SIX SUGGESTIONS FOR THE SOLO SWIMMER

Note:  The following article appeared on Swimspire.com in September of 2016 and was adapted for the Georgia Masters Newsletter in December, 2016:

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Are you a solo swimmer?  If so, welcome to my world!  For many of us, swimming solo rather than with a workout group or team isn’t a preference; it’s dictated by circumstances.  In my case, the nearest U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) team is located quite a distance away, so the community pool just one mile away is the more convenient option.

Although swimming solo may have its disadvantages, I have discovered ways during my six years as a lone Masters swimmer to overcome them and make the most of my swimming experience.  Hopefully, the following suggestions will do the same for you.

  1. No coach? No problem!  Learn to coach yourself with video.

The most frustrating thing for me training solo was not having a coach on deck to evaluate my strokes on a regular basis, so I bought a waterproof camera and enlisted the help of my husband to periodically shoot video of all four strokes. Having to kneel down on the deck to record underwater views was a knee and back buster, so I rigged up a camera mount on a PVC pipe.  Now, my husband can stand up straight to shoot underwater video.  He simply twists the pipe to pan the camera as I swim by, or he holds it still at the end of the pool for front views.

In order to shoot video myself, I use reusable rubber-coated twist ties (available at Home Depot) to attach the PVC pipe to the pool ladder or railing.

Next, I upload the videos to my computer, and compare them to instructional videos right here on Swimspire.  I also compare my stroke videos to “Go Swim” and “Total Immersion” videos viewed on YouTube.

Alternatively, the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums (www.usms.org) are a great place to have your stroke video evaluated by other Masters swimmers.  Just upload your video to YouTube, and post the link on the Forums.  (You don’t have to be a member to sign up for a free account.)  Every time I have done so, other “Forumites” have responded with great advice.  Often these online “coaches” have been actual swim coaches or world-class Masters swimmers!

  1. Are you lost as to how to design your own workout plans? Check out the Internet!

The USMS website is THE place to find a variety of excellent workouts to suit your needs.  Sign up for that free account, and check out “Workouts” in the “General” section of the Forums.  Swimming workouts are posted on a daily basis by top-level Masters swimmers that are geared for sprinters, long-distance swimmers, triathletes, stroke specialists, and more.  There are even swim workouts specifically written for expectant mothers and those with limited mobility!

There are plenty of other options for swim workout ideas, too.  Google “swim workouts,” and there will be numerous options for ideas.

I copy and pasted my favorite workouts into Word Documents, custom-formatted them in larger font for easy reading through goggles, and printed them out.  They are kept in a three-ring binder in plastic sleeves, and I place a selected one in a jumbo Ziploc bag to keep it dry at the pool.

I also record my results (such as my practice “race” times) on a plastic SCUBA slate using a pencil.  After recording the information online in my USMS Fitness log, I use toothpaste and water to scrub it clean.

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  1. Be a sociable solo swimmer.

Many swimmers love the solitude of swimming solo, and escape to the pool to alleviate stress.  If you’re an extrovert like me, though, I enjoy being around people; so, I make an effort to be sociable when I’m at the pool.

Regardless of your personality type, there are advantages to getting to know others where you swim.

Over the years my friendliness towards others at the pool has come back around in ways I had never expected.  I get asked about upcoming competitions, receive a lot of encouragement, and get congratulated when I return to the pool following a meet.  There are several people who even offer to move (or just automatically do it) if they are using my favorite lane when I arrive for my workout.  (The other narrow swim lane has two ladders that are not built into the wall—painful for my fingers if the butterfly recovery isn’t timed perfectly.)

Striking up conversations with others at the pool has led to some wonderful friendships, too.  We already had one thing in common when we met; we loved to swim!

