11 things I’ve learned from two weeks of Masters Swimming

Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham

A ton of swim parents are former swimmers—some are Olympians, too. Then, there are parents like my husband and me, who have next to zero swim experience. We non-swimmers are at a decided disadvantage from former swimmers, but we can learn from watching meets, coaches and our kids.

I’ll never forget when my husband told our son who was 12 years old, “You need to try harder in practice.”
Son: “Dad, how far do you swim?”
Husband: “Out to the rock and back.” This was during summer vacation at the beach.
“How many yards do you think that is?”
Husband: “At least 200 yards. I do it twice a day.”
Son: “I swim 5,000 yards per day.”
Husband: silence.

Here’s my tip for non-swimming parents to better understand the sport:

Try Masters!

My husband joined Masters the following week and swam for five years, five days a week at 5:30 a.m. and he competed in a few races. He never gave advice to our son again—about swimming.

After 15 years of swim parenting, I joined Masters two weeks ago.

My first day, I was afraid I was going to drown or get kicked out during warm-up. I was breath-holding, spluttering, lifting my head as I gasped to reach the other side of the pool. The coach assured me he’s never kicked out a master, nor has he ever lost a swimmer. My fears were unfounded.

Here are 11 things I’ve learned from two weeks of Masters:


I jumped out of my comfort zone and was scared to death. Now, I look forward to practice. I’m up to 1,500 yards.


I feel improvement daily, although some days are better than others.


I’m getting stronger. Physically and mentally.


No food is safe in our fridge the hour after practice.


I sleep really, really well.


I’m learning about technique, drills, and breathing.


I’ve discovered muscles I didn’t know I had, or haven’t used in 20 years.


I’m making new friends and getting reacquainted with old ones.


I have a new appreciation for the coach. What he does takes skill, knowledge and thinking on his feet.


I admire my kids and what they have done on a daily basis for 15 years. Wow!


I get so tired. I asked my kids when the tiredness stops. “Never,” was the answer.

As a swim parent, are you a former swimmer? If not, give Masters a try. You’ll learn to appreciate this great sport, your kids and coaches, in new ways.

Elizabeth WickhamElizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog: http://bleuwater.me/.

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8 years ago

After timing my kids meets for 5 years, I signed up at age 45 with no formal swimming background to speak of. 3 years later, I have much more sympathy for their struggles and respect for the dedication it takes to improve, not the mention the sheer terror of being up on the blocks at a meet.

Elizabeth Wickham
8 years ago

Thanks for the supportive comments. It was a leap for me to get in the pool. Joy, I’m impressed with 11 years!

Joy Archer
8 years ago

I’m looking forward to your next article about Masters swimming: “What Five Years of Master’s Swimming Has Taught Me.” You might be as hooked as I am – I’m coming up on 11 years of Master’s swimming!

Judy Benke
8 years ago

Thank you for your article. I swam competively for 18 years and have been out off the sport for 20 years. I have been considering getting back in the pool because swimming has always been my true love. Reading this has reminded me that there can still be a life in swimming. Even after the age of 42. :). Thank you!

8 years ago

Love this article! Good for you and keep it going. Having swam competively growing up and in college, I quit for over 20 years. I’ve been in USMS for about 8 months now and feel born again! ……and I completely relate to #4!

8 years ago

This sounds familiar except that next month will be my second year as a USMS swimmer. All of what you said is true. It’s addictive.

Retta Race
8 years ago

Congrats to the author for trying something entirely new! There are lots of folks just like you that want to try Masters, but fears such as the ones you described hold them back. Thank you for encouraging others to try Masters out.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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