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by Linda Shoenberger

May 1, 2009

Sometime in early January my friend and USMS Fitness Committee cohort Marcia Anziano asked if I would like to attend Coach Kerry O'Brien's Intensive Training swim camp in March in Walnut Creek, CA.  She described it as pretty much "a spa weekend."

Call us crazy but we do consider entering the pool at 8 p.m. on a dark, breezy Friday night for a freestyle/backstroke clinic a "spa weekend."  And we also enjoyed the 4 workouts over the rest of the weekend totaling approximately 18,000 yards.  The other 50+ swim campers seemed to be having a real good time too. 

Now I'm not saying it wasn't hard work.  It was.  There was a lot of instruction and coaching going on by absolutely wonderful, dedicated coaches.  There was so much to learn and so little time to learn. 

Kerry strode across the deck keeping everyone in line and organized.  Each workout was the same for everyone but we were split up by speed and coached by different coaches.  No one can beat Kerry's enthusiasm for the sport or dedication to swimmers.  He's been coaching at Walnut Creek for 30 years.  And along the way he has touched a lot of people.  He manages to assemble a top-flight team of coaches for the camp every year.

For me the breaststroke clinic put on by Olympic medalist Roque Santos flew right over my head.  I have no clue how to do breaststroke and I have to admit I didn't try hard to fit the information into my freestyler's brain.  But the breaststrokers were lapping it up.  My son, who is a breaststroker, and I watched Roque's 100 breaststroke race at the Pacific Masters Championships in Pleasanton 2 weekends ago and it's just amazing how much power, grace and technique he exhibits.  My son got it.  I just enjoyed it.

Dr. Jim Miller, past president of USMS, gave the classroom lesson on freestyle.  I have to say I learned more in that hour presentation than I have ever learned reading and studying all the information out there.  Jim is clear and concise with his descriptions of the swimmer's movement through the water.  He introduced new concepts to me that made so much sense.

The next afternoon Jim coached the workout for my lane.  He not only reinforced his theories but his enthusiasm and knowledge really impressed me.  Thanks Jim for the encouragement and for raising my level of understanding.

Brian Stack who coaches the 240+ member swim group Manatee Masters out of Oakland coached one of my other workouts.  He never let me off the hook when I tried to revisit my old freestyle catch.  Almost every time I got to the end he either let me know I was doing it better or vice versa - back to the old days.

Each swimmer was videotaped on Saturday and on Sunday while we enjoyed the hospitality of the Walnut Creek Masters team (a wonderful pancake breakfast), we got to sit down with a coach and watch the videos.  We broke up into 8 groups and watched as the coach in our group analyzed each swimmer's stroke.  My group was led by Michael Collins of Irvine Novaquatics.  Wow is he a pistol.  I sat in awe listening to his critiques and writing notes for myself.  Since the clinic I have reread those notes and I can't believe how much he taught me just in that hour of looking at real live masters swimmers and listening to Michael's suggestions for solving the mysteries of our strokes.  My favorite comment he made was, "If you learned to swim in the sixties, isn't it time to update your stroke to the present?"

I came home with a list as long as my arm of drills and skills I learned at the camp.  I have been working on all of these ever since and enjoying my improvements.  It's so much fun to have some new information to chew on while practicing.  Each time I go to the pool I reread some of my notes and try to incorporate something new into that practice.  I'm amazed at how much I'm learning by trying out the concepts introduced at the clinic. 

So I now I know there are lots of techniques and skills out there that sometimes don't get into our consciousness until we meet up with a new coach or two who has a way of getting through to us.  Brian, Jim and Mike really shared their expertise with us.  They gave me a new way of learning and looking at myself in the pool.  I hope everyone can attend a swim camp sometime and feel the enthusiasm, possibilities and love of the sport these skilled USMS coaches have to offer us.