  1. Become a “Forumite” on the USMS Discussion Forums.

Joining USMS, and being active on the Discussion Forums has also led to cherished friendships over the years.  One “Forumite” (a FINA World Record breaststroker) who had viewed my posted stroke videos and responded with advice did something for me I will never forget.  At my first USMS Short Course Nationals, just two months after joining USMS, he surprised me by watching me race, and then meeting me at my lane to provide stroke feedback.  Hearing what I did well and how I could improve helped me going into my next race.  This “Forumite” has been my valued online coach ever since, and I am one of his biggest fans!

At another national swim meet the following year, my husband and I got to know the guys from another team sitting next to us in the bleachers.  When it came time for my 200 breaststroke race, I heard a booming, “Go, Elaine!” echo from the bleachers as I stepped up onto the starting block.  That jolt of inspiration propelled me to swim a personal best time!

Besides learning a lot from the other Forum contributors, many of them have become real friends—unlike the so-called “friends” many people make on Facebook (that they may never meet face-to-face).  When I compete at swim meets—especially USMS National Championships—I get to see and spend time with my Forum friends.  One of them even traveled across the country to visit me in Georgia, and participate with me at an upstate meet.  It was a blast!

Overall, the swimming community is a friendly, open, and supportive one.  Become a part of it, and you will be happy you did!

  1. Volunteer.

Are you a non-competitive fitness/recreation swimmer?  You will be welcomed with open arms if you go to a local swim meet, and volunteer to time races, count laps during distance events, or assist the meet director!  It’s a great way to meet other swimmers, and become a part of your local swim community, even if you never swim a race.

When I was unable to compete following hip surgery, I timed races at a meet.  I had so much fun cheering my teammates on and socializing with the others.

Are you considering becoming a competitive swimmer, but a lack of self-confidence in your abilities is stopping you? Do you feel intimidated by the thought of competition?  Volunteering at a local Masters or Senior Games meet is a great opportunity to see what it’s really like.  Watch the other swimmers, and see how you compare.  At a recent local swim meet, there were swimmers of all levels; from a three-time 1980’s Olympian to a swimmer who appeared to struggle with completing the race.  Nobody paid particular attention to either one; we were all there to race against the clock and achieve our personal goals.  As always, the atmosphere was fun, friendly, and supportive.

  1. Share your skills.

Related to the last suggestion, sharing your skills with other swimmers will bring joy in unpredictable ways.  When I complimented a new resident at my community on her freestyle stroke, she lamented the fact she hadn’t been coached since her age-group swimming days; so, she wasn’t sure how her stroke looked.  I offered to shoot topside and underwater video of her stroke, so we met up the following day for a video session, and I recorded her stroke from several angles.  I then uploaded the videos to YouTube and sent her the links.  She was so appreciative that she treated me to lunch!  We had a great time, and a new friendship was formed.

I also write a monthly “Swimmer Profile” column for the Georgia Masters Newsletter and contribute photos I shoot at swim meets.  In addition, I periodically submit meet recap articles.  I enjoy the writing process, and interviewing profile subjects has been a great way to get to know other area swimmers.  Friendships I’ve formed have deepened, and the compliments on my writing have been gratifying!

Think about your skills and how they could benefit other swimmers at your pool or your local swim club.  It will be a rewarding experience!

Putting these six suggestions into action is sure to make your solo swimming experience more enjoyable.  Give them a try and see for yourself!

THE “M’S” HAVE IT! MINNEHAHA (HA-HA!) FALLS, MINNEAPOLIS, AND MALL OF AMERICA

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According to the results of my Google search, Minnehaha is a fictional Native American woman documented in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha”. She is the lover of the titular protagonist Hiawatha and comes to a tragic end. The name, often said to mean “laughing water”, literally translates to “waterfall” or “rapid water” in Dakota.

The name does make you chuckle, don’t ya think?

Minnehaha Regional Park, where the 53-foot falls are the star attraction, is one of the most popular sites in Minneapolis and was highest on our list to visit.  Walking/hiking and travel photography are our “thing”, and there were plenty of opportunities for both.  Besides, the park is also home of Sea Salt Eatery, a popular casual seafood restaurant reputed (on Trip Advisor) to have tasty fish tacos.  The great outdoors and delicious food; what a perfect combo!

