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by Phillippe Diederich

December 31, 2008

Keeping Up with Ellen Reynolds

When Ellen Reynolds, 45, returned to swimming five years ago after a 23-year hiatus, this pediatric surgeon and mother of two was just looking for a way to release stress, stay fit and rekindle her love of swimming. “I started swimming when I was three. No one really taught me how to swim, and I was too stubborn to listen to any coaches,” Reynolds says.

Reynolds gave up the pool to focus on her academic studies. When she decided to get back in the water, she asked her mother, retired physician Mary Ann Reynolds, for help. “I never swam,” Mary Ann Reynolds admits, “but I’ve watched Ellen swim since she was four. She’s a very talented swimmer.”

The two read a lot of books and watched videos on stroke technique. Reynolds joined the Boise, Idaho YMCA and began swimming laps, sharing the pool with the water aerobics classes and recreational swimmers. Within a year she was breaking her high school times.

Finding time to practice is not easy for Reynolds. She’s one of three pediatric surgeons in the state of Idaho. She works 60 to 70 hours a week and is on call every other day. “There are days where I am too tired to swim after standing and operating all night. And some days my pager goes off every 15 minutes interrupting the workout and I have to leave early to take care of an emergency,” Reynolds says.

“We train five to six says a week, but not at a marked time,” Mary Ann Reynolds explains. “I carry her beeper and her cell phone, and if she gets a call, we interrupt the practice.”

Reynolds says she manages to swim five to six thousand yards a day, swimming all four strokes in every practice with two thousand yards as warm up and about twenty-five percent as recovery swimming interspersed throughout the practice. “We don’t use any training aids, not even a kickboard,” Mary Ann Reynolds says.

Reynolds has also been doing resistance weight training in the last six months, concentrating only on her swimming muscles. She also does two hundred abdominal crunches a day. Since she began swimming, she says she’s gained 20 pounds of muscle.

Overcoming the obstacles of a busy and undetermined work schedule is no easy task, but on top of that, Reynolds suffers from severe exercise asthma. She has to take drugs to keep it under control and her mother has to constantly measure for her peak flow, something that’s critical during meets. “We just show up and I look at her and ask her how she feels, how much she’s slept,” Mary Ann Reynolds says. “I pay attention to her breathing and her pulse throughout the workout.”

Reynolds is a member of the Sawtooth Masters swim team, but her unpredictable schedule makes it impossible for her to attend practice. “Normally a parent coaching a child is not a good formula,” says Sawtooth coach Kevin Everett, “but it’s working well in this case and it’s not an issue for the team.” And since Reynolds can’t meet the team’s training schedule, sometimes two or three teammates will train with her.

This unique arrangement and Reynolds’s competitive nature are yielding impressive results. Although she is only able to attend one or two meets a year, Reynolds took second in both the 100M and 200M backstroke at the World Master’s Championships in Stanford three years ago. She has set four YMCA National records in the 50, 100, 200 back and 400IM; has won the long distance All-Star award twice; broken the USMS national record in the 3000 yard free; placed several times in the Top 10 and is a onetime All-American. “I have set goals, such as breaking a minute in the 100 yard back and breaking two minutes in the 200 yard free, both of which I was able to accomplish this year with times of 59.73 and 1:56.99, without the benefit of a high tech suit,” Reynolds says.

Mary Ann Reynolds devotes hours of her time to her daughter’s effort, thinking about workouts and constantly correcting her strokes. “Ellen loves swimming,” her mother says, “but together we have this academic interest in seeing how far we can push, tweaking all the parameters to see if we can do it better.”

Reynolds’s father is also getting in on the action. “My dad’s now on oxygen continuously and comes to every practice. He’ll exercise as much as possible, then check on us and provide encouragement,” Reynolds says, adding that they’re able to forget their worries about work and health. “We just focus on what we enjoy,” she says.

Coach Everett agrees that this is a unique arrangement that benefits everyone. “It’s a family affair and they’re very close,” he says. “As long as Ellen stays with it, she’ll be a record breaker for a long time in her age group.”