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by Kristina Henry

August 27, 2010

I am an average swimmer. As a child growing up in Vienna, Virginia I swam on our neighborhood swim team, the Shouse Village Sharks. In those halcyon days during the 1970s we all wore the Mark Spitz stars and stripes suits, ate raw Jell-O and basically swam because we hung out at the pool all day anyway and our parents didn’t want to see us until dinner time. Swimming was just something to do.

Since then I’ve enjoyed an on-and-off career in lap swimming to stay in shape. When a friendly lifeguard at our local Y approached me about joining the local Masters team, I balked. I mean, those are professionals; fiercely competitive and impossibly fit people who swim in meets all over the country. Type As, who multi-task and work 70-hour weeks at their day jobs before they hop in a pool and swim 10,000 yards.

My goal is to wear a pencil skirt.

I remember my first Masters practice. I was a nervous wreck, so much so that my husband offered to go with me, like a first grader being accompanied by her parent on her first day of school. I went solo and was met with smiles. I learned quickly that Masters is a mix of various ages and skill sets. We do have some Type As (ahem, Mark I’m talking to you) along with moms and dads and grandparents (working and retired), college students and triathletes. Although my first session was grueling and our coach kept telling me, “keep your head down” I liked it so much I returned two days later and have since rarely missed a practice.

I hardly recognize the person who at first refused to even consider attending a swim meet. After three years I’m one of the regulars. I love my teammates who are my second family. We talk, a lot. While swimming itself is relaxing, the intervals provide an excellent opportunity to vent about work and ask opinions. Our coach doesn’t always appreciate our short rest time being used in this manner but we manage.

While lap swimming kept me in shape, Masters has changed my life. It’s given me great friends, real goals and a terrific routine. A constant that on occasion has been the best part of my day.

Another perk is SWIMMER magazine. While I enjoy the articles, workouts and opinion pieces, the swimmer profiles have been a frustration. Although I like reading about the former Caltech record holder in the 200 butterfly, I often come away feeling like the world’s biggest loser.

What about the rest of us?

Okay I admit that I share tendencies akin to those exhibited by Homer Simpson and George Costanza. I have been known to be one of those people who avoids work at all costs. Of course in doing so, I spend more time in the art of avoidance than I would in doing the actual work. I’m not exactly a paragon of diligence. I don’t like pain; I give in to my tiredness. I eat Twizzlers and fries. I drink wine. I like to sleep. I whine when we have to do butterfly or kick sets over 100 yards.

Yet in spite of those qualities, I am learning.

What started off as exercising with a dedicated group of people has become a necessity to my well-being. I have graduated from a leisurely lap swimmer to a somewhat competitive swimmer. I actually want to better my times. I want to win races. Still if I even qualify for nationals or worlds it would be a miracle. I’m in a very competitive age bracket right now. All of which makes me ambitious.

Plan A is to continue the hard work. Plan B is nature’s way. If I live long enough I’m sure to qualify for something. I hope. Thanks to our very patient and dedicated coach and my amazing and encouraging teammates I am making progress, slowly. More importantly my team hasn’t kicked me off, yet. I like to think I provide much needed humor and asides.

So if there are any more of us out there, good job. At least we’re doing it.


  • Human Interest