The Metro Transit train stop was just across the street from the park, and the falls were located a short walk through lovely gardens, once we entered the park.

We arrived before the restaurant opened, so enjoying the gardens and watching the falls was a great way to pass the time before the restaurant line started forming.  (The lines get long, so we wanted to get ahead of the rush.)

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The fish tacos?  As tasty as the reviews stated, and dining alfresco was a lovely way to enjoy our brunch along with the hypnotic sound of the rushing water over the falls.

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Fueled up, we were ready to rumble, and hike along Minnehaha Creek (which flows over the Minnehaha Falls) to see where it met the Mississippi River.  The scenery along the creek was beautiful, and it was interesting to see the confluence—the perfect fishing spot for this fly fisherman:

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Taking a different path back and going the (unintended) long way back to the station gave us the opportunity to see more of this 167-acre park.

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The remainder of the afternoon was spent walking the city and checking out two sports stadiums—homes of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins—both located in downtown Minneapolis.  The glass building of the football stadium made for some fun photography!

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“The times they are a changing.” This is Bob Dylan, then and now.

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The following day was a cold and rainy one, so we planned everything just right for our Minneapolis visit!  The first day was spent all outdoors, and our second one indoors.  We took the train out to the University of Minnesota to see my friends compete at U.S. Masters Swimming Nationals.  The weather at Minnehaha Falls couldn’t have been better, so we didn’t mind having a rainy day where we had planned on spending it indoors, anyway.

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Georgia Masters Teammates: Malena, Marianne, and Ed

It was great seeing a few of my teammates, but I was most excited to see our friends from Oregon, Allen and Carol.  “King Frog” (as I have called him since he broke the 200 Meter Breaststroke World Record in his age group) has been my breaststroke mentor on the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums, since I joined USMS in 2010.  We (and our spouses) became friends and look forward to seeing each other at national competitions.  (We even met up at the FINA World Masters Swimming Championships in Montreal, in 2014!  King Frog broke a World Record then, too.)

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“King Frog (Allen) & Carol

After lunch with King Frog and Carol, we took the train out to Mall of America.  Shopping wasn’t the draw (we don’t particularly enjoy it); however, the spectacle of it all was what we were curious to see.

The mall completely surrounds an amusement park, and I managed to find plenty of photo ops. at the rides and throughout the mall.  The massive Lego sculptures were especially must-photograph features, as was the irresistible Crayola Crayon store where the colors on display were so cheerful.

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Coming up next:  HITTIN’ THE ROAD TO WISCONSIN

 

WELCOME TO MY WORLD! FOUR WAYS TO INVOLVE YOUR NON-SWIMMING SPOUSE OR PARTNER

This is dedicated to Bruce, my soulmate for over thirty years and husband for nearly 25 of them.  You have always been there for me, even when you thought I was nuts!  (Only you would have the patience to video my painstakingly slow 2000 yard butterfly for Butternuts.  Yes, I am a nutty Butternut!)  I love you more than ever, I’m your #1 fan, and will always remain your Aqua Dog.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

WELCOME TO MY WORLD! FOUR WAYS TO INVOLVE YOUR NON-SWIMMING SPOUSE OR PARTNER

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A SHARED PASSION

Since joining U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) in 2010, I’ve met so many wonderful people I would have never met otherwise.  Participating in any swimming event means being around others who have a shared passion:  SWIMMING.

My past few days have been happily filled with swimming and being around many amazing people who share my passion.

Two of the days were spent (in part) in Atlanta volunteering in the hospitality suite for the 2016 USMS Convention.  In addition to getting to spend time away from the pool with a few of my teammates, it was a great meeting delegates from around the country and seeing people again who I had met at previous competitions.

