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A Swimming Oasis in the Iraqi Desert

by Laura S. Jones, Staff Writer

The crush of daily life and its attendant responsibilities gets in the way of ideal training for almost all Masters swimmers, but for some folks, life erects exceptionally large hurdles. But often those people, and Randy Rogers is one of them, just find a way to make it work, wherever they are. Because of that drive, and a little luck, even being assigned to Iraq didn’t make Rogers miss a stroke in the pool.

Rogers, 51, swims for Pacific Northwest Aquatics when he’s not in Iraq. Freestyle and butterfly are his strokes, and he enjoys open water as well. Rogers graduated from the U.S Naval Academy in 1981 and served until 1992, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He then worked for the U.S Maritime Administration until August 2010, when Rogers began service as the Chief of Staff for the Office of the Transportation Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. His job is to improve Iraq’s transportation infrastructure and assist the Attaché in working with the Iraqi Government to bring American and foreign investment into their transportation system.

We were able to correspond with Rogers by email, and he answered our questions about what it is like to swim under such difficult conditions. While he is delighted that there is a 25 meter pool in the U.S. Embassy compound, there aren’t any other Masters swimmers. There is a USMS flyer, though, so maybe a few will be encouraged to join. (We’d love to know who posted that – if you’re reading this and it was you, please let us know so we can say thanks!) The pool is used mostly by recreational swimmers and a few triathletes, so Rogers says the temperature is a little high, sometimes getting up to 86 degrees. Although compared to the outside temperatures he has endured (up to 132 degrees), he says it is refreshing.

Rogers says he swims by himself most mornings before work for about an hour. While he hasn’t yet met any Iraqis who swim, we’re hoping he’ll keep us updated if he runs into any. Here is an excerpt from our email interview with Rogers:

USMS: How does swimming make your time better in Iraq?

Rogers: It a GREAT stress reliever. We must always be conscious of the fact that we are in a high-threat environment. Security is paramount and we must be aware of our surroundings 24/7.

USMS: What do you miss about swimming with a team?

Rogers: The social aspect is really enjoyable. Also, the team camaraderie and competitiveness with my friends is always very fun and makes me a better swimmer. I miss that swimming by myself in Iraq.

USMS: What is your favorite workout?

There are so many. I usually warm-up with a 400 swim, 200 kick and 200 pull. Then, because it takes me longer to get warmed up, I continue with something like four 50’s backstroke @ 60, then six 50’s or thee 100’s kick @ 60/1:50, and eight 50’s hypoxic @55 (breathing every 1/2/3/4 cycles per 25). Next, as I’m a distance swimmer, I’ll go into a set of something like 15-20 100’s @ 1:30/1:40 and try to hold a 1500 or longer pace to get used to open water racing. I also like a broken 1500 (by 500’s with 20 sec rest) or a 400 ladder with short rest. I also wanted to mention that because of the great efforts of Rob Sleamaker and Karen Bisbee of Vasa, I have been able to get a Vasa Ergometer shipped to the Embassy here in Baghdad.

USMS: Is there any advice you can give to other self-coached swimmers? (Albeit in less difficult situations...)

Rogers: As Karlyn Pipes-Nielsen stated recently in Swimming World magazine, “Get out the door.” If you can do that, and get to the pool, you are almost guaranteed of feeling better afterwards. I absolutely agree with that philosophy. Sometimes it is tough to just get out of bed at 5:00 a.m. and get out the door, especially if the weather is cold and nasty outside. But, after swimming, you will feel better and the rest of your day will go smoothly…..almost every time. If it is important to you, then make it a priority.

USMS: How did the BAMfest meet go in October on your first trip home? (organized by Bainbridge Aquatic Masters)

Rogers: It was wonderful. Thanks to the support of my wife, Leigh, coach April Cheadle, and my BAM swimming buddies, John Keppeler and JB Goessman, I was able to swim in a relay and have a wonderful time while home on break for three weeks. Although we didn’t win the relay, it was a blast. As for individual events, I only swam the 500 but won my age group in 5:39. I was very pleased as I was still suffering from jet lag after travelling 40 hours straight to get to Seattle via Paris, Amman, Jordan and Baghdad. I am looking to swim an open water event next summer during one of my future R&R breaks before my tour ends in August 2011.

So all in all, Rogers knows he is lucky to have pool access and Vasa training, but he is looking forward to returning to normal life and being back with his team, a sentiment many Masters swimmers share. In the meantime we wish him good luck and a safe year of service to our government and to the people of Iraq.

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