the best in the world in her age group in freestyle and backstroke, she is a class act. When I first saw her at the pool upon arrival, she ran up to me, gave me a hug and said, “I get to swim on a relay with you!” I looked at her stunned and replied, “Uhh, I think you have that backwards. I get to swim with you on a relay!” And, after the relay, Diann actually thanked me for swimming on the relay and gave me a big hug and kiss afterwards.


Relay teammates Lisa Watson, Diann Uustal, and Francine Williamson.  We placed 6th and won a medal, my first of these Nationals.

The icing on the cake was arriving to the starting blocks for the race, looking over to the next lane to check out my competition, and seeing my good friend Deb smiling back! We knew each other would be competing in that relay, but we had no idea it would be in the same heat and neighboring lanes. Awesome! Her team ended up placing 3rd and we placed 6th, however, I was ecstatic. It was Deb’s first ever medal and it meant the world to her competing with her teammates, just as it meant for me to race with mine.
As it turned out Deb’s team, Arizona Masters, won the meet with their contingent of 35 swimmers, including Olympian Clarke Burckle. Our little team of seven women placed 7th out of 19 regional teams. We may have been small, but we were mighty!


My goodfriend and fellow USMS Discussion Forums “Forumite,” Debbie Duane, known as “Debaru” on the forums.

In one word, the entire experience was AWESOME. Mission Viejo did an outstanding job organizing and running the meet, leaving no detail out. From the poolside steel drum band that welcomed us, to the reading glasses hanging from strings at the results board, they thought of everything to make it a terrific experience.



2000 U.S.A. Olympic Gold Medalist, Misty Hyman filming a USMS highlight film.


David Guthrie, men’s 50-54 age group world record holder practicing a start off the blocks.


Dara Torres came early and stayed late to meet fellow USMS swimmers, pose for photos, and autograph free souvenir photos.

The highlight, though, was seeing my friends (especially my Forumite friends, like Deb, from the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums) and making new ones. U.S. Masters Swimmers are a great bunch of people; from the youngest at 18 to the oldest at 95 (Rita rocked the pool with her beautiful freestyle and backstroke!), they were all there doing what they loved. And, by the looks of the smiling faces around the pool, they were all having a blast doing it!


Four of my six Georgia Masters teammates who traveled to Mission Viejo:  Mary Kalafut, Donna Hooe, Francine Williamson, and Diann Uustal.


Chief Official (and teammate), Ed Saltzman pulled me aside after racing the 200 Butterfly.  “Did I DQ (disqualify)?”  My heart sank as I waited for his reply.  “No, but I’m just curious why you stayed underwater so long after the start before you surfaced to start your stroke.”  Your kick was weak, and you almost came to a complete stop when you surfaced!”  I am not a procrastinator, but the last thing I wanted to do with a dislocated rib was swim full butterfly.  It was “Ouch!” on every stroke!


Donna and I tried to sneak up on Ed as he was officiating a race, but he caught on…


“That Guy,” Doug Jelen, is one of my favorite Forumites.  He’s a hoot!  But, until this moment, I had never met him in person.  He caught up with me immediately after my 100 meter breaststroke race as I was bent over with an aching side from my injured rib.  When he greeted me by name, I looked up with a “Who the heck are you?” look.  I hadn’t a clue, because I expected That Guy to be bald (as he appeared in a race video he had posted.)  My first words to him when I learned his identity were, “You have hair!”  Lifting his cap, and rubbing his head probably wasn’t something he expected… 


I absolutely LOVE the logo that was designed for these Nationals!  Having lived most of my life in San Diego and being a So. Cal. Native; surfboards, palm trees, and water are what it’s all about!


My three medals were for the Women’s 200 Meter Medley Relay (breaststroke leg), 200 Meter Breaststroke, and 200 Meter Butterfly.

2013 Goals: She SCORES!

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, but I am big on setting goals; something I have done for as long as I can remember.

This past year, I did pretty darn well achieving my goals and even succeeded in making some I didn’t even have set at the beginning of the year (including winning the Georgia Championship Series for high points in U.S. Masters Swimming and swimming 3K & 1K races to achieve it).  Like the experts say, always write your goals in pencil!

