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by Elaine K Howley

August 27, 2020

The 2020 Toyota USMS Virtual Championships Powered by offers a new approach to racing that keeps swimmers safe through remote competition

Joy Dempsey revitalized her fitness routine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With her gym closed and her cycling group lacking something specific to train for, the Life Time Swim North Carolina member has been swimming four times a week. When she saw an announcement for August’s 2020 Toyota USMS Virtual Championships Powered by, her workouts took on a new meaning.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is great! Now, it’s so exciting to go swimming that I’m going to do a race today,’ or, ‘Let me hit these intervals because I’m going to do a race,’” Dempsey says. “It just introduced variety, and to me, it was perfect timing.”

The Virtual Championships provide people who swim for fitness or compete an opportunity to do so. The inaugural event, which lasts Aug. 12–31 and is free to enter, includes all standard short course yards individual events and six open water distances that participants can complete in a socially distanced manner in their local pool or body of open water.

Count three-time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel among those in the open water.

After retiring from professional swimming three years ago, the two-time Olympic medalist began feeling an itch to start swimming again. She’s been swimming in the ocean three or four times per week and decided to enter the Virtual Championships and swam a 5K.

“The Virtual Championships were the perfect way for me to reenter the world of competitive swimming,” says Beisel, a member of New England Masters Swim Club. “I cannot wait to compete in more Masters Swimming events and recruit more of my former teammates to jump back into the swimming world with me.”

The Virtual Championships—which have raised nearly $20,000 for the USMS COVID-19 Relief Program to support clubs’ efforts to restart when safe and has drawn more than 1,100 participants—also provided a new goal for Riptide Masters member James Zenyuh, who holds two individual USMS records, to focus his training upon.

After he learned about the event in June, he established an eight-week training plan. Another coach timed and filmed his swims, “so it felt very much like a real racing situation,” says Zenyuh, who competed in the 50 and 100 butterfly, 50 backstroke, and 50 freestyle.

He hopes to carry that momentum into 2021 as he looks for other goals to work toward, some of which he hopes will be virtual events, even if in-person meets resume.

“I think it’s great having Masters and the technology with sharing results across different age groups,” Zenyuh says. “I think it helps to inspire people.”

That’s certainly the case for Dempsey.

She participated in the 500 and 1000 freestyle events, using her swim watch to track her distance swum and times, which she synced with the app to upload her results. (Participants can also manually input their times.) She then checked out how she compares to other swimmers in her age group.

“It gives me a benchmark,” she says. “Now, I can work on improving.”

The Virtual Championships also provided Dempsey with the opportunity to compete in a race for the first time in her life.

“Now, I can say that I’ve been in a race,” she says proudly.


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