Masters swimming has been very fufilling
Here are my reminiscences of life in the slow lanes when I was growing up in the 30s and 40s, not even, in my innocence, wondering where the mentors were for girls.
I learned to swim as a child because my grandparents owned a summer cottage on an inland lake. I have always loved water—watching it, moving over it, and being in it.
At that time there were no pools in city schools in Ann Arbor, no public pools either. There was a country club pool, but my family didn't have either the money or the time to belong. Girls were allowed to swim at the University of Michigan Union men's pool for fifteen cents from 8 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays (sometimes on Tuesday nights too) if we entered the building through the side door. I went there.
Ann Arbor held annual city meets. The events for girls were the 25-yard dash, relays, and, for distance, the 50-yard. Medical opinion was that strenuous sports were injurious to women. (The Olympics still does not offer the 1500-meter for women, and the Senior Olympics does not offer the 200-meter fly, the 400 IM, or any freestyle event over the 400 free to women or men.)
Matt Mann, the University of Michigan swimming coach, had a hobby of teaching children to swim and opened the U of M Intramural pool Saturday mornings for this purpose. My brother, a star high school swimmer, had come to his notice, and Matt Mann allowed me to join his daughter, Rosemary, and her cousin, Hazel, in lap swimming while he taught the children. Occasionally he would make comments on our swimming form—"Relax!", "Elbows up!", "Ride! Ride!". I also had the privilege of attending his swimming camp for girls (Ak-O-Mak) as a junior counselor.
At this time there were no competitive teams for high school or college women. Athletically inclined girls could participate in intramural sports—generally team sports. The University of Michigan women's pool was built in 1952; Title IX, requiring institutions receiving federal funds to offer equal athletic opportunities for women, passed in 1972 and is still under dispute.
Other interests and needs demanded my attention, and I did not return to swimming until my teaching and family schedule in the 70s permitted me two hours a week at a YWCA.
After I retired in 1983, I was able to swim at a nearby YMCA an hour every week-day. (I still do.) There, in 1988, I met a Master swimmer who cajoled me into joining a team. I had not known that Masters swimming existed. I also took classes to become a scuba diver, and my husband and I manage one dive trip a year.
The techniques in all strokes have changed considerably since I learned to do them, although I had no training in any stroke except freestyle. Lacking a personal coach—and that is a real disadvantage—I have gratefully seized on any assistance and comments other swimmers volunteer. I buy and borrow tapes to watch and I practice drills (which I hope I'm doing correctly). I attended one of Terry Laughlin's "Total Immersion" camps in Cincinnati. I swim with the South Oakland Seals team, as my schedule permits, to get the benefit of Frank Thompson's workouts. Interestingly, the freestyle is now my slowest stroke. I have not been able yet to unlearn my old skills and relearn the new ones. Diving from the block instead of the side of the pool was a new experience, as was the flip turn. The butterfly has become my best stroke, perhaps because I had nothing to unlearn, or perhaps because not a lot of women my age want to do the butterfly.
I am surprised and delighted at being listed as a world-class swimmer. My experiences as a Master swimmer have been most fulfilling, in the people I have met and the challenges I have faced. I am not burned out and I still love water.