Sisters Rebekah Elliott, Ruth Battle and Elisabeth Deal, ages 54, 47 and 45, respectively, have been swimming together for years and continue to support and push one another to set and accomplish goals in the water. Swimming runs in the family of these sisters, who have seven other siblings. Frank K. Elliott, Rebekah, Ruth and Elisabeth's father, was an All-American swimmer and world record holder in the 200-yard freestyle relay in 1940 and encouraged all 10 of his children to swim. Rebekah, the eldest of the sisters, learned to swim at the age of 6 and at 14 passed the legacy on to her sister Elisabeth by teaching her how to swim; Elisabeth was 5 years old. Because of the age difference between the sisters, as well as the rest of the siblings, no two siblings were ever fiercely competitive with one another, however the Elliott swimmers made up the better part of the age group swimming program. We held our own in our respective age groups," shares Rebekah.
Rebekah, who claims "I don't swim against them, I swim behind them," shares that there is not too much sibling rivalry among the sisters. Each sister has her strengths and her weaknesses. The sisters, who have motivated one another for more than 40 years, continue to do so through regular phone calls and emails. The sisters try to plan a trip or a competition together once a year. "Swimming has been a way, and excuse, for sisters to reunite," said Ruth.
Last year, Rebekah, Ruth and Elisabeth swam in Bermuda's 2008 Round the Sound 2K open water competition. Elisabeth says, "None of us had done much open water swimming in the past. What better place than Bermuda?! The race seemed less daunting for us beginners knowing that we were in paradise." The race included various events such as a 2K, a 4K and an 8K swim; all three sisters agreed on the 2K distance. Rebekah recalls the start of the race: "They took off like torpedoes, while I kept my tortoise-like pace." Ruth and Elisabeth decided to use one another throughout the race for support and a little bit of teamwork. ""Ruth and I decided that we would stick close together throughout the race - we weren't focused on competing as much as enjoying the swim. We got separated at the beginning, but after about five minutes we reunited. Initially, we thought we'd take turns drafting off each other, but at some point my stroke started feeling very comfortable and I kept thinking about a comment that Rebekah made before the race. [She said] ‘One of you two can win this - you should go for it,'" shares Elisabeth. Elisabeth and Ruth finished first and second in the Masters event and Ruth finished 13th. "Knowing she was right behind me motivated me to swim harder," shares Elisabeth.
Rebekah, who started her swimming career on the Laurelwood Swim Team when she was 7 years old, now swims for "the camaraderie and exhilaration of it all," she says. Rebekah just started competing in Masters pool competitions in 2009. She has competed in two meets and already is looking forward to a third Masters pool meet in March, as well as another open water event in Asheville in September.
All three sisters are registered members of Asheville Masters Swimming, but still remember when their mother "had all of us children in diapers in the baby pool before we could walk," according to Ruth. Ruth is a U.S. Masters Swimming coach and coaches two or three mornings per week. On mornings she is not coaching, she is swimming. "It has been so much fun to start planning for our next adventure away from the everyday pressures of work and family."
Elisabeth, who says, "If I don't get a chance to swim enough [during the week] I feel terrible, both mentally and physically," juggles a husband, two school-age children and a full time job. She also has her sights set on more competitions in 2009. "We are hoping to reunite at the Albatross Open in Maryland in March. We've discussed returning to Bermuda and I am pushing for a trip to the Long Course Nationals in Puerto Rico next year," exclaims Elisabeth.
Though these three swimming sisters compete, and are darn good at it, there is a fourth swimming sister, Nancy, who swims for fitness. Last time I checked, four people were enough for a relay...