I will admit that I “write” my goals on the computer.  But, I do leave plenty of room at the bottom of the printed out page to add more goals or make changes.  This last year, I added winning the series and the open water swims, just so I could have the satisfaction of putting a big fat check mark next to it!  Same goes for my 900, 2000, and 1000 yard butterfly swims. “Are you KIDDING me?”  That’s what I would have asked YOU, if you had asked ME if I could even swim 200 yards of fly!  But, I tried it one day, amazingly felt like I could keep going after 200 yards, and kept going… and going… and going…

But, when I added that new goal of winning the Georgia Championship Series, there were three goals (the only goals I did not achieve) that I was not able to achieve because of it:  Making National Qualifying Times in my three breaststroke events; my core events that I am best at.  Swimming a full slate of events at each meet to win high points meant not being rested enough for each race, in order to swim my best.  My breaststroke times, for the most part, suffered this year.  So, I was unable to achieve NQT’s for Spring Nationals (a meet it turns out that I won’t be attending, anyway).  But, I sure did have a lot more fun at meets this year!  I hate sitting on the bench…

2013 Long Course (50 meter pool) Summer Nationals, in Mission Viejo, California, is really what I am shooting for, when it comes to making National Qualifying Times.  By making NQT’s in my three core events, it would give me the opportunity to swim three additional individual events, for a total of the maximum six individual events allowed per swimmer.  In 2010, at my first Nationals, I did not qualify in any of the events, so I only got to swim three events.  The following year, I made NQT in the 50 yard breaststroke, so I earned the right  to swim four events, at both spring and summer Nationals.  And, the same thing happened this past spring.  So, I have been working towards qualifying in all three breaststroke events, so I could swim six events, just like the big boys (and girls).

As it turns out, I have officially made NQT’s, according to the U.S.M.S. rules that allow swimmers to use their best times going back two years.  I recently received confirmation from a staff member at headquarters that my times from the St. Nick’s short course meters meet, in November, 2012, count.  When entered in Swimming World’s Time Conversion Utility, I qualify with time to spare in both the 50 meter and 200 meter breaststroke, but make it EXACTLY in the 100 meter breaststroke:  1:42.58!

Now, having said all that, U.S.M.S. doesn’t actually verify your times; it is all on the honor system.  But, even if I don’t swim those times on race day in Mission Viejo, I absolutely wanted to honor the honor system going into the meet.

So, my main swimming goal for 2013 (once again) is to re-qualify, so my times are up-to-date; at least more current than going back to 2011!

This is where Nationals will be held, August 7-11; the pool where several Olympians, including Greg Louganis (diver) and Dara Torres (swimmer) trained:http://www.mastersmvnswim.org/SubTabGeneric.jsp?team=scmvnm&_stabid_=23601

My chosen events will be:

August 7:  1500m Freestyle

August 8:  100m Breaststroke

August 9:  50 Breaststroke

August 10:  400 Individual Medley and 200 Breaststroke

August 11:  200 Butterfly

And, if our team can field enough swimmers for relays, I hope to swim relays each day, as well.

As for other 2013 swimming goals, I have set 475 miles for my U.S.M.S. Go the Distance goal (I set 400 miles in 2012 and swam 452 miles).  And, there are a few non-core races I have set goals for swimming personal best times.  Oh yeah, and I’m going for the Georgia Championship Series, again, too.

Meanwhile, I also have non-swimming goals, too; just the usual stuff.

How about you?  Have you set goals for this year?  If so, feel free to post your goals in the comments section; I would love to hear about them!

Happy New Year!

Jolly Ol’ St. Nick

Atlanta Rainbow Trout deserves an award for originality when it comes to swim meet trophies.  Their Spring Splash High Points trophy is quite cool, but their St. Nick’s High Points trophy is a hoot!  Yes, it’s a waving jolly ol’ St. Nick.  I don’t even celebrate Christmas, but as soon as I saw that trophy, my determination to win high points for the meet was reaffirmed.  Jolly ol’ St. Nick was going to be mine.