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Bumping into Tim Waud brought back fun memories of this:

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That’s Tim in the patriotic hat representing USMS as Head Coach for our team at the 2014 FINA World Championships in Montreal.  I’m the one in the white shirt, and all the other gals are my awesome teammates!

 

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I forgot to bring my camera back to the convention today, so this is a grainy picture of me with three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Rowdy Gaines.  If you watched swimming in the last few Olympics, that was Rowdy’s enthusiastic voice you heard on NBC.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Bruce and I headed in the opposite direction to Warner Robins for the Georgia Golden Olympics, a qualifying meet for the upcoming 2017 National Senior Games which will take place in Birmingham, Alabama next June.

In addition to several of my other teammates, my favorite teammate, Anne Dunivin, came to compete in the meet.  Type the name “Anne Dunivin” in the search box up above, and you will see I have written about Anne several times.  She is a rock star in the swimming world.  Why?  Because she is going to be 100 years old on October 17th, and she is still passionate about swimming!

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Anne, with daughters Virginia and Barbara

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Queen Anne!

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Anne, ready to race!

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Anne, in great form racing the 100 Yard Freestyle.  She won gold!  (Of course, it helps to outlive your competition!)

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Anne and her daughter, Virginia.

Anne was in demand at the meet.  She was interviewed by a local newspaper and two TV stations (WGXA and WMAZ)!  Here she is giving an interview for WGXA:

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That’s Bruce getting a kick out of listening to the interview!

See the interview here:  http://wgxa.tv/news/local/100-year-old-woman-proves-youre-never-too-old-to-be-fit

It was a long day (10 hours!) in the 94-degree heat, but it was well worth the 90-minute drive south to spend time with Anne and her daughters, cheer Anne on, and qualify for the National Games.  I ended up with four gold medals and one bronze medal in the meet; and, I was the only woman to compete in the 200 Yard Butterfly.  (Hey, you have to show up to win!)

The picture on the left is with four of my medals, and again after I picked up my final medal.  I swam in the first event (400 Yard Individual Medley) and last event (500 Yard Freestyle), so it was a very long day.  It was dark by the time we arrived home!

Today, after returning home from the USMS convention, I received a wonderful message from Julia Galan of Swimspire.  She had asked me to write another article for her website, and she notified me that it went live.  Here it is:

http://www.swimspire.com/six-suggestions-solo-swimmer/

Julia had asked me to submit a photo of Bruce shooting underwater swimming video and another of me swimming.  Little did I know, she dug up some photos her dad had shot of me at 2014 USMS Summer National Championships to add to the article, too!  It was such a happy surprise to see the article on her website with some fun photos that brought back great memories!

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Julia, with her brother, Peter, and her dad, Florian

These past few days have been so joyful, inspiring, and FUN!  I hope you have a passion– or discover one– that brings you this much joy as well!

 

CONQUERING THE IRONMAN PENTATHLON (U.S. MASTERS SWIMMING)

The following article was written in the middle of the night following my participation in the SouthSide Pentathlon last Saturday.  I have never been able to sleep through the night following a swim meet, so I have made a habit of rolling out of bed and hittin’ the keys.  

This article will appear in the next “Georgia Masters Newsletter,”  for Georgia’s U.S. Masters Swimming regional team.

CONQUERING THE IRONMAN PENTATHLON

By, Elaine Krugman

Since joining U.S. Masters Swimming in 2010, I have competed in a pentathlon swim meet each September.  Sponsored by the SouthSide Seals, one of the small local teams that fall under the Georgia Masters regional team umbrella, the SouthSide Pentathlon is a fun meet.  Rob Copeland, along with other members of his swimming family run the meet and do an outstanding job.  This year, Megan had the results out in a flash!

