Yesterday I participated in my second Masters swim meet ever in Nashville, TN. My first meet was back in May, and it was the first time I had raced in over a decade. I stuck to my two old standbys for that meet, just 50 and 100 freestyle because I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to handle much more after so much time away from racing. The meet turned out to be a lot of fun and I met some other swimmers from the Nashville area that I still keep in touch with today. It was also really special being able to share the experience with my kids – they took pictures and videos for me and acted as my own personal cheering section.
The meet yesterday was different only because I think it was MORE fun than the first. The meet turnout was a lot bigger, there were more families there with their kids (I think I was the only one last time), and the swimmers were all friendly and cheering each other on. I even had friends from Memphis travel to the meet this time, so I wasn’t a loner. Once again I met some great people and hope to keep in touch.
In my past, swim meets were incredibly stressful for me. As a young age group swimmer, it was just an opportunity to hang out with my friends for 2 or 3 days in a row. As I got more serious, racing made me so nervous I would feel physically sick. Because I was a sprint freestyler, I often had to anchor relays in high school and college and I hated this. I felt so much pressure not to let my team down. I felt pressure to swim fast and drop time. It was all pressure I put on myself, but what should have been a fun racing experience turned into dread and anxiety.
Masters swim meets have been a completely different experience for me. Warm-ups are friendly. There is no aggressive fight-to-the-death for lane space – everyone is polite. Swimmers actually stop to chat and get to know each other on the wall. Most swimmers (myself included) have forgotten how to go off the starting blocks so the host-team coach was kind enough to start us all and give pointers on how to use the starting wedges and backstroke wedges.
Behind the blocks there is a lot of, “Where are you from?” and “Good luck!” and “That’s a made up time!”
Of course there are serious swimmers there to race and swim fast, but it’s serious in a different way. They are there for themselves and no one else. They want to swim fast because they feel a sense of personal accomplishment. There are triathletes as well as swimmers, all there to have fun and improve themselves.
I saw so many inspiring swims this weekend. An 75 yr old man completed a 200 breaststroke. A 35 year old woman absolutely crushed a 200 butterfly (super impressive). A woman my age (33) came in late to warm-ups because she had completed a half marathon race that morning (in the rain and cold) and then swam 5 events in the meet to include 2, 200’s. Ages ranged from 18 to 82. There’s no way you walk out of a meet like that without a smile on your face.
For my part – I dropped time from the long course meters meet this May (this meet was short course meters). I swam the 200 free for the first time in over a decade and although it was slower than I thought I could go, I had fun doing it. I got out of the pool and actually thought to myself, “that was fun”! Never in my entire 16 year career as a competitive swimmer would I describe the 200 freestyle as “fun”. For that reason alone, I call this meet a success.
For you swim types out there, here were my events are results (all scm):
50 free: 28.09
100 free: 101.29
200 free: 2:16.93
50 breast: 38.72
I can’t say I wasn’t nervous for the meet, old habits die hard. But knowing that there was a promise of food and beer with new friends afterwards somehow took the pressure off and allowed me to enjoy myself through the nerves. If you’re an athlete in any sport and you’d love to compete again but think you’re too old or too slow – take my word for it and go for it. You’ll be surprised how big of a support network you may find in complete strangers.