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by Laura S Jones

July 31, 2011

The family that swims together, stays together

“Hey, we’re all getting together for Passover, let’s do a swim meet too!” This isn’t exactly how Nanci Klein Sundel approached her family, but it is close enough. Ranging in age from 45-82, seven members of the Klein family (plus an in-law) decided to add a swim meet to the festivities. Coming from Boston and Florida and Virginia and Maryland, they converged on the Colonies Zones meet April 16-17 and “had a blast.” Sundel and her brother are Masters swim meet veterans, but many competing had never swum in a meet before. They had so much fun planning it that Sundel’s 10-year-old daughter asked if she could do it too.

Sundel, 45, explains the genesis of the idea. “I’ve always wanted to do a four person relay with my father, brother and sister. My father is a long-time swimmer, my brother is the original Masters swimmer, my sister swam in high school, and I’ve been a Masters swimmer since January 2008.” She guesses it kind of mushroomed from there.

The Klein family planned four relays, the 200 mixed free relay 45+ (Sundel’s “dream” relay with her father and sister and brother), the 200 mixed free relay 65+ for the extended family and mom, the 200 women’s medley relay 45+, and the 200 men’s medley relay 45+. Of the eight family members, three have never swum competitively. They named their effort the “Klein Kin Swim.”

“We wanted to make it official, too, so we all joined the same team, North Carolina Masters.” Sundel’s long-time team is the Montgomery Ancient Mariners.

Their goals? “No matter what happens, we’ve already won and set a record of our own. Our goal is in the doing. But my brother and I will do some individual events.” Sundel admitted to being really focused on her main event, the 200 free, but says she doesn’t swim fast enough in practice to do as well as she would like. Still, she does “a meet a year to keep myself honest.”

Sundel wrote a summary of the experience, excerpted below:

“I had a dream – not, in this case, of social action. This one involved a physical challenge for my family, namely, swimming a relay at a Masters meet with my brother, 53, sister, 49, and father, 82. Jon Klein, my inspirational Masters-swimming, world record-breaking brother would be an easy sell, but what about my father and sister? Bill Klein, my father, regularly swims at his home in Florida, competed in high school and swam in one Masters meet 15 years ago, while my sister, Elissa Klein Sireuil, also competed in high school and swims therapeutically at her local Y outside Boston.

Jon accelerated the realization of my dream to the 2011 Colonies Zone meet at George Mason University, and he recruited four more family members, for a total of eight family swimmers and four relays. My mother, Judy Klein, a frequent recreational swimmer has been at countless meets rooting on her children, but this was the first time--at the age of 77--that she would be in the pool. Her sister, Priscilla Sprung, 70, joined us from New York, also as a first-time competitive swimmer. She renewed her love of swimming five years ago, joined the Y and started swimming three days a week. Herman Hohauser, 70, my father’s first cousin, lives near the meet in Virginia and had also started a regular swimming regimen. He, too, signed on with minimal arm-twisting. Rounding out our relays was Bob Maestro, 67, Jon’s brother-in-law, who also lives near the meet in Virginia. He competed in Masters meets 15 years ago and recently returned to the pool for regular workouts.

A month out and everyone was psyched – Jon put together the relays while continuing his rigorous training program; Priscilla worked on her open turns; Elissa stepped up her swimming while balancing a new job; Bob, Herman and dad bought new suits; and mom designed the t-shirts. I, on the other hand, cut open my heel on a particularly forceful flip turn, requiring 11 stitches and an unscheduled two-week break (just some early tapering).

The day arrived, and there was a full spectrum of nervous energy. With Gary Sundel (my husband) and Alain Sireuil (Elissa’s husband) as paparazzi, we put our new red USMS caps on, and after rechecking the relay order - we were set. In the end all four relays went off without a hitch. Okay – not totally true. We almost missed the women’s 200 medley relay because we were trying to get THE picture in our Klein Kin Swim t-shirts. Then there was the DQ concern in the mixed 200 freestyle relay when dad thought he could get out of the pool and started swimming through other swimmers’ lanes to do so. Still, we accomplished our goal – to swim the four relays without being DQd and to have a load of fun doing it. With eight family swimmers, four relays, three first time competitive swimmers – all at the age of 70 plus, and zero disqualifications, we feel like we set a record of our own.”

Sundel thinks that “we’ll try and do it again – in 2013 Passover and the Albatross meet fall on the same weekend … We just had a blast. It was really very magical, and everyone was really stoked. Everybody around us knew what we were doing because of our t-shirts. People were so supportive, and we got lots of big cheers. We’re just a goofy family, and it was a hoot.”

On the serious side, Sundel credits her brother with doing a great job of coaching, keeping everyone in line and preventing those disqualifications. Even more serious is the fact that the family also used their swims as a chance to raise money for meal support at the Bialik Rogozin School (in an impoverished area of Tel Aviv) where children come from 48 different countries to escape strife in the Middle East and elsewhere.

It seems that a new slogan is born: “The family that swims together stays together.”


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