Remembering back over past pentathlon meets, one of my favorite Masters Swimming memories was the 2010 Peachtree Pentathlon (as it was called then when it was held at the Kedron pool in Peachtree City), when I participated as a newbie in the Sprint Pentathlon which included the 100 Yard Individual Medley, and 50 Yard races of each stroke (Butterfly, Backstroke, Breaststroke, and Freestyle).  In the 50 Yard Breaststroke, I made National Qualifying Times (NQT’s) for my age group—exactly to the hundredth of a second!  Being so new to Masters Swimming, I was shocked and very excited.  It meant I could swim an additional race at Nationals beyond the three races allowed for all swimmers.

Little did I know that would be the last time I would make NQT’s in an electronically-timed meet.  (Hand-timed meets typically result in faster race times, and that was the case for me when I last made NQT’s in 2013.)

I embody the motto for Georgia Masters: “The older we get, the faster we were.”

Since that first pentathlon meet, I have looked forward to competing in it each year.  In 2011 and 2012, I raced the Sprint Pentathlon, because I was a sprinter.  (Everything I did was fast:  walk fast, talk fast, move fast—it was the only speed I knew!)

In 2012, that all changed.  I discovered the joys of distance swimming when I competed in the Georgia Games Open Water Meet.  I entered the 3K and 1K races and swam faster as I progressed through each kilometer.  When I told Coach Mike Slotnick (co-host of Masters swim meets at Steve Lundquist Aquatic Center) about it, he declared, “That’s a sign of a distance swimmer.”  I replied, “But, I’m a sprinter!”  (His declaration became a regular thing during subsequent training sessions when we swam together, and he noticed my speed increasing as the session progressed, rather than the opposite.)

Mike finally had me convinced, and I started training for the long pool events:  1650 Yard / 1500 Meter Freestyle, 400 IM, and 200 Butterfly.  After successfully completing (meaning I wasn’t disqualified and I didn’t drown) the 200 Butterfly at a meet, Rob Copeland challenged me to compete in the Ironman at the next SouthSide Pentathlon.  “You’re on!” I replied with enthusiasm.  “Uh-oh, what have I gotten myself into…” was what I later mumbled to myself.

In 2014 (there was no pentathlon meet in 2013), with much hesitation (and a stomach full of butterflies), I registered for the Ironman.  Top-Ten swimmer, Marianne Countryman did too, so I knew I wouldn’t win my age group; but, my goal was to just complete the darn thing without getting disqualified on any of my events—and, without the lifeguard having to jump in to save me.

I succeeded at both goals, and a funny thing happened after touching the wall after my last event, the 200 Yard Butterfly (Yes, they save the hardest event for last!).  In between panting like a dog and gasping for air, I said to the swimmer in the neighboring lane, “That was fun!  I’m doing this again next year!”

Unfortunately, I had to pass on the 2015 meet due to a setback after having hip surgery, but I was back at it this year with much anticipation and preparation.  Prior to the meet, I had “raced” the Ironman four weeks in a row, completing the events in 35-40 minutes with short rest in between races.  My race times were horrible under those conditions, but I figured it would make the actual meet seem easier in comparison.  It worked.  I actually took the most time off my last event of the pentathlon, the 200 Yard Butterfly, and I even had something left in the tank to anchor the 400 Medley Relay at the end of the meet!

I was proud of our small group of Ironman competitors.  Out of the eighty swimmers at the meet, only eight of us took the Ironman challenge; four women and four men.  Since we were all in different age groups, we all won first place (Hey, you have to show up to win!)

The youngest “Ironman” was Nautical Miler, Gina Grant (18); and, the oldest was John Zeigler (70).  Other Ironman participants included Sara Edwards (39), myself at 54 years-old, and Ellen Clay (57) for the women; and, meet host Rob Copeland (59), Joe Hutto (64), and 1984 Olympics Bronze Medalist for Sweden, Michael Soderlund (54).  (As a side note, Michael also competed in the 1980 and 1988 Olympics.)

Hey, Ironman guys and gals, let’s do it again next year!

*As a side note, I finished first of the four women, and I beat one of the men.  Woohoo!

