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by Michael Watkins

April 18, 2023

Volunteers' work provides opportunities for others to swim in workouts and meets

Simply put, the sport of competitive swimming couldn’t exist without volunteers.

Deck officials. Hospitality crew. Administrative officials. Timers. Pool Marshals. Computer and console operators. Coaches. The list goes on and on.

During National Volunteer Week, it’s important to recognize the people who selflessly fill these roles for a single reason: They love the sport of swimming at every level.

“I enjoy making the sport of Masters swimming more welcoming and accessible to newcomers, whether someone is brand new to the sport or returning after many years away,” says Katherine Olson, a volunteer with the South Dakota LMSC since 2014. “There's room in the pool for everyone, regardless of their skill level or goals.”

Katherine Olson, LMSC Volunteer

Olson is naturally drawn to volunteerism.

She says she never thought much about the power of giving back that went into forming a swim team or putting on a swim meet until she became an adult.

“I became more cognizant of the officials on deck, the meet managers, timers, and coaches,” she says. “Seeing other adults give so generously of themselves to allow me, and other fellow adults, the opportunity to swim and compete is humbling and touching.”

Olson started off her volunteer service within the South Dakota LMSC with a clear, manageable task: Build the LMSC's first website.

From there, she took on other roles relating to communication and relationship building: managing the LMSC's social media page and email service.

She says she’s been attracted to volunteer opportunities that have a clear time frame such as organizing a virtual championship, a social event for a club, or gathering a group from the LSMC to compete at nationals.

“In 2019, I took my volunteerism to a new level by attending the annual meeting,” she says. “That year, I applied to be on a national board, but I was not selected. I believe I was still developing my connections and growing in my knowledge of the organization, so I was not put off. 

“I applied again in 2020 after attending a second annual meeting and was selected for the LMSC Development Committee, which is a great fit for my skills and experience. I feel like my knowledge of the organization and its needs grows each year I am more involved.”

Olson adds that she enjoys the mindfulness aspect of swim practice and competing in swim meets for the camaraderie and motivation.

“I have swum my entire life, but there was a 10-year gap between my last high school swim meet and my first Masters meet,” she says. “Masters swimmers have been very intentional in thanking me for my volunteer efforts.  It's easy to serve a community that values you.”

Marysia Smith, Meet Director

A student at Western Washington University, Marysia Smith has found her volunteer voice in a variety of ways with a variety of organizations, most notably organizing and fundraising USMS meets at the campus pool.

The first WWU Swimming Viking Invitational her workout group hosted was in February 2020, just before the start of the pandemic. She says she wanted her program to host the meet because, in her area, there are not a lot of competitive meets.

She did the same thing this year, providing swimmers another opportunity to compete and come back to swimming as things in the state started to open back up.

“I wanted to give our swimmers and other swimmers in the region another opportunity to compete before nationals,” says Smith, an environmental science major at WWU. “In my experience, most of the work around putting together a meet is taken up by wrangling people. After you're running the first meet, getting all of the paperwork organized was pretty easy.”

Among her duties in setting up the meets were emailing swimmers and inviting everyone together to engage and compete.

And even though the meets are subsidized by the university, she and her workout group, Western Washington University Masters Swimming, are also responsible for fundraising “a good chunk of money.”

“We don’t do it for the money,” she says. “As much work as they are to put together, swimming meets are a lot of fun. Meets give swimmers time to connect and compete and build community. That is what is really important right now to us.

“Volunteering and service have been a part of my life for a long time. I enjoy giving back to the communities that I'm a part of. I have been swimming since I was 3 and swimming competitively since I was 8. Now at 22, U.S. Masters Swimming has quickly become a community that I really love and want to be able to support however I can.”

Mike Whaley, Official

For Mike Whaley, who has volunteered at USMS meets for years as an official, giving back allows him the opportunity to be included in a dedicated group that supports swimmers.

Because of the limited number of credentialed USMS officials and difficulty in scheduling, recruiting is a big part of his volunteer work, and it’s a proactive effort to “lock in” volunteers.

“I spend time proactively encouraging USMS swimmers and nonswimming ‘partners’ to take the official’s test and become an official,” says Whaley, who made a career in the Marine Corps.

He says it’s that inclusion of working with a professional group of volunteers and providing a fair and safe environment for swimmers that makes it all worthwhile.

He says the love of swimming, camaraderie, and dedication to the USMS organizing principles provides excellent pillars for USMS swimmers and volunteers.

“I initially volunteered as a USA Swimming official supporting the local swimming club that my sons swam for,” he says. “Then, and after a decade of global military advisor jobs and Afghanistan, I joined the Sarasota Sharks, mostly as a fitness swimmer.

“As with many Masters swim clubs, experienced officials are difficult to schedule for meets and to recruit. When the Sharks and a friend asked for assistance, I requalified as a credentialed official to help the club.”

Whaley says he’s been “supremely lucky” to associate with a club that has outstanding swimmers and families that value volunteering and a commitment to the Sarasota Shark program and USMS.

“After a year of coordination and peer discussions, we have a local pool of 11 credentialed USMS officials,” he says. “Volunteering at the Shark program is not limited to swimmers. An anonymous donor ensured the sunbaked USMS officials received high SPF white sun shirts to protect them during the meets.”


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