Profiling Stephanie Walsh
"I just feel great when I'm in shape"
Stephanie Walsh lives in Newton and works (for Equitable Life) in Wellesley. From her early teens until two years ago the principal interest in her life was swimming. While still in her 20s, Stephanie reached the very top of the swimming profession: for five years she was head coach of the Harvard women's swimming team and for two years was president of the National Collegiate Women's Swimming Coaches Association. She has traveled with the U.S. team as manager/coach to Leningrad (1977), Tel Aviv (1979), and Mexico City (1979). Then, at 30, she boldly started off in an entirely new direction. Fortunately for her, she appears to be such a competent person that she can successfully re-direct her talents and drive into an unrelated field (insurance). Fortunately for us, she has not lost her interest in Masters swimming and we NEM members continue to be beneficiaries of her vast experience in the swimming world, her administrative and teaching skills, her enthusiasm, her own speedy swimming, and her friendship.
Who is this paragon, and how did she get that way? The NEM NEWS editor recently interviewed Steph at length, with her sons Christopher and Stephen on hand to enliven the occasion. This profile is the product of that interview and of a search through national and New England Masters meet results and top ten lists.
Stephanie is the eldest of 15 children, many of whom have followed their sister into national-level swimming. Her high school in Rosemont, Pa., scarcely had a team; their one meet each year was the Philadelphia Catholic Academy League Championships, which they always won. As a freshman at St. Marymount College in Arlington, Va., Stephanie coached and swam on the team, which went through its dual meet season undefeated. She left Marymount after one year to get married.
It was not through high school or college swimming programs that Stephanie developed into a nationally high ranking butterflyer. In the pre-Title IX days of the 1960s, the only outlet for the motivated female swimmer was provided by the AAU. Stephanie swam for the Vesper Boat Club of Philadelphia, where she was coached by Mary Freeman Kelly, a 1952 Olympian, and George Breen, a 1956 and 1960 Olympian, who has been Penn's coach for many years. In the winters she trained in a three-lane 25-yard pool at Penn, and in the summers in the 50-meter Kelly Pool (the site of a Penn Mutual masters meet scheduled for late next summer). She first qualified to go the national AAU championships in 1963 in the 200 fly and repeated every year thereafter through 1969. That was the year that she and three of her sisters all qualified for the nationals in Louisville. There they swam a "WALSH" medley relay composed of Bridget (then 17), Therese (then 14 and later a Drexel University star and small college national champion), Huddie (then 13, who at one time held the American record in the 400-meter IM and is now an assistant coach at the University of Texas), and 20-year old Stephanie.
The Walsh sisters hope to have a reunion at the national short-course Masters in Texas next May. Stephanie placed in the top six nationally in the 200 fly in both 1966 and 1967 and would have placed third in 1968 but was disqualified for an illegal turn. The Olympic prospect got married and quit swimming that summer prior to the Olympic trials. Finding that she badly missed swimming, she returned to the water after the birth of her first son, in time to train for the above-mentioned sister act performed in Louisville.
Soon after turning 25 Stephanie competed for the Middle Atlantic Masters Swim Club. She moved to Cambridge in the fall of 1975 and entered her first NEM meet in December of that year in Medford. She has been, in her words, a "devotee ever since." It was at that Medford meet that she first met Bob Clauson, Cathy Morse, Sue Tendy, and many others who have since become her very dear friends. Her favorite masters meets have been the bigger meets at Harvard and Brown. "I get more psyched at them than at mini-meets," she says, "which you can tell by my dreary performance at MIT recently." And, of course, she loves the national meets, "where I get to see many of my buddies from swimming and coaching days and meet so many other neat people, plus getting to know other NEMs so much better." Indeed, it was on the flight to the nationals in Ft. Lauderdale in 1977 that she met the Masters swimmer who has influenced her the most, Doris Hogan . "At 81, Doris gives me lots of active life to look forward to."
Until last summer Stephanie never trained more than three times a week. The increased number of workouts did not seem to help her in the fly, but did in backstroke, as evidenced by her first place in the 200-meter back at Canton. Now she is down to only two workouts per week but intends to add another soon. In 1977 she took up running, and this has been a part of her training program ever since. She regularly runs from two to three and a half miles per week. Her theory is that the running increases her lung capacity for the longer swimming races (viz., the 200 fly, 400 IM, and 500 and 1650 free) and helps her cardiovascular system work better.
Her swimming workouts typically include a warm-up (500 yards, usually); hypoxic pulling (breathing every 3-5-7-9-11 arm pulls) by 100s for 500 yards; a hard set of middle distance (e.g. six times 200 on three minutes descending her times, or three times 500 descending, or three 400 IMs); some kicking; and a swim down. The total distance is about 3,000 yards per workout. In the past she has not done much sprinting, but she intends to add some to this year's plan because of what she calls her "lousy" 50 and 100 flys during the past year. She trains distance free, fly, and IM every season and adds breast or back during alternate years. Her calves hurt from running when she does the breaststroke kick these days, so she has been concentrating more on backstroke.
When she was at Harvard, Stephanie trained with Dwight Davis and last summer with Nancy Jannarone at B.C.; but otherwise she trains alone. She hopes this winter to work out once a week in Wayland with Barr Clayson, Tom Lyndon, Ted Haartz, et al., for some hard sprinting. Ideally, she would like to add some weight training to her schedule—the year she did Nautilus work at Harvard was her best year in Masters competition (at age 30) but the demands of her job, her studies (MBA courses at B.U.), swimming, organizing clinics and other NEM activities, etc., obviously do not leave her with much spare time.
Why does Stephanie Walsh like Masters swimming so much? "A good excuse to stay in shape, an outlet for my competitiveness, the friends I've met through the program—so many wonderful people, travel around the U.S., all ages sharing a common interest with no segregation by age, sharing with others a genuine interest in our achievements and improvement—mainly, I feel just great when I'm in shape!"
from NEM NEWS, The New England Masters Swim Club Newsletter, November 1981