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Black Friday Challenge

Black Friday is not for the faint of heart. It often requires pushing through a crowd to get to the sale rack, high levels of endurance to speed walk through the mall, and motivation to stick it out until the last gift has been purchased.

The swimmers of St. Louis Area Masters (SLAM) avoid the crowds and sometimes never make it to the mall. They do, however, challenge themselves in the pool. Each year SLAM hosts a day-after-Thanksgiving swimming event that challenges even the toughest of Masters swimmers: 100 x 100s. Much like other Masters programs across the country, this Black Friday event has become a tradition that swimmers like Scott Halliburton and Jeff Spencer and his wife Deb Spencer, look forward to each year.

How did the Black Friday challenge in St. Louis come to be? One day at practice, Halliburton and a few of the other SLAM swimmers were talking about their college swimming days. Each of them had commented that his college team had done a similar set. So in 2003, three men, Halliburton, Dan Sullivan and Ted Faulhaber, decided to revisit the 100 x 100 challenge as Masters swimmers.

Halliburton has participated for the last six years and plans to participate again this year, despite the fact that he no longer lives in St. Louis. Spencer and his wife, Deb, both members of Arkansas Masters Swimming, participate in the challenge as visitors when they make the trip up to Missouri to visit family for the holidays. “We have participated for the past three years. My in-laws live in St. Louis, so it has really become a part of our holiday tradition,” shares Spencer.

Afraid of missing the sale of the century at your local mall? Don’t worry, the Black Friday challenge starts at 5:20 a.m. and is finished by 8:30 a.m., leaving plenty of time for shopping, football and Thanksgiving leftovers. Spencer adds that his day after the Black Friday challenge usually involves a well deserved, “long nap on the in-laws’ couch.”

SLAM intends for this 7th annual event to be challenging, but most importantly, the goal is to have fun, encourage one another and swim off some of those extra calories incurred on Thanksgiving Day. Some swimmers may be hesitant about committing to the challenge of 10,000 yards, but SLAM promotes swimmers of all ability and experience levels to participate. Are you a first timer or worried because you’ve NEVER swam that far before … ever? No worries, SLAM reminds us that the sun will still come up if you have to take an extra few seconds between intervals or transition into 50s instead of 100s.

Are you a triathlete? Great. SLAM invites you to lose the bike and ditch the sneakers to participate in this fun swim challenge. Afraid you might need a break during this grueling set? SLAM provides a rest for each swimmer. According to SLAM’s official event rules (of which there are very few), each swimmer has the option of sitting out on the 100 corresponding with your age. For example, if you are 48 years old, then you can sit out on the 48th 100 of the set.

Many U.S. Masters Swimming programs have traditions similar to the SLAM Black Friday challenge. Last year we introduced our members to a 100 x 100s challenge practice hosted by Elmbrook Masters. Other teams institute social functions, relay swims and other challenge sets as part of their traditions. By embracing our traditions, whether they are silly, fun, challenging or unique, we are able to build and grow with inertia in our favor.

“Scott, Dan and Ted have thought about sunsetting the event, but it keeps us in shape and it keeps growing,” explains Spencer. “Scott keeps the enthusiasm going through emails and word of mouth.” The coaches are upbeat and encourage the participants throughout the event. The SLAM swimmers bring along a stereo system for a little pump up background music and the local age-group swim team even comes to the pool early for its practice to encourage the participants. So it appears as though the Black Friday challenge in St. Louis is here for good, as it has become a tradition for local (and some not-so-local) swimmers.

Does your program have any traditions? What swims keep you coming back year after year? Is there a new tradition you can create that will help bring together all of the swimmers in your program? Contact us at press@usms.org and tell us about it!

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