Getting In To the Swim of Things

I first started swimming when my then 15 year old son’s coach decided to start a master team so that the parents standing at the side of the pool screaming ‘Faster! Just go a little faster, honey! Go! Go!” would know why that was That isn’t quite how he put it but the truth would not be denied.

At the time I was a runner and I hated swimming or so I thought, so I decided that joining masters would be a really good thing for me. You know, expanding my horizons and all that. The first day of practice the coach gently coaxed us through the workout. We (mostly middle aged folks in dubious shape) were panting and puffing and exhausted but felt pretty triumphant. At the end of the season we reminisced about that first workout and he laughed and said, “yeah – you did 400 yards”. If you are a swimmer you know how funny that is. 400 yards is an okay warm up – it hardly constitutes a decent workout but it was a good start. 25 yards is a good start.

Out here in the triathlete blogosphere there is a lot of silliness about going to masters class to have your ass handed to you and I’ll bet a lot of you non-swimmers reading that are thinking “swimming?? – no thanks!” and who could blame you? No one wants to transcend the humiliation of showing up in public in a Speedo only to have his or her butt handed to him so that he (or she) feels like slithering out of the pool and pouring himself down the shower drain.

Well I’ve got good news for you. I know nothing of having my ass handed to me even though I am one of the slowest people in the pool no matter which workout I go to. Today I swim with a US Masters Team and USM is like God – they love everybody. No ass handage involved.

I ended up joining the team because one of the coaches cleverly recruited me. After my first masters class ended due to the end of the club summing season I was so hooked on swimming that I started going to the public pool for adult lap swim almost every single day. For extra motivation and to keep it fun I would go to a site called which generates a workout for you, print it out and take it to the pool. I was a solo act but a happy one.

The masters program has workouts in the morning at the same time. The coach would see me show up every day with my little piece of paper which I would have to refer to repeatedly during my workout like a kid using a crib sheet in an open book exam. He came over one day and said, “gee – that looks like a lot of work. Why don’t you come over and swim with us?” I hemmed and hawed and demurred and he gently suggested I just give it a try so I did. He put me in the appropriate lane and I found that although I really couldn’t keep up it was fun to swim with other people. I made friends and my every attempt at self deprecation was met with “You’re doing great! You’re here – that’s what counts!”

Another advantage to ‘being on the team’ (and use that term quite loosely as much of the team consists of competitive swimmers who swim in meets) is that in the winter when is seems just a little too dark and a lot too cold to go swimming (because in California we swim outdoors year round) my absence is noticed. I know that when I finally get it together to get back to the pool I will be questioned. “Hey, haven’t seen you in weeks! Where were you?” is not a question I like to respond to with “in bed”. Oh no – that would imply sloth and sloth is a sin and swimming is a semi-religious experience and you see where this going. No can do. Must get up. Must show up.

If you live in a major metropolitan area or even a minor one you probably have a US Masters team near you. To find out just go to this site and do a lookup by city (click on the local programs tab and then on the left find ‘places to swim’ and after you click on that click on ‘search places to swim’ also found on the left).

US Masters rules the pool and I mean that literally and figuratively. If you can swim at all you will benefit from showing up. Contact the coach of a local team and tell him or her what your interest is (cross training, triathlon, a change of pace, fitness – it doesn’t matter) and what your experience it. You will be welcomed and you will learn a lot and your swimming will improve. No worries about your ass, either. No one will take it away and smugly hand it back. It’s all yours.

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13 Responses to Getting In To the Swim of Things

  1. GraceD says:

    Swimming intimidates me. I was never a great lap swimmer, but I do love to play in the water – windsurfing, SCUBA, body surfing. Just swimming to swim was something that I could never relate to – until now.This was a timely post to read, 21st Century Mom. I’ve been thinking of going to stroke improvement classes through the city rec department. You have officially put me over the edge to commit to this.Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Stillwater Heron says:

    Years and years ago I swam with the Masters group at the YMCA I belonged to at the time. A great group of people! Very accepting, very encouraging.I inline speedskate now 3-4 days a week and concour with your feelings on being on a Team.I know they expect me to be there and that gives me extra drive to make practice when I’m not feeling inclined to go.Funny thing.Some of my best practices have been when I was too tired to go, but did anyway!

  3. nancytoby says:

    Thanks for the reminder! I haven’t managed to figure out a time that I could go regularly, but I think I’d enjoy it. Swimming laps by yourself is pretty darned boring at times. Plus you can’t talk to people when you’re choking on water.

  4. Flo says:

    Oh I wish I lived near you. I went to a masters swim here and after pretty much being ignored, was told, politely, that I was too slow and this probably wasn’t the best place for me. Now granted, I am slow, but I was easily keeping up with the slow people she was just ignoring our lane and so we would spend time waiting for the next instructions. She also put me in the same lane as a guy who had literally just learned to swim. Also, there was zero feedback on the swimming. She kept saying, “I’m not a swim teacher” UGH!!! It was a miserable experience and it really put me off master swimming. There are a couple of other groups around here but I don’t want to try them after that.

  5. WADDLER26.2 says:

    I wish we lived closer. I cab’t swim at all and would love to do a tri. I’ve flunked beginners 3 times. Maybe 4th time is a charm!!!

  6. runr53 says:

    I saw your comment on Jons post you are on the list at #52, WOOHOO! Run Good!

  7. TriSaraTops says:

    I was JUST thinking of trying some masters this week! The times are a little late for me, as I’d rather swim right after school, but maybe it will help me stay motivated now that IM is over.Speaking of IM, thanks so much for your support and comments! 🙂 Thanks for rooting for us. It was one heck of an amazing day.

  8. greyhound says:

    Masters rule! I heart my masters group–Woodlands Masters Swim Team.

  9. jeanne says:

    great advice! thanks! that sounds like my bell-ringing practice…no matter how crappy i play, the other ringers (some of whom are 10-years-old), constantly tell me “good job!” and “you’ll get it!” bell ringing, running, swimming. it’s all remarkably a lot like life.

  10. Bex says:

    I like the non-judgemental support – it makes me want to start swimming in earnest. Thanks for the comment on my 20-mile race – but you were too fast for me – I posted the actual race debriefing after you had looked at the photos and commented. Check the blog again.Thanks!

  11. Firefly's Running says:

    Way to go!!

  12. Firefly's Running says:

    Way to go!!

  13. Fe-lady says:

    I have heard the same from many masters swimmers..I just don’t know how I would react to being coached. I think I might yell at him as I am pretty good at pushing myself and really don’t want my stroke torn apart as it is SO ingrained…I guess having to show up at a certain time really isn’t my style right now anyway. Our master’s programs meet at 6 a.m. (when I am running) lunch (which teachers don’t really have) or 6 p.m. (I am finishing dinner by then and really don’t want to eat at 8 pm!) Maybe when I retire!

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