QUEEN ANNE (AKA ANNE-WITH-AN-E)

Do a search within my blog site on “Anne Dunivin,” and you will see I have written several times about this amazing woman and teammate who has been a great inspiration to me.

Now 99 years old, and swimming faster than she did at Nationals three years ago, Queen AnnE had every swimmer at the U.S. Masters Swimming meet at UGA echoing what I said to Anne when we first met, “I want to grow up to be just like you!”

Check out this link to read on about Anne’s amazing accomplishments at last Saturday’s swim meet.  This article appeared in print in yesterday’s edition of Atlanta Journal Constitution:  http://www.ajc.com/news/lifestyles/health/99-year-old-atlanta-swimmer-completes-swim-and-set/nrbXf/

2016 U.S. MASTERS SWIMMING SPRING NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY

I knew my body would take a beating at the two-day Georgia Tech Spring Splash meet (written about in my last post), so when I signed up for the U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship meet, I didn’t have high expectations.  After all, the meet was scheduled for less than three weeks after I would be racing an incredibly grueling event line-up in my first meet back with my newly repaired hip.  If it hadn’t been for Nationals taking place just a six-hour drive away in Greensboro, North Carolina, I would have given it a miss.  (Please note:  The deadline for registration was long BEFORE HB 2 was signed into law!)

Since I didn’t make National Qualifying Times for this meet, I would be limited to racing three individual events, so I decided to race during just two of the four-day meet and enter races I knew my hip could handle after the Spring Splash.  That eliminated sprints, and all breaststroke races which were my best events, but stressful on the hips.  Since I love racing distance freestyle, I entered the 1650 Yard Freestyle (just short of one mile) on Day 1, and the 500 Yard Freestyle on Day 2.  For my third event, I chose 200 Yard Butterfly, one of my favorite events, but also one I “race” slowly.  In addition, I was placed in two freestyle relays on Day 2.

The Good:

Racing the mile was more enjoyable (and faster!) than at the Spring Splash meet, because it was my first race, and I felt strong.  It also helped having a cheering squad pulling for me.  At the far end of the pool was my buddy Michael who yelled for me while Bruce kept busy displaying my lap count, and next to the starting block was Michelle, a USMS Discussion Forums “Forumite” who I hadn’t yet met in person.  I couldn’t figure out who the heck that was bending down to yell at me when I hit the wall for a few of my turns!  Although I do open turns due to having Meniere’s, an inner ear disorder that makes doing forward flip turns difficult without getting motion sickness, I try to do them as fast as possible.  Still, I caught just a glimpse of Michelle a couple of times and thought to myself, “Cool!  Somebody is cheering me on!”

At the finish, I looked up at the electronic board and saw I had beaten my Spring Splash time by 32 seconds!  I also beat all of my practice race times since before my surgery.  Medals are awarded for 1st – 10th places, so I was tickled to place 10th and bring home a nice souvenir from the meet.

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The Bad:

Racing that mile must have worn me down, because I just didn’t have what I needed for a fast 500 Yard Freestyle race the following morning.  I enjoyed the race, but my fatigued body was sluggish in the water, and I ended up with a time that was ten seconds slower than my race time at Spring Splash.

Later in the day, I (figuratively) hit a wall.  One flight up the stairs to the bleachers where I met up with Bruce, and I knew my strength was zapped for the day.  Racing the 200 Yard Butterfly that afternoon?  No way, no how, no can do.  That race requires all of my strength, and when I feel good, I love to race it, but when I feel bad, it is a living HELL.  Instead, I gave it a miss and saved myself for the two relays at the end of the day.

The Good (again!):

Although our team’s relay coach, Donna, was aware I wouldn’t be able to sprint in the relays, there wasn’t another swimmer available to complete the two relay squads I was placed in.  It was either take me as a slow fourth swimmer, or the relays would have to scratch.  There was no way I would risk my hip by sprinting, and my body was fatigued anyway, so I did what I could do.

Although I was unable to give my swims 100% effort, I had a lot of fun with my teammates, and I left the meet happy.

Here is a link to a video Bruce shot of the 400 Yard Mixed Freestyle Relay.  I swam the third leg, so look for me in the blue cap and flag-print suit:

https://youtu.be/M8X9YpIeKRc

The Ugly:

Greensboro won the bid for the USMS Spring National Championship meet long before North Carolina enacted HB 2, the extremely hateful and discriminating bill that was signed recently by their Republican governor, Pat McCrory.  How unfortunate, because U.S. Masters Swimming is an inclusive organization with many LGBT swimmers, including an entire team (Atlanta Rainbow Trout) here in Georgia.

Many of us who are against the bill felt conflicted about visiting a state governed by such hateful politicians, and from what I was told, there were about ten swimmers (of nearly 1,800) who canceled out because of it.

For those if you who think the bill is just about who is allowed to use which bathrooms, you might want to read this article:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/04/north-carolina%E2%80%99s-terrible-anti-lgbt-law-even-worse-we-thought

If nothing else, at least read this:

The legislation doesn’t stop there, however. Tucked inside is language that strips North Carolina workers of the ability to sue under a state anti-discrimination law, a right that has been upheld in court since 1985. “If you were fired because of your race, fired because of your gender, fired because of your religion,” said Allan Freyer, head of the Workers’ Rights Project at the North Carolina Justice Center in Raleigh, “you no longer have a basic remedy.”

 Ugly?  Definitely.  In protest, one of the swim teams at Nationals wore these shirts:

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This will be one  memorable takeaway  from the 2016 U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship meet.

I will also remember the fun I had with my teammates:

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Relay Coach, Donna Hooe; Graham Fuller, Dan Beatty, and Me.

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Stan Delair, Carrie Hughes, Pam McClure, Ian King, Lesley Landey, Marianne Countryman, and Linda Zollweg

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Relay teammate, Ian King after beating his seed time in 100 Freestyle

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USMS Discussion Forums “Forumite” Michelle Toner

 

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Marianne Countryman and Ed Saltzman (teammate and official)

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Michelle shot this photo of me racing the 1650 (mile).  That’s Bruce counting laps for me at the end of my lane.

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!

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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!

BRINGING HOME THE GOLD (AND SILVER, TOO!)

When I joined U.S. Masters Swimming in 2010, I never dreamed I would compete in open water swimming.  I was a breaststroker, after all, and a sprinter at that.

In July, 2012 that all changed.  To win the Georgia Championship Series, I needed to compete in the Georgia Games Open Water Meet to rack up enough points to remain in the lead.  The series is comprised of four events (Short Course Yards, Long Course Meters, Open Water, and Short Course Meters), and I was leading my age group after the first two meets.

I will never forget showing up to Lake Acworth and wondering what I had gotten myself into.  There were three races (5K, 3K, and 1K), and I had signed up for the 3K and 1K in hopes of winning some points.  Was I NUTS?

As it turned out, I won a silver medal in the 3K and a gold medal in the 1K.  I was overjoyed!  More importantly, it was the most fun I had ever had at a swimming event.  Ever.  I was hooked.

In 2013, I couldn’t wait until July rolled around, so I could compete at the Georgia Games once again.  This time, I swam faster; however, the competition was tougher, and I went home with two bronze medals.  It didn’t matter, because I had a blast!

Last year, it was during the 3K race that my hip pain that was previously only an issue on land became problematic in the water.  For the first time, it affected my swimming, and I was forced to drag my right leg along for the ride.  Still, I swam well, enjoyed the competition, and took home two silver medals.

This year, I wasn’t going to race at all.  Between having hip surgery in December and not knowing for sure whether my hip could tolerate 4K’s of racing, I was going to give it a miss.  Add the ridiculously hot weather we’ve been having to the mix, and the fact that I didn’t get enough pool time logged during our 47-day road trip, it was a no-go for me.  Or, maybe not.

