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by Ashley Gangloff

December 31, 2008

She can teach the world to swim a mile!

As athletes, we all develop our own perceptions of what a goal is or should be: break a record, place in the Top 10, win an event. Sometimes, being able to merely finish a workout is a big enough goal to keep us working hard all season. Maggie Tevis of the Rolling Hills Mud Sharks, in Novato, Calif., was inspired to help some of her fellow swimmers set a simple goal after seeing them swim a lap and then stop because they were out of breath. “In a flash, I thought, ‘I can prepare a class to teach people to swim a mile and not be out of breath at the end of their 66 laps,’” says Tevis. And she went home from the pool that day and designed a “Learn-to-Swim-A-Mile” class for adults.

Tevis, 61, started swimming as a teenager in the 1960s. “The high school team was only for boys,” she remembers, so she continued to swim for AAU through high school. In college she joined the intramural synchronized swimming team. After college, Tevis became a schoolteacher and started a family. She encouraged her three children to swim and they joined the local age-group team, so Tevis took the opportunity to get back into shape herself, and joined U.S. Masters Swimming and the Mud Sharks. Twenty years later, Tevis continues to work on her stroke technique and has begun to challenge herself in the open water. She has competed at every level in Masters swimming, including at the 2006 Masters World Championships in California.

“I swim because I like the freedom the water allows my body,” shares Tevis, adding that she wants others to feel the calming effect of the water and enjoy the freedom that it offers.

After her “ah-ah” moment, watching a group of adults huff and puff after just a few laps, Tevis approached her local aquatics director and presented her lesson plan. The director not only liked the idea, but “she was one of my first students to ‘graduate’ as a mile swimmer,” says Tevis.

Tevis allows anyone to join the class as long as they can swim 25 yards freestyle without stopping. Even with barely enough skills to make it to the other side of the pool, Tevis is able to turn her struggling floaters into legitimate mile swimmers. “My goal as the teacher is for my students to enjoy their experience in the water, to continue swimming to stay fit and to look forward to further challenges in Masters swimming,” she says. Her next challenge is to broaden her lesson plan to include all four strokes.

Tevis teaches her students the basics of freestyle and increases the yardage with each class. Each of her classes lasts about an hour and she meets with her students three times per week. “After some technique work in the first couple of weeks and a continuous increase in yardage, most swimmers can swim roughly 30 laps by the end of the second week. By the sixth week, the students swim four 400s and two 800s and by the last class the students can swim a full mile,” explains Tevis. Most of her students continue to swim after their Learn-to-Swim-A-Mile class. “Five of my students have joined a Masters team, some have become triathletes, but the best part is that a lot of their friends and spouses end up taking my class,” exclaims Tevis.

Tevis is not that different than a lot of Masters swimmers. She loves the water, she wanted to get into shape and she is inspired by the other adult swimmers around her. So, what sets her apart from the crowd? Her initiative. Tevis not only thought, “I’ve got a great idea,” but she took the next step and implemented it, introducing mile swimming to members of her community.

Tevis has laid out many goals for herself and her classes. As she works hard to continue to build her swimming lessons, she is also focused on becoming a successful open water swimmer. U.S. Masters Swimming recognizes her enthusiasm applauds her for introducing the joy of swimming to other adults in her community.