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by Rob Butcher

December 31, 2009

Building connections and community through swimming

What do your church, your college alumni association, the dog park and Facebook have in common? Each of these networks offers you a sense of community, a group of people with whom you share a common bond and a place where you feel at home.

This is the third part in our eight-part series, "Why join a local USMS program, and why USMS?" For most of you, the community and friendships that USMS provides are the intangible benefits that you cherish the most. It's your commitment to the lifestyle and your belief in the cause that brought you to your local team and USMS. It's your local community and friendships on your team that keep you connected and motivated in your pursuit of a healthy lifestyle.

All in the Family
USMS members and teammates seem to share more than lanes and swimming equipment; for USMS member Liz Kooy, an Illinois Masters member, USMS has provided a family.

Liz's second child was diagnosed with a rare intestinal illness shortly after birth and underwent surgery at the age of 11 weeks. Liz, her husband and her older son spent weeks at a time in and out of the hospital caring for Liz's the infant. Her local team, the Chicago Smelts, displayed unconditional support for its teammate by organizing a schedule for team members to cook and deliver home-cooked meals to the hospital for Liz and her family. "As an athlete I never wanted to admit when I was in need, but my teammates recognized my struggles and jumped in to help. My husband and I were overwhelmed with the love and support of my teammates." Not only did Liz's teammates care for her and her family while they spent countless hours at the hospital, but once Liz returned home the Chicago Smelts continued to show their commitment to their teammate in need. "They would stop by and say, ‘Come on, let's go for a swim to clear your head,'" Liz remembers. "They were incredible, they are like family. They helped me weather the storm."

The USMS Connection
USMS members continue to come to the pool, continue to practice and continue to compete because "it's fun," says Heather Howland. "We have Masters swimmers of all ages and skill levels on my team," says Heather, who swims with the Wellness Center Sea Dogs. Heather described her practice as "catered to individual goals, but we train as a team. We start together and finish together. Everyone cheers and laughs."

Heather feels a connection to the swimmers and coaches that are part of her local Masters program as well as the friends she has made across the country. "I love to compete," she said, "but sometimes my teammates don't want to travel to all of the meets. So, I call up some of the friends that I have made from other teams and travel with them!"

Participation in meets and fitness programs and attending other USMS events such as the annual convention, as well as participation within online networks, has given Heather and other USMS members the chance to connect with USMS members from across the country.

Face Time
Allen Highnote, a member of Southern Pacific LMSC, says, "I feel more connected to my sport and more connected to other members" through networks such as Facebook. Allen has reconnected with old teammates and grows new relationships with USMS members from various regions through chats, wall posts and friend requests. Allen, an IT specialist, is not currently a member of a local Masters program and uses networks such as Facebook to create a sense of belonging, unity and team. There are various "Facebook Groups" established by USMS members that focus on topics such as "2009 Swimming Masters Nationals, Clovis, California," and "Women Swim Coaches."

USMS brings athletes together from across the country to create networks, relationships and families. If you are currently swimming without a team, go to your LMSC website to find a coach and team in your area. To view a complete list of LMSCs, visit



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