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by Elaine K Howley

October 10, 2016

Pace Clock Profiles: Lane 4 Swimming

All politics—or was that swim practices?—are local

The August membership drive was a success for clubs of all shapes and sizes, and at the larger end of the spectrum, Lane 4 Swimming (Potomac Valley) finished in second place with 47 new members. That adds a nice chunk of new swimmers to an already enormous program; L4S currently has nearly 900 registered USMS members and is the largest local club in the country.

Founder and head coach Frank Marcinkowski says he wasn’t actively pushing the membership drive, and wasn’t even aware of the pace clock contest until the last few days of August when fellow coach Stu Kahn called him to alert him to the leaderboard that had been published. When he found out, Marcinkowski says he and his coaches did push membership “a little bit, to see if there was anyone out there who was still planning to join. So we had a flurry of new members join in the last few days.” This push dovetailed neatly with an annual bump the club usually enjoys in the fall. “The late summer and early fall are always really good times for membership,” Marcinkowski says, as a lot of swimmers take the summer off to race and travel and generally start returning to their regular workout routine in August and September.

The effort was enough for the club to hang on to second place in the contest and earn a Colorado Time Systems pace clock worth $1,200.

Marcinkowski says L4S started as “a small Masters workout group at the Burke Racquet and Swim Club in March of 1985, the very day the club opened its doors.” For the first 15 years, the group consisted of anywhere from 5 to 25 competitive swimmers. But around the year 2000, “we changed our model to become an all-encompassing Masters team, welcoming all ages and abilities of adult swimmers.” That shift was what enabled the club to grow to its high of 942 members in 2014.

Today, the group continues to espouse that all-encompassing philosophy and strives to be inclusive and welcoming to swimmers of all types and abilities. Marcinkowksi runs the club with the help of several assistant coaches alongside his full-time job as an environmental engineer. “If I could do this full-time, I think we’d be a lot bigger,” he says

L4S swims in eight locations (10 in the summer) around the D.C.-metropolitan area. The various locations were all strategically selected to combat D.C.’s famously bad traffic and to make swimming as convenient as possible for club members. “The traffic is just so bad in this area, we tried to figure out how we could always have a workout opportunity close to home or work or somewhere in between. We purposely went out and expanded into other facilities locally, and most are close to where we work,” Marcinkowski says.

Visiting USMS members from other clubs are enthusiastically encouraged to join L4S for workouts whenever possible. “We love to have visiting USMS swimmers join us in workout, always at no-cost, and prospective new members can also join us for free for multiple workouts to try out our team and become comfortable,” Marcinkowski says.

Because of this open-door policy, Marcinkowski says he never quite knows who might show up on a particular day. “We can have an Olympian or recent NCAA finalist showing a triathlete or novice swimmer how to follow a pace clock in workout, and likewise, that same triathlete may be teaching the lifelong swimmer how to give up the training wheels when they pick up a bike for cross-training. We’re very appreciative that we have the facilities and lane space to do this, realizing that it took 25 years of continuous work to get this,” he says.

Marcinkowski says that when it comes to training, the focus is on sound stroke technique and fast swimming through training hard and smart, “with little-to-no yardage without a purpose.”  

In addition to the strong training and support the club offers its swimmers (Marcinkowski is a Level 3 USMS-certified coach), L4S goes above and beyond when it comes to looking after its “wounded warriors.” Disabled veterans who swim with the program receive a 100 percent scholarship, and Marcinkowski says the club’s sponsor FINIS “shares this philosophy and fully outfits our wounded warriors so that their participation in any and all aspects of Lane 4 is completely without cost.”

When it comes to deciding what to do with their new clock, Marcinkowski says the club will try to identify which facility has the “largest number of swimmers with poor eyesight that could most benefit from the large, beautiful, digital display, but being in Washington, we can expect biased surveys, voter fraud, suspect lobbying efforts, and even faked eye exams that will continue at least until after the elections, er, the selection of the workout location that gets the pace clock,” he laughs.