Creating a long term program in a short term community
While many Masters swimming groups face a number of challenges in growing and sustaining their programs, the Fort Leavenworth Lancers have some unique challenges. The Lancers are in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., home of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, a different type of military installation, which houses the Command and Staff College. The college offers something similar to a one-year graduate program for field grade officers. Most of the personnel stationed there stay for only a year, sometimes less.
“The majority of our swimmers are stay-at-home moms seeking an active lifestyle. Many of these mom-swimmers also train and complete in running, cycling and triathlon races together,” says Rose Spielman, one of the few longtime Lancers, adding, “Unfortunately, just as new swimmers join and friendships are formed – trust built and goals set – it is time for many to transfer out. In the fall of 2008 the Lancers had approximately 20 members, but by the time summer arrived, the team was left with only three members, and no coach. This high turnover rate has been the only constant in the Lancer’s three-year history.”
Jessica Harper, another longtime Lancer, took over as coach. In the late summer of 2009, just as the Command and Staff College brought more military families into the area, membership grew once again. “We currently have 25 members, most of which are first time USMS members,” Harper says.
Over half of these swimmers had never competed in a swim meet or sporting event, but with encouragement from Coach Harper, all that changed on November 7th when 17 members of the team competed in a local MOVY meet hosted at the Gladstone Community Center in Missouri. Of the 17 members, 12 were competing for the first time and five were competing for the first time in over 12 years. “It was very exciting for all of us, and we let it show. We filled the bleachers with our families and cheered tirelessly. We rang cowbells, yelled at our teammates, and cheered on finishes, starts, and turns,” Spielman says, adding that their antics caught the attention of some of the MOVY board members, who complimented the team on their spirit.
All the new swimmers had best times of course; a luxury only afforded at a first meet, and two swimmers qualified for Spring Nationals. Most importantly, it was an event most of these swimmers may not have had the opportunity to participate in at any other duty station.
This level of competition and spirit was repeated at a recent MOVY swim meet in Lawrence, Kan. where three more members of the Lancers qualified for Spring Nationals.
Due to the cycle of the Command and Staff College, the Lancers will be a completely different team in six months. “We’re going to lose 19 members in June,” Harper says. But she’s quick to add that they will boost their recruitment efforts in February. At the moment though, the team cherishes the time they spend in and out of the water together. “For many of us, even after we move on, Ft. Leavenworth Lancers will always be our home team,” Spielman says.
- Human Interest