October 26, 2023
The world is a more lonely and sadder place now. Our dear little Kiki succumbed to a tumor on her thyroid on Thursday.
We knew she wasn’t feeling well and had her on thyroid medicine, which she hated taking. Apparently, the side effects are terrible, wrecking havoc with her kidneys and liver. We wish the Doctor had told us that and we could have spared her some discomfort. One thing, Kiki did not hold a grudge. She ran away from us when we gave her the medicine, but was soon back on our laps, purring and kneading.
She was my little companion for seven years, walked with me in the morning. The neighbors called her the cat that thought she was a dog. She came into our lives when my friend Paula had to go into Assisted Living and thought it was no place for a spirited cat. Kiki commanded the cul-de-sac from her station of operations, the front porch. She kept watch, rain, or shine.
She is resting now, in a little box, in the garden, under the Frog of Peace, a large frog sculpture, near where she used to lay. She was a good cat.
2023 HAS FLOWN BY:
The swimming year started with three meets, all of them outdoors, in the winter weather, that I attended along with fellow Mud Sharks Annette and Greg. Together we froze through the Vacaville meet, then the Albany Armada Sprints, freezing cold and windy again, and finished off with the outdoor Senior Games at Rinconada, where they had to pause the meet to allow the heavy rain and hailstorm to pass. Not a lot of folks swam at these character-building, endurance meets, so all three of us placed well and earned lots of points for the year’s total.
Our next scheduled swimming meet was the Short Course Yards Champs, held in Morgan Hill, on the weekend of April 14-16. Something happened on Sunday, nearing the end of the meet. I was watching as the men were finishing up their 50-yard freestyle. One man, Bill Grohe, 89 years old, was swimming along. He was a bit farther behind than the others. Bill had already finished his 50-yard backstroke earlier in the meet. The announcer acknowledged him and cheered him along. “Go Bill, go!” and then continued, “What a wonderful sport this is. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It’s just you and the water. Go Bill, go!” As we all watched, Bill’s arms slowed, then stopped, and Bill was no longer moving.
I yelled, “Hey! Hey! Help him!!” And others yelled. Swimmers on the deck and even some of the timers jumped in and pulled Bill out of the pool. Emergency measures were swiftly taken, but Bill was gone. Everyone said that he had died doing what he loved. He had been a life-long member of USMS and Pacific Masters and had earned many Top 10 spots. He was an icon. The officials called the coaches together and voted to stop the meet. In sharp contrast to the sounds of the all-day excitement: splashing, cheering, interspersed with the bells and whistles of a championship swimming meet, the pool deck was eerily quiet as everyone gathered their belongings, and solemnly left for home. Considering the circumstances, ribbons and placements did not seem important.
I later found out that I had won High Point. The points were adjusted because some swimmers did not have the chance to swim their later events, but the Administrator assured me the prize was fairly won. It seems a memorable, but bittersweet, victory. One moment for Bill…
Summer brought a huge, unexpected, life change for me. I retired, after 42 years and 11 months, from my job as a waitress at the Chalet Basque Restaurant. Mostly, it was the commute that did me in. 45 minutes each way. As a lark, I applied at the US Post Office close to my home in Rohnert Park, Ca., and was hired!! I spoke to boss Patrick before I said yes, and he was supportive and understanding of my desire for change. I still occasionally fill in at the Basque, to wait on a few tables, see all my people, and eat very well. You can’t take the waitress out of me.
I am realizing that my new job is very similar to waiting on tables; it’s all about customer service. I have a regular route, which means I see the same customers all the time. I speak to everyone. I’m getting to know them, and their pets! Instead of making sure the right plate gets to the right table, I now must ensure the right piece of mail goes to the right box. Like restaurant work, it’s the same thing every day, but different. It is challenging, emotionally and physically, keeping me in shape and on my toes. I am enjoying it, especially driving around in the iconic Postal truck.
