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by Linda Shoenberger

November 1, 2011

A healthy role model for Masters

I had the pleasure of meeting Coach Nancy Brown of Maryland Masters a few years ago at YMCA Masters Nationals. Every day after dinner she gathered her swimmers into the hospitality suite and gave out goofy awards to swimmers who had accomplished something for themselves that day. We all laughed at her antics, especially since she always showed up in some off-the-wall Halloween outfit, setting the theme for the evening’s shenanigans.

At the time, Brown had just aged up to the 70-75 age group. She set many Y Nat records that year in Fort Lauderdale. Last year, at age 74, she was given the USMS Fitness Award for her enthusiastic dedication to fitness swimming.

Brown was a founding member of Maryland Masters in 1974. She began swimming in high school, catching any pool time she could, inspired by her math teacher and swimming coach to pursue a life of fitness through swimming. She has coached or taught swimming since she was 16, inspiring hundreds of swimmers—ranging in ages from 4 to 90—to start swimming and to make it part of their lives. She credits swimming for fitness and inspiring others to do so as the defining goal and passion of her life.

On September 29 Brown underwent 10 hours of surgery to remove two cancerous tumors from her abdominal wall. This is what her daughter Jill Springer wrote in an email to her mother’s numerous friends on September 30th:

“I stayed the night in the ICU with mom and she continues to improve each hour. The breathing tube was removed at midnight, which made her very happy. … She will be moving to a regular room this afternoon. The doctors and nurses have said that her improvement is directly related to her level of health and fitness from swimming. She tells them, ‘Everyone should swim.’ The respiratory nurse was especially impressed with her strong lungs and their capacity.”

On October 2nd Jill updated us with the following:

“Mom had another busy day, walking two different times for nearly four laps around the 15th floor. One of the nurses commented today that she's doing better three days after surgery than most other patients much younger than her who have had the same surgery.”

On October 5th Brown achieved the goal she had set for herself that day: 10 laps walking around the hospital corridors for a total of 1 mile.

Since coming home from the hospital, Brown has sent out many emails. They aren’t about her. They are encouraging emails to her fitness swimmers. So far she has challenged them to ALL compete in the 200 fly at Y Nationals in 2012. The response has been overwhelming.

On Halloween morning she showed up at the pool for the first time since her surgery. She was dressed as a witch. Her new goal is to be in the water swimming by next week.

Yes it has been a hard road for her battling cancer but as we can tell from the emails and updates, her enthusiasm is healthy and her response to not only a drastic surgery and chemo to come, she remains a true fitness swimming advocate and participant. It appears that she will go on challenging everyone she knows to become fit and stay fit for many years to come.

When the information was shared with her swimmers last year that she was being nominated for the USMS fitness award, the response was overwhelming. Ali Hall, who nominated her for the award, received a flood of effusive endorsements. All supporters said that Nancy Brown was the single most important factor in their decision to start swimming, to return to swimming if they had taken a break, and to take their fitness to new levels. Many swimmers said they couldn’t imagine doing what they are able to do now if it hadn’t been for her encouragement and example.

Once again Nancy Brown has shown us how important fitness is. At 75 years of age, coming out of a 10-hour surgery and doing a mile walking lap around the hospital corridors within days of the surgery, and making it back to the pool deck one-month later, Brown has upped the bar of role model for fitness swimmers.



  • Overcoming Adversity
  • Motivation
  • Inspiration