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by Maria Elias-Williams

September 15, 2009

I wish I could be like P.T. Barnum: Master of the three-ring circus. Like most of you, I juggle family and work (if you are a parent, you WORK – regardless of whether or not you get paid). I am a single parent of a 13-year-old boy with medical issues that can flare up with little or no notice; I know how stressful life can be. I run a busy law practice and live 45 minutes from the nearest lap pool. My son swims on a club team (at a different pool than I), plays in the band and is active in church, school government and several other pursuits. My family doesn’t believe that we really have a house (we do) – they think I have a storage unit where I swing by every now and then to re-pack the car. I feel like the flunkie juggler trying to keep all the balls in the air, and often dropping one or two along the way.

My morning alarm clock is like the starting gun to the day. Getting out of bed is like diving off the blocks for the 50 free-go, go, go! The rest of my day is like the 200 free – a very long sprint – and before I know it, I hit the wall and it is time for the kid and dog to be corralled, homework to be reviewed, lunch box to be unpacked and cleaned and everything else to get done to keep the household running. Where did the day go? Regardless of your family makeup, back to school can be hectic and oftentimes a little out of control.

As the summer winds down and we transition into the school-year routine, so many Masters swimmers miss out on practices and meets in September and October. With our crazy schedule, I have more than enough excuses to miss a workout. At the end of the day, do you ever think, “darn it, I never got my swim in?” and you promise yourself that tomorrow will be different, but realistically, it’s been a week since you had a good workout. Before you know it, the holidays will be here (yet another good excuse to skip your swim). Rather than run from swimming during stressful times, I find it even more important to keep it on my list of “priority activities.”

Every day is different for me – I might be in the office for half the day and out on appointments for the rest. Or, I might be in Court in any one of four or five surrounding cities. Just when I think I have my work schedule coordinated, it changes. If my schedule doesn’t change, something else inevitably comes up . . . “Oh yea, Mom, there’s a mandatory parent meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m.” “Why didn’t you tell me sooner, son? That’s when I was going to swim.” “Sorry, Mom, I forgot. But, please, can you go? I can’t go on the (band, student council, swim team, church) trip if you don’t! Come on, admit it – if you have kids, you have had this exchange. Or, just when you get to the pool, it lightning hits and the pool closes – arrgh!

So, we can’t control everything, but here are some tips that have worked for me to make the most of my athletic endeavors.

Set your goals for the season early.

  • Are you training for Nationals?
  • Are you trying to lose weight?
  • Do you want to do an open water swim?
  • Do you just want to maintain the fitness level that you have?

Decide how many times per week you are going to swim, run, lift, etc.

Be realistic: don’t set yourself up for failure or you will fail. At the beginning of each month, make a family calendar of all of the mandatory commitments (church, civic meetings, etc) for the whole family to see.

Share your goals with your family. Tell them what you want to accomplish this season.

You would be amazed at how your kids will get excited to “push you” and catch you when you slip. My son is the BEST motivator when I get lazy. “Come on, Mom, you said you were going to train for Nationals this year!

Get organized.

This is very easy for those of us who are a little detail oriented, but strikes fear in those who are not naturally organized.

  • Keep enough equipment in the car to be flexible. I carry dryland gear in case the pool closes.
  • On Sunday afternoons I pack the car with five or six towels for the week.
  • I keep a case of water and a box of granola bars in the car – it’s cheaper than buying out of the machine at the gym.
  • I keep a bag of toiletries in the car – separate from my gym bag. That way, if I get a break in the day, I can run to the nearest pool and still be (somewhat) presentable for my afternoon.

Involve your family.

Bring your kids with your to meets – children as young as eight or nine can volunteer as back up timers or deliver water to officials. This is a great way for your kids to see Mom and Dad reaching for their goals.

Never go home after work until you’ve worked out

If you are like me, you’ll never get out the door again!

Be realistic and be flexible. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Face it; the majority of us are not professional athletes. It is not the end of the world if you don’t get to practice. Every now and then, it really is OK to skip practice, even without a “valid” excuse. I constantly struggle with this one but, when I do skip, I do it on purpose and consider it a mental health day.

Be resourceful.

Don’t use excuses . . . find answers! I used to feel guilty leaving my son with someone else to get a workout in, but realized that I was a much better parent when I was taking good care of myself.

Work hard.

If you go to practice, give 100% effort. Your schedule may change leaving you one practice short for the week, so the extra effort you put in will help you feel OK about the rest of the week, no matter how many or how few workouts you actually have time for.

Find the balance.

This is probably the hardest part of all. For me, it is so important that I swim and compete to maintain my sanity. At the same time, I have a job and family to care for, which do take priority. Every now and then, when work gets too hectic, my son tells me, “Mom, we need to get you in the water!” It’s true! Even if I don’t do a 5,000 yard practice, I am so much calmer after even just a few laps.

Back to school doesn’t have to mean missed practices or forfeited races. Enjoy the new school year and allow it to be a time to reorganize and revisit your swimming goals.