Because of the demanding hours of the training and initiation of the US Postal Service, I could not be at many swim practices. In fact, I was in the pool only a handful of times for the entire month of July. The Long Course Meters Champs were held July 21-23, and of course, I signed up for the meet. This year, I “aged up” into the next age group and now compete against Laura Val (the World Record holder) and Sally Guthrie, another formidable swimmer a few years older than I, so had no expectations of winning any events. This was Long Course, a 50-meter pool, Olympic size. One lap is very long when you are accustomed to 25 yards, and when you haven’t even been in the pool.
For my first event, the 200-meter Freestyle, I did not want to be intimidated by the length, so I dove in, closed my eyes, and just swam, four long laps. It felt great, being in the water and just swimming. I surprised myself, and the coach, by winning the 200 Freestyle! A blue ribbon right off the bat! I told my teammates that I didn’t care about how the rest of the meet went, which wasn’t exactly true. I was happy. I still have it!
Fatigue set in as the weekend went on, and I did not do my best times for the 100-meter and the 200-meter backstroke and did not place as high as I maybe could have. It was still a great meet, held in our neck of the woods, Novato, right down the street from my friend Marlene’s house. I love spending time with all my Mud Shark teammates. That was the summer event.
Now we’re getting into autumn, which brings us to the Short Course Meters Championships, held annually in Walnut Creek. Again, with not many hours in the pool, I signed up. I told Coach that I was relying on the instructions she has given me over the last 12 years, and the stamina I’ve acquired from walking the hills of Sonoma County as a Letter Carrier. I also had the strong notion to not let myself fall behind in this meet; I vowed to swim hard and place well.
This time, my first individual event was the 100-meter Backstroke. I read on the heat sheets that I would be swimming in the same heat as the woman to whom I had fallen behind in July and was seated second behind her. At the starting horn, I pushed off as hard as I could, swam with all I had. No strategy to start out slowly. I knew I had to swim fast to beat this new adversary. I could see her arms moving along with mine. I turned on the third lap and knew I was tired but had to continue to persevere. It was important to me. Coming off the third turn, for the fourth and final lap, my body sort of groaned. I have never heard that before; the sound of me going into over-drive. I knew I was swimming as fast as I could, giving it all, and would have no regrets, whatever the final result turned out to be. I went an amazing seven seconds faster than I had swum the event in July and placed first. It took more than a few laps of swim-down to bring my breathing back to normal. I was tired! But, wow! Another fantastic beginning to the weekend.
My times were not that fast for my other events: the 100 Free, the 50, 100, and 200-Backstroke, and for a change of pace, I threw in a 50-meter Breaststroke, but I placed well. I am accepting the first-place finish in the 100-Free, even though both of my two competitors were no-shows. You can’t win if you don’t show up. For fun, I stayed for the very end of the meet and swam the 400 Freestyle. The longer distances have been feeling great to me; my confidence bolstered by my win in the 200 in July. And then in August, Annette and I entered the 400-Pull Virtual Challenge (no kicking allowed), sponsored by the Sebastopol Masters Swim Team, and submitted our times. As a great surprise, I won first place, and apparently set a new record! How about that! So, for fun, I stayed until the very end of the Walnut Creek meet, the last meet of the year, to swim the 400 Freestyle. Again, it felt great to just swim; a lovely warm-down after a weekend of full activity. I placed a respectable second behind Sally, and plan on swimming more distance Freestyle events in the coming year.
Winter is coming back now. The rainy season has begun. This new US Postal Letter Carrier will be busy during the Holiday season, while dreaming of being in the water, practicing with the team, and of competitions yet to come.
A Tale of Three Winter Swimming Meets
In sunny California, 2023 started out a little bit differently. Rain, rain, lots of rain! We have been in a severe, very worrisome drought and we need the rain. But for us swimmers competing in outdoor pools, these storms are presenting some challenges with unusually cold conditