Article image

by Laurine Schuler

June 1, 2005

Swimming for exercise and peace of mind

I am Laurine Schuler. I was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pa. I grew up there and lived one block from the borough swimming pool. I was a deep water swimmer at the age of six. I began swimming with the Pittsburgh Water Babies and their Big Sisters at the age of eight because a swimming coach by the name of Lula Stilley needed little girls who could swim to be King Neptune's water babies. He threw us to a big dragon from a stage at a water pageant at North Park County pool that was 100 meters long and 50 meters wide. Being swallowed by a dragon was the beginning of my swimming career.

We swam competitively, but not according to today's standards. In the winter we practiced once a week and in the summer about three times a week, but then our forte was Esther Williams type exhibition. She had us become all around swimmers and divers. In fact, because of my size I became "Miss Escapo"! I would be put into this large burlap weighted sack ceremoniously, it was then tied tightly, and I would be thrown from the diving board by the mayor or such and then I would escape until one dark evening when I didn't. I still remember the name of the University of Pittsburgh diver who rescued me.

I swam in competition until I was 13 when our coach became very ill and it would have been a blow for her if any of us started swimming with another team. At the age of 12 I did hold several AAU-AMA titles. Although I stopped swimming competitively, I started a career teaching swimming and life guarding through high school and college. I didn't swim competitively again until I was 65 or 66. High schools and colleges in my day did not have girls swimming teams.

Swimming was fun and I made many friends. Lula taught us that it was not all about winning but about being a good sport. After a meet we sang a song that honored everyone, winner or loser. That in itself was a great lesson. The thing that I remember the most was the friendships that evolved through swimming.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 1991 and had a bilateral mastectomy. At first I thought my life was over. After the summer, our youngest son returned to college, the flowers, cards, phone calls and visits diminished and around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. I'd start feeling sorry for myself. I decided this was ridiculous, I joined St. John's Health and Fitness Center, and when that feeling would start, I'd throw my bathing suit in the car and I'd go swimming.

I met a few men who swam with the Seniors and Masters—Wayne Tubbs and Denny Saunders—and they said ‘you should enter the Senior Olympics’ and I said "No, no, no way"! Well, to shut them up I agreed to swim the following year and had no idea how fast that year would fly. Well, I swam, had never dived from a block, didn't do flip turns, but I won. What a surprise!

I joined the Masters in order to get the magazine to learn about new techniques. Then our son called to ask me to swim with him on his team in a zones meet in Plano, Texas. This was my first Masters meet, everyone called me "Mom," and it was exciting. I swim in about three Masters meets a year and several Seniors. I have never gone to a national Masters meet, but have participated in two Senior national meets. In Baton Rouge, I won several races and once again surprised myself. The Masters team on which I swim with my son and daughter-in-law did a three peat at the zones this year.

My husband and I were married in 1955 and he supports me to the “nth” degree. He calls himself my coach and makes sure I'm in the right heat and lane. We have four children—ages 46, 44, 40 and 32. They are all good swimmers and they all play golf. Our six year old granddaughter swam for a team this summer in Houston and received a trophy for the most improved swimmer.

I work out about three times a week and swim no less than a half mile. I try to swim in intervals, but could use more discipline and coaching. My motivation is that I enjoy swimming and the people I meet. I also play tennis twice a week.

If this profile says anything, I'd like to say that there is life after breast cancer and I feel that swimming has contributed to my being an 11 year survivor not only because of the exercise, but because of the added benefits of accomplishment, relaxation and peace of mind.

by Laurine Schuler, 2002

Swimming in the 70-74 age group at the 2001 Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge, Schuler won four gold medals in the 50-, and 100-yard freestyle, 50-, and 100-yard backstroke and won silver in the 200-yard freestyle.

submitted by Dennis Wilson