Swimming (and setting records) because she wants to!
When Wenke Hansen Seider made a junior national team in her native country of Germany at age 14, she figured she had a long, successful swimming career ahead of her.
But she never guessed she would still be swimming at age 30—and that she would be setting world records! But she did just that this summer at the long course Masters Nationals in Minnesota, going faster than any 30-34 Masters woman had ever gone before in the 50-, and 200-meter breast. She shattered both records, clocking 33.84 in the 50 to break the 34.56 set 11 years ago, and going 2:41.58 in the 200 to smash the 2:46.81 record from 1995. Her 50 was her personal best time ever, and the 200 and her other events weren't far off.
"For her to do those times at 30 is pretty exciting," said her coach Brandon Seider, who has been working with her for two and a half years, ever since she came out of a several year retirement.
Hansen was on the German National Team from age 14 until 18, then swam on a French team while at the University of Paris for three years. She came to the U.S. to swim for U.C. Santa Barbara because a classmate told her "how much fun" the California school was, and there she set a number of school records while also learning to surf. She was definitely enjoying herself, she said, but was swimming "without really thinking, just to make it through workout—I was on a team, so swimming was just something I had to do."
Today, Hansen never swims because she "has to." Her coach, friends and teammates at the Ojai-Santa Barbara Swim Club Masters Team all note that she swims solely to enjoy herself. "She has an attitude that she's just doing this for fun," said Seider. "She never puts expectations on herself or thinks she's the best—she just has fun."
Hansen is training much less yardage than she did as a youth, and much less than most other swimmers going comparable times. She trains five evenings a week (meters) and two or three mornings (yards), doing only 2,500 to 3,000 per workout and working solely on technique in the mornings. She says this "quality over quantity" approach has been effective, both physically and mentally.
"It's easier to psyche yourself up for workout when you know you won't be there forever," she said of her hour and fifteen minute sessions. Seider says her willingness to learn new techniques has been a key to her continuing improvement.
"She has a special way of listening to instruction—she's really open to experimenting with her stroke even though she's been swimming for so long." said Seider, noting that she has her eye on Olympic Trials. In the 100 breast, her 1:14.53, a USMS record for women 30-34, is less than a second and a half shy of Olympic Trials cut.
"I'm definitely fired up. I think I can do it," Hansen said.
The world records this summer weren't Hansen's first: she also set five short course meters world records in the 25-29 age group last December at regionals in Long Beach.
Hansen works part time as a French teacher at the private Waldorf School, teaching grades two through eight. (With her German and English, she speaks three languages proficiently.) Her teaching abilities also carry over to the pool, her teammates say, where swimmers of all ages look to her for inspiration and advice. She might soon start formally teaching some of the younger swimmers.
"She's a great role model for all the young swimmers," said her friend and teammate Scott Reed. "All the girls walk by and just marvel at her--she's like a goddess to them. The older women on the team are really inspired by her, too, and she's inspired by them."
Hansen still surfs several times a week when the waves are good and also reads in her spare time. Besides next years Olympic Trials, she doesn't really have any long term goals or plans for swimming, except to keep having fun.
"As long as I enjoy it as much as I do now I'll keep swimming," she said. "When I see older ladies in their 70s still swimming it's so inspiring. They look like they're having so much fun.
SWIM – November-December 1999