Masters Swimming Affected Heavily by COVID-19 Pandemic

Swimming World April 2021 - A Pandemic Perspective From Masters Swimming
Photo Courtesy: U.S. Masters Swimming

There are more than 65,000 Masters swimmers in the United States representing nearly 1,500 swimming teams across the country, and as with so many other organizations, meets have been postponed multiple times and even canceled altogether.

Swimmers around the country have been missing out on competing at the local and national level. Perhaps even more important to them, they are missing out on what happens out of the water at these local and national meets: camaraderie.

Camaraderie is something very unique to Masters. Swimmers are there to compete and keep up with one of their passions. But they are doing this with people in their own age groups. Get to talking, and the similarities start to grow.

THE SOCIAL ASPECT

“A lot of us just do it for the social aspect. That is the one time we see each other—at meets,” said Nadine Day, former president of U.S. Masters Swimming and a current Masters swimmer at Indy Aquatics. “That is our commonality, the swimming part. We meet people and their families. My daughter was basically born on the pool deck. She went to her first meet with me when she was a month old!

“There is a lot of social aspect in Masters swimming. I am somewhat competitive in my age group, but that is not my focus. It is the social aspect and growing the sport. That is one of the main reasons why I swim. We have missed that.”

For months during the pandemic, pools were closed around the country—and the world—as COVID-19 spread around the globe in waves.It has kept practices on hold and also traveling to meets, which, of course, means no competition and no connection with fellow swimmers around the country.

“It has been tough. I am used to traveling every month. Zoom helps. It has helped us stay in touch with each other,” Day said. “When I travel internationally, I see my friends that I only see at Worlds every year or every other year, and that has been tough, too.”

PROMOTING THE SPORT

With nearly an entire year of Masters swimming lost, it is now a year of promoting the sport lost. That is one of the biggest challenges of Masters swimming, especially because of its name, which can make joining seem intimidating.

“The name is the biggest issue. It is actually adult swimming. It is not ‘Masters’ because you are great swimmers. We have had Olympians, but the majority of our people are fitness swimmers,” Day said. “We also have the crossbreed of the triathlon athletes, which has become big. A lot of the people I have coached have been runners who are swimming to get fit. They were surprised they got more conditioning out of swimming. It was a challenge for them, and people like challenges such as that.”

Day said after she was a college swimmer at Northwestern, she didn’t even know Masters swimming existed. She actually joined to help one of the high school swimmers she was coaching.

“I was coaching high school, and one of my swimmers was injured. I was a PT at the time as well. She fractured her pelvis and her ribs in a car accident. Her goal was to get back and swim her senior year. She wanted me to swim with her and get back into it, too. I was injured in college as a freshman and was able to come back and swim a bit my senior year. So I swam Masters and had my first meet in Evanston,” Day said. “I just started getting involved more and volunteering more.”

A LIFE-CHANGING ACTIVITY

Laurie Hug got into Masters swimming after college, and it has been life-changing.“I graduated from University of Maryland in 1987 and failed to get the Olympic Trials cut that summer, so I retired (from the sport), started working, and I put on weight. I got back into lap swimming at the local YMCA about a year later, but I had no idea that there were competitions for adults. I started training with a small group of former college swimmers there and found out about USMS.

“I went to my first meet in 1989 and have never looked back,” Hug said. “Had I known, I would have started as soon as my college swim career had ended. My last meet was December 2019 (because of the pandemic), so this is the longest I have gone without competing in a meet since the break after college.”S

he is part of the GAAC (Germantown Academy Aquatic Club) Masters in Pennsylvania, which is a training group for the Colonials 1776 team.“We had to be shut down after our March 6 (2020) practice because a student from Germantown Academy had a family member who had the first COVID case in the Philly suburbs,” Hug said. “All the other pools started shutting down over the next week, so our program was put on hold. We held weekly Zoom ‘happy hours,’ and I sent links for different dryland options out to the team, including a few scavenger hunts, where we looked for various items while running/hiking/walking. The weekly meetings were the highlight of the week for a lot of us.”

The club is now back on a limited basis because of COVID-19 protocols in an outdoor pool. Just being together has been huge and worth braving the weather, Hug said.“Some of our regular swimmers travel from over 45 minutes away to swim with us,” she said. “We have also welcomed members from other clubs who have had issues getting pool time. We’ve been holding practices regardless of the weather as long as the roads are passable. I’ve coached in snowstorms, icy rain and high winds! When the weather has looked bad, I asked the swimmers if they wanted to just cancel (the practice), but they did not. It has been incredible to see how adaptable everyone has been.

“Some could swim at local Ys, but they love the camaraderie of our group. One of the highlights is at the end of our Sunday morning workouts, several swimmers do race-25s or 50s. We miss racing, so this is a lot of fun. The blocks are icy now, so we are doing it from a push, but we did do a race off the blocks in our first snowstorm.“It has become a bonding experience for us. We have such a great swimming family that I think has become strengthened by this.”

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A NEED TO GROW THE SPORT

Hug’s club is adapting, but not every club is as fortunate to have an outdoor option during the pandemic, and numbers could dwindle.The biggest challenge will be to keep that recognition going. Without a national championship meet, the individual recognition was not there to show possible future Masters swimmers.But without the camaraderie, the group recognition also is on hold. That might not be an issue for the so-called Masters “lifers,” but it is a big deal as far as growing the sport.“It is the people we have lost that we need to get back. Our people who are the diehards are going to be there, but we need to get back and grow the sport and remind people what brought them to swimming in the first place,” Day said. “It is a struggle. We need to figure out a new norm and help people find that direction.”

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Steve Dougherty

    Couldn’t agree more with Laurie. Swimming outside during the winter was an experience we’ll never forget. All the swimmers just loved it. As the team rep for Colonials, I spoke with a lot of people about our workouts. Once they tried it they were hooked.
    We definitely miss competing but the group of swimmers we have now juts brings our “Family “ closer.

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