I decided to swim a trial 3K race in the pool to see if perhaps I could handle the yardage.  If I could swim pain-free and not struggle, I thought I would give the Georgia Games a try after all.

Surprisingly, I finished in 1:05, ten minutes slower than when I had swum the same time trial in 2014.  Given the circumstances, I was happy to finish at all!

In open water, though, there are factors that make swimming the same distance much more difficult.  There are no walls to push off of after each 25 yards of swimming, there is no black line to follow or lane lines to separate the swimmers, and the water is as clear as mud.  Literally.  Add the sun and warmer water to the mix and the need to “sight” the buoys on a frequent basis, and it is a much greater challenge.  Oh, I also forgot the fact that getting kicked in the head or smacked by an arm doesn’t happen in pool competition, but it does in an open water race, especially at the start.  I know, because it has happened to me.

Still, I had too much fun the first three times at Lake Acworth to sit this one out.

I drove to the lake this morning with the idea I would race the 3K and opt out of the 1K if I felt bad from the heat and hot water.  If my hip started hurting, I would quit.

The water was even hotter than I thought it would be, and I was surprised the meet wasn’t cancelled.  USMS’ rules state a limit of 86 degrees, and FINA (the international governing body for swimming) sets a limit of 87 degrees.  Surely, the water temperature hit those limits.

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That’s me (side view) on the right (front) without the cap getting ready to start the 3K.

I chucked my swim cap, hit the water, and swam cautiously until I knew my body could handle the heat.  Surprisingly, I was able to increase my speed throughout the 3K race rather than slow down or quit.  After turning at the last buoy for the last 1K to the finish, I kicked it up to full throttle and aimed for the finish.

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It wasn’t until after my 1K race that I learned how I had finished in the 3K.  The two races had only a short break in between, and the medals were announced while I was racing.  No matter. I was just ECSTATIC that I finished the 3K strong and felt good enough to return to the water for the 1K.  Besides, it was enormously gratifying to watch all of the swimmers who finished AFTER me, especially many of the young studs and studettes who appeared to be in their 20’s and 30’s.  Talking about a great sense of satisfaction!

The 1K was a diamond-shaped course, and I noticed after rounding the first buoy that I had company by my side.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake this blue-capped gal who was matching me stroke-for-stroke.  I was hoping she would swim off-course, but her sighting was good, and we both swam straight.

As we approached the last third of the race, I decided it was time to turn up the heat (as if I wasn’t hot enough already!), test out my hip, and kick with all I had left in the tank.

The effort paid off; I beat her to the finish by over a minute.

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When we met up onshore, we introduced ourselves, gave each other a big hug, and thanked each other for the great competition.  We each had swum the 3K as well, so we looked up our times on the results sheet to see if we had finished close in that race as well.  As it turned out, she beat me by less than two minutes!

Thankfully, Loukia is only 34 years old, and I’m 53, so we didn’t have to give up medals to each other.  That was a good thing, because just before we posed for this photo, Bruce put my 3K medal around my neck.  It wasn’t until afterwards that I looked down to see which one it was.  I just assumed it was bronze, and I was just so happy to win ANY medal!

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When I finally looked down at it, I had to pick it up and turn it back and forth before I was convinced it was actually GOLD.  For the first time in four years, I won gold in the 3K.  (There were only four in my age group, but still…)

The gold medal winner in the 1K hadn’t swum the 3K, so she was fresh for her race and beat me for the gold.  During the 1K medal ceremony, another name was called for the bronze, so I thought my chance for a medal was zilch.  When the name was called for the silver, though, it was mine.  YES!  Once again, I won a gold and silver; however, this time they were switched, and the gold was for the longer race.

The sense of satisfaction I feel today is the greatest I have felt since becoming a USMS competitive swimmer.  What a fabulous day!

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U.S. Masters Swimming medal winners from Georgia Masters

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!