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by Elaine K Howley

June 10, 2021

USMS’s annual campaign introduces swimmers to the benefits of being a member of a club

When Augusta Recreation and Parks Blue Tides Coach Barbara Seib Ingold decided to launch her club in late 2017, she started with two lanes and about 10 swimmers.

By the end of 2019, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit, her club in Georgia, which she coaches on a volunteer basis, had grown to almost 70 people, including a very enthusiastic new swimmer named Gwen Bovan.

Bovan came to the group during the Try Masters Swimming campaign in 2018. Though she was initially afraid to put her face in the water, Bovan was determined to become a swimmer. Ingold asked her to swim a full length of the 50-meter pool, and Bovan rolled over on her back and made her way down with a slow but steady backstroke.

“That was her best stroke,” Ingold says, “but we started from that point.”

Before long, Bovan was able to swim a mile of freestyle in about 40 minutes.

“It was phenomenal and a huge improvement,” Ingold says. “Gwen is a huge success story.”

Bovan says swimming with Ingold’s group is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and ultimate bucket list item.

“I want my headstone to say, ‘She swam,’” Bovan says.

But as a mostly nonswimmer her whole life, that desired epitaph seemed unlikely to come true unless she forced the issue.

The Try Masters Swimming campaign helped bring these two women together by removing impediments to Bovan’s ability to give swimming a try and to connect with Ingold and her growing group of swimmers.

In 2021, Try Masters Swimming runs for the month of July and gives potential new members a chance to test drive Masters to learn about the organization and find their own spot in the world of adult swimming. There are more than 200 Masters groups across the country offering one or more free workouts as part of the campaign.

Coach Seth Huston of Rice Aquatics Masters in Houston says he takes it a few steps further and offers a whole week of free workouts to help new members develop the routine that will carry them forward as Masters swimmers.

This approach helps swimmers see how adding swimming works with work, school, kids, and all the other responsibilities most adult swimmers are juggling, he says.

Swim Charleston Coach Cathy Sheafor also offers a few extra free workouts to swimmers who might be on the bubble or hesitant about joining her club in South Carolina. As long as interested swimmers have signed up for a USMS trial membership, they’re good to swim and check out any participating program.

Sheafor says most swimmers who swim three workouts are hooked.

Huston says opening his program to interested swimmers has been important to growing his roster, and it’s offered opportunities to people who might otherwise not have given swimming a try. Over the past month or so, he says, his club has had 20 or more inquiries from potential new swimmers, and new messages and calls arrive each week with other swimmers who want to give it a go.

Although Ingold, Huston, and Sheafor all say they try to be very clear with interested swimmers up front about what Masters is and isn’t—“We can teach lessons, but a Masters program is not the place to do the lessons,” Huston says—they don’t want to discourage potential swimmers who might be a bit hesitant to try.

Instead, the goal is to meet swimmers where they are by supporting swimmers who have some basic swimming skills but want to use swimming as a means of improving fitness. They’re also looking to work with people who are returning to the sport after a long layoff.

In most cases, new swimmers arrive on deck a little out of swimming shape and somewhat uncertain about what to expect and how they’ll do with this new routine. To get them over that, Huston says, he encourages new swimmers “to take it slow and take breaks when they need it. Don’t feel like you need to do everything that everybody else is doing. Get out before you feel tired.”

In the first week, a new swimmer might do best to swim just 30 minutes of the workout and progressively work up to the full hour-long session, he says.

But if you’re worried that you won’t fit in or can’t compete, that’s a nonstarter in his group. “Having introduced or reintroduced the sport to so many people, literally everybody in the pool empathizes with the newcomer because they’ve all been there,” he says.

Over the course of the week-long free trial period Huston offers, Huston’s swimmers can find their feet and get more comfortable with how the program works and how to make it part of their daily workout routine.

Amping up that swimming routine to achieve bigger fitness goals is ultimately what attracted Heidi Herman to Sheafor’s Swim Charleston program. Herman had been casually swimming laps at the pool with friends for a while when “serendipity” in the summer of 2018 got her to try out Masters Swimming as part of the Try Masters Swimming campaign.

One of Herman’s friends asked Sheafor what the Masters program was all about, and “she said, ‘You’re certainly welcome to try out swimming with us if you want,’” Herman remembers. So she did, and almost immediately signed up to become a member.

“I’ve been swimming with Swim Charleston ever since,” Herman says.

Though Swim Charleston is on hiatus for the summer—a situation forced by the coronavirus pandemic and the group’s loss of water time—Sheafor hopes to be back in the swim of things by fall.

And when they are, Herman plans to be there. One of the reasons Herman decided to stick with the Masters group is because “it was more challenging. I kind of always wanted to try a Masters program, but I’d never swum competitively.” A former swimming instructor, Herman was always very comfortable in the water, but she’d never competed. Because of that, she says, “Masters just seemed too intimidating to me.”

A lot of that reluctance came down to the “loaded word” Masters. For many people, that term connotes “mastery,” or being a superior swimmer, and if they don’t think they’re good enough, they may be frightened away by the notion. But as Herman soon found out, “Masters just means you’re at least 18. It’s really just adult swimming and you should give it a try.”

You don’t have to be fast either, Sheafor says.

“Many people associate ‘Masters’ with elite swimming,” Sheafor says. “They say, ‘I’m not a master!’ And I say, ‘No, no, no. You’re over the age of 18. You are a Masters swimmer. You don’t have to be internationally or nationally or even regionally competitive to participate. We’re just a very welcoming group, and it’s an opportunity for you to exercise with a group of adults with some instructional supervision.’”

Bovan, too, once thought that Masters might not be right for her, but says the “bragging rights” that come with being able to call yourself a Masters swimmer helped entice her and get her over any hesitation she might have once felt. She’s since committed to swimming as much as she can and is now attending four or five practices a week.

“I’m so proud of the progress I’ve made,” she says, the enthusiasm just bubbling over as she talks about her plans to swim in the future.

Are you ready to take the next step in your swimming journey? Try a free workout with a Masters club this July as part of our Try Masters Swimming campaign.

All you need to do is fill out our trial membership form, find a participating club in your area, and pick a workout time to swim with the club. Come experience for yourself the amazing emotional, mental, and physical health benefits tens of thousands of adults just like you across the country are already enjoying.



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