The year started with my usual list of goals; none of which included winning the Georgia Championship Series.  I’m not the fastest swimmer in my age group, after all, so I didn’t think I would have a chance.  But, as you may have seen in a previous post, I ended up winning high points at the Spring Splash and was told I had a good chance of winning the entire series.  So, as of April, I was on a mission.  I won the long course meet, in Athens, and then won at the Georgia Games Open Water swim.  At that point, I had eliminated my competition for the Georgia Championship Series, however, I was determined to win in style and make a clean sweep of it at yesterday’s St. Nick’s Short Course Meters meet, at Georgia Tech.  So, I entered the maximum five individual events, swimming my three best (50, 100, and 200 Breaststroke), and rounding out with two distance events (400 Individual Medley http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkk525w-Qk0&feature=share&list=UUaJqJScxsYtclOJAW-i-gpw and 400 Freestyle; something my coach feels I would be best at if I train for distance, rather than sprints.  To add to the heap, I was placed in two relays; swimming lead-off in a Women’s 200 Freestyle Relay and breaststroke in the Women’s 200 Medley Relay.

Although my times suffered due to the heavy workload, I was happy to win every event, including our relays.  OK, some of those events were uncontested by anybody in my age group, but I had competition in others.  In all, there were seven of us in my age group.


It was great seeing so many of my Killer Whales teammates also win high points awards; I went around with my Santa giving high-fives to their Santas.  (See photo; Santa does have one hand in the high-five position!).


My Forumite buddies (U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums) also won high points in their age groups; definitely a meet highlight for me, given the pre-meet discussion we had online in the days building up to the meet.  Frank Thompson (on right) came all the way from Michigan, Swimosaur (Judd Jones) drove out from Tennessee, and ekw (Ellen Wilson) drove over from Alabama.  They each now had their own Santa to accompany them on their travels home.  And, as you can see by our final picture, our Santas gave each other a kiss goodbye…


‘Tis the story of Jolly ol’ St. Nick, who now holds a place with my other awards, on top of the wine cabinet, in my home office.

And, that, my friends is (almost) the end of my year as a baby geezer.  I will soon be turning 51, on Inauguration Day, so I will no longer be the baby geezer; just a geezer.  But, later this month, I will be joining a few of my Forumites in swimming 1,000 yards continuous butterfly, to close out 2012.  I swam 2,000 yards continuous fly last June, so I know I can do it!

I’m a Baby Geezer!

When Bruce and I made the decision to move to a Del Webb Sun City community, I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to switch from being a gym rat and return to being a water dog.  The treadmill hadn’t been kind to my paws; I had developed a fierce case of tarsal tunnel syndrome and knew it would be an ongoing battle.  But, the pool where we lived in San Antonio was an outdoor pool, open only during the (very) hot summer months.  That situation wasn’t kind to me either; I developed fierce heat intolerance issues.

Sun City has a climate controlled indoor pool- perfect!


So, I returned to the pool, in 2009, soon after settling in at Sun City Peachtree.  I worked on building up my endurance.  Then, one day, I decided to try swimming my old competitive stroke again:  Breaststroke.  Once I built up enough speed and confidence to time myself, I brought my watch to the pool and timed my race from a push off the wall.  Aaaaaack!  It was far from the 1:19.06 best time I got as a high school senior.  But, I went home red-faced, sat down at the computer, and looked up where my time would have ranked if I had competed as a 50 year old, at the Georgia Golden Olympics.  Of course, I was only 47, BUT, I was also just getting back into it and figured I would have plenty of room to improve.

To my surprise, my time wasn’t so bad in my age group.  So, I looked up where my time would have placed me at the National Senior Olympics and was relieved to see I wouldn’t have placed last!  Actually, I would have ended up in the middle of the pack.

So, at that very moment, I set a goal for myself and announced to Bruce:  “In 2012, when I turn 50, I am going to compete in the Georgia Golden Olympics!”

It was time to get to work.

After 8 months of swimming on my own, I realized I didn’t have a clue how to properly train to return to competition.  And, I could tell by watching the Olympics, in 2008, that breaststroke had changed dramatically, since 1979.  I needed a coach.  Badly.

After doing some research, I learned that the closest indoor competition pool, Steve Lundquist Aquatic Center, was located 25 minutes away, in Clayton County.  I called the pool to see if they could refer me to a coach who could take a look at my strokes and get me back on track.  That is how I met Mike Slotnick, the founder and head coach of SMART (Smart Motivated Athletic Respectful Teammate), a kid’s swim team.

Mike Slotnick 2012

Lucky for me, Mike was willing to take me on for reasonably priced private coaching sessions.  He had his work cut out for him, for sure…

Meanwhile, I remembered that my sister had been a member of United States Masters Swimming, so I checked out the website and decided to join.  Unfortunately, the nearest team was located too far away to train with, but I could still compete with a team at swim meets.

One month after my first coaching session, I competed in my first meet.  Thankfully, Mike was there to help calm my nerves, give me last-minute advice, and clue me in as to when and how much to warm up before each race.  It turned out to be a great experience!

The following month, Georgia Tech hosted U.S.M.S. Short Course Nationals.  How could I miss that with it being just up the freeway from my home?  But, Nationals?  Whoaaa; that’s way beyond my swimming level.  But, U.S.M.S. is an inclusive organization, allowing all members to compete in three events at Nationals, if they don’t qualify to swim more (up to six).  So, I went, competed, and ended up second to last in my events.  Mike competed, too, we gave each other a lot of encouragement, and I ended up having a blast.  The best part was meeting fellow “Forumites” (U.S.M.S. Discussion Forums members) and cheering each other on.  And, nobody cared about my swim times; they only cared that I was happy to be there and competed with enthusiasm.


It was because of my great experience at 2010 Nationals that I have gone to most of the Nationals since.  And, it has been well worth it!  And, all of the local and southeastern Dixie Zone meets have been swimming highlights, as well.  It has been a terrific 21/2+ years as a USMS member.

Fast forward to January 20, 2012; my 50th birthday.  After swimming in numerous U.S.M.S. meets, I had come to realize that the level of competition is far greater than at the Senior Olympics level.  Comparing qualifying times and Nationals results, there was no comparison.  But, I had set a goal and I was excited to see it through.

So, 2012 became the year of competing in Senior Olympics meets, in addition to U.S.M.S. meets.  As I wrote previously, I competed in the Gwinnett County Golden Games, last April, as my very first Senior Games.  It was at that meet that I officially declared myself a “Geezer” competing in the “Geezer Games” and was proud of it!  And, as the youngest competitor there, I was even more proud to sit next to my team’s matriarch, 95 year old American Record Holder Anne Dunivin, for the medals photograph.  I had won two golds and three silvers.  Anne, one of the oldest competitors in the country, proudly admits that she has won those records by outliving her competition.  She also won five gold medals at that meet.


The Geezer Games I was really looking forward to competing in, however, was the meet I had my heart set on, back in 2009:  The Georgia Golden Olympics, my adopted states’ qualifying meet for Nationals.  So, last month, we made our way to Warner Robins to compete in the maximum allowed five races.  My coach, Mike, competed too, as well as several of my teammates.  I ended up again with two golds and three silvers (my first two medals shown below), getting beaten at both Geezer Games by former collegiate swimmers who were awesome breaststrokers.  The gal at the state meet crushed my time; I didn’t have a chance for the gold.  But, I achieved my goal, had fun, and swam well, considering the poor conditions (slow pool, too-warm water, too-warm air, no warm-up or cool-down lanes available; it was a joke, really…)


I won’t be going to Cleveland for 2013 Nationals, however, even though I qualified in four of my events .  Cleveland isn’t exactly at the top of my bucket list and I am allocating my travel budget, instead, to U.S.M.S. Long Course Nationals, in Mission Viejo, for 2013.

My final Geezer Games competition as a baby geezer was the following week.  The Clayton County Senior Games was organized by my coach, Mike, and ran in conjunction with one of my favorite meets, the U.S.M.S. Southside Pentathlon.  As the women’s sprint pentathlon (50 yard races in each stroke and the 100 yard Individual Medley) winner in 2011, I wanted to defend my title, so I signed up for both meets.  Four of my events counted for both simultaneously, but I was the only baby geezer who signed up for the Geezer Games.  So, by default, I won four gold medals.  But, I did defend my Sprint Pentathlon title and won another trophy, beating out a 39 year old in the process.


My teammate, Joyce and I wearing our Georgia Golden Olympics medals from the previous week and the Sprint Pentathlon trophy I had just won.

It has been FUN being 50.  If it weren’t for Mike’s excellent coaching and friendship, U.S.M.S., and my fellow Forumites who have coached me online, I would have never gotten to the level where I am now with my swimming.  And, it just keeps getting better and I keep having more fun, trying new things.  Between the Geezer Games, Nationals, my first open water races, winning the Sprint Pentathlon, and winning the Georgia Championship Series trophy (the last meet for the Series is in December, at Georgia Tech, however, I have already mathematically eliminated my competition), it has been a fabulous year.

Life is good being a baby geezer.

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!


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!


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!


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!


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:


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:


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


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:


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 )