Swimming with the Kids
Swimmers like Michael Phelps and Aaron Piersol may draw a crowd, but this weekend at the USA Swimming Santa Clara Grand Prix, Masters swimmers across the country will be rooting for two of their own: Roque Santos and Mike Ross, both 41 years of age. Both Roque and Mike hold numerous U.S. Masters Swimming records and are out for more, this time next to "kids," some of who are less than half their ages.
Mike Ross lives in Massachusetts and swims for Maine Masters. A stay-at-home dad and Masters coach, Mike remembers thinking, "When I am done swimming, I will..." and "I can't wait to be done with swimming." He says, "Now that I am swimming Masters I laugh to myself when I remember this. Why was I so eager to stop?" Well, after a short break from the sport after "retiring" at age 28, Mike returned to the water at 36 years old, and now he is swimming with the 20-somethings (and younger).
Why choose to swim at a meet primarily designed for the elite kids? Roque, a 1992 USA Swimming Olympian and member of Walnut Creek Masters in California says, "Honestly? To break records." Simple. "Swimming is a part of my lifestyle. I used to swim for a specific purpose: to be the best in the world. Now, I have a family and career. Swimming is fun, keeps me fit and allows me to continue to race. I love swimming," he says.
But still, why choose to swim at the USA Swimming Santa Clara Grand Prix? Because they can; both Roque and Mike represented the U.S. as elite athletes in their 20s as members of the national team. They have been friends for more than a decade and still can't wait to race one another. Sure, there are times when each man reflects on himself and his reasons for standing on the block next to "some kid." According to Mike, "Swimming at USA Swimming meets is, honestly ... a little awkward. Sometimes, It is hard for my 41-year old self to understand what I am doing there. Am I trying to impress? Motivate? Inspire? Am I trying to prove something? Ultimately the answer to those questions is ‘no,' but my brain still ponders over those questions. Usually my mind comes to rest on the realization that my goals at USA Swimming meets are the same as at USMS meets: I am swimming to improve myself." Roque shared his insight: "Sometimes I look at the 15-year old next to me and I just don't know. Maybe he will beat me. Then other times I look over and just laugh to myself because I know: I have been swimming this race longer than you've been alive and I am going to beat you."
Mike, who has a jam-packed schedule this weekend, is entered to swim the 100 butterfly, the 50 freestyle, the 100 backstroke, the 200 IM and the 100 freestyle, though it is the 200 IM and the chance to race his long-time friend, Roque, that really gets him excited (and a little nervous). "Mike has been my friend for a long time and I love racing him," said Roque. He continued, "We don't swim all of the same events, but the 200 IM is one that we can both jump in and put up a good fight."
It is not only Roque and Mike who are excited about the meet this weekend. Meet director John Bitter, head coach of the Santa Clara age group and Masters teams, commented on having the pair amongst his kids in the water. "I feel Masters swimmers will bring a sense of passion and self confidence to the meet, for they are truly swimming because they want to. They still have that love and excitement for the sport that makes this sport so special. I find it very exciting when we can include Masters swimmers who have achieved the time standards for this prestigious event."
Mike and Roque will compete this weekend and will continue to compete throughout the summer. Each of them will also be attending the U.S. Masters Swimming Long Course Nationals in Indianapolis, Ind. in August. "I am so excited to swim in Indy again," shared Mike. "I will definitely be trying to break records." And records are sure to fall. With competitors like Roque and Mike, the U.S. Masters Swimming Long Course Nationals will undoubtedly be an exciting event.