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by Laura S Jones

February 10, 2013

Balancing swimming with a full house

Six years ago, a happy but exhausted Inge Clark had a toddler and three infants on her hands. “Four kids does a number on your body,” explains Clark, making what might be the understatement of the year. “One day I woke up and said that’s it, I’m not going to live like this,” says Clark, 42 and a member of Illinois Masters. “So I did what came naturally,” Clark said of her choice to return to swimming, a sport she left at age 16. “It’s the one thing I know, that I enjoy. I also knew that swimming would strengthen everything.”

“I was so weak then that my husband had to pick me up off the floor after playing with my kids. I love my children (Ben, now 10, Simon and Colin, 7, and Sara, 6) very much, but I needed something to lift me up, something for just me. As mothers, we’ve all been there. We never put ourselves on our “To-Do” lists. And yet, we don’t function as well if we don’t care for ourselves.”

In the beginning, Clark went to the pool twice a week and swam 200-300 yards. “I was just looking for anything my body could handle.” For her first two and a half years back in the water, says Clark, “it was a fight just to stay in the pool.” She would get up and swim at 4:30 in the morning and her husband would watch the kids. Once they were old enough, she would swim at a more reasonable hour and put the kids in daycare at the pool.

Things slowly got easier, so she added dryland exercises in her basement which she did while the kids were sleeping. Then in December of 2011, she joined USMS and Lincoln Way Masters because she wanted structured workouts, the chance to meet other people and the opportunity to enjoy a different environment. The pool was a 45 minute commute away, so she often did the workouts, which were emailed to team members, at her local YMCA. But just being part of the team made a difference, she says.

A big difference. She only needed one preparatory meet before Spring Nationals in 2012. At that meet in Greensboro, her husband came with her and they arranged for babysitters for their four kids in 24 hour blocks. Before the meet, she said she didn’t get much tapering since she had to cook and leave meals for four days. She still managed excellent finishes in her breaststroke events.

Her goals in 2013 are to try some new events and the get the message out that moms need to get into the pool for themselves and their kids. In 2014, she hopes to qualify for FINA Masters Worlds. “My swimming is my sanity time. In order to balance family with swimming, I put swimming on my schedule at a certain time each day. It's my appointment with the pool. The kids know that swimming is part of my job, as a mom.”

It helps to find a support system when you makes those choices for yourself. “They welcomed me with open arms,” says Clark of her Lincoln Way Maters teammates. And they have become a kind of second family. So for Clark, the balance of swimming and family has “morphed into a balance of families. While my swimming family aids me in strength (physical and mental), technique and form, my [real] family supports me with love.”

Clark feels lucky she has both in her life now. She says there are no more kids on the agenda, but lots more swimming! You may have to give up a little sleep and do a lot of advance planning, but Clark hopes her example can provide encouragement for other moms to make time for themselves and do something they love.


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