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by Lisa Zraket

April 26, 2019

The New England Masters Swim Club member found comfort in swimming after a challenging time

I was never an athlete growing up. Team sports were too chaotic. I was terrified of any ball coming at me, and I never seemed to have that aggressiveness needed in sports.

But I did learn to swim and swam with a small summer country club up until the ripe age of 8. Then we had to learn the flip turn. This was my demise. I just couldn’t seem to master it, so I quit.

I think I always regretted that decision. I never went back to swimming. Although I had several opportunities in junior high and high school, I was shy and fearful of failing. That fear held me back from doing things. I watched from the sidelines and didn’t participate.

Fast forward 35-plus years. I went through a divorce and was a mom of three children, ages 11, 9, and 5. My life was turned upside down. I was holding it together for my kids, but inside I was becoming more and more anxious, terrified of the unknown and fighting feelings of depression. When I didn’t have my kids, I felt I didn’t have an identity. I was “mom,” and without the kids on those weekends they were with their father, I didn’t know who I was.

I started swimming as an escape. The water cushioned me and enveloped me in a hug. The noise outside and in my head disappeared when I swam in the ocean. But the summer was coming to an end, and I needed to keep swimming for my sanity.

I joined the Masters club at the YMCA in Beverly, Mass.

I still didn’t know how to do a flip turn or butterfly or dive off a block, and I was in awe of the hour and a half workout. But they welcomed me. I found a group where I felt I belonged. I felt so encouraged by the coaches and my lanemates. We were in the technical lane (aka “the slow lane”), and we worked on building our endurance, improving our stroke technique and the dreaded flip turn, and, most importantly, building friendships. Coming to practice was a workout wrapped up in therapy. I began to feel whole again.

My coach worked with me and talked me into doing the Salem Halloween Witch meet. After that, I was hooked on the competition. I loved the absolute certainty of the split-second time. It was so concrete, and I loved that.

I was 45 years old when I did that first meet. I was in awe of the faster swimmers and was inspired by their commitment, the beauty of their strokes, and their willingness to offer feedback and support. I promised myself that I would work toward qualifying for Nationals in one event. Breaststroke was my best shot. I went to practice, I worked on technique and dives. I slowly moved up a lane. And while doing all that, I found myself. I had a new confidence and felt strong mentally and physically. My identity wasn’t only a mom; I was a swimmer, a friend, a teammate, a role model for my children, and daresay an athlete.

At age 49, at the New England LMSC SCY Championships, in lane 8, with my fiancée watching, I qualified for Nationals in the 50 breaststroke, breaking 40 seconds for the first time in my life.

At Spring Nationals, I won’t compete in the top heats or with the elite swimmers. But that is the beauty of Masters. Everyone can compete, no matter their age or when they started. All you need is love of the water, passion, and some competitive spirit.

And I finally learned butterfly this past year. As part of that success, I’ll be swimming the 200 individual medley in addition to the 50 breaststroke.

I’m going to Spring Nationals in Mesa, Ariz., to celebrate my life and the people that have loved, supported, coached, and mentored me these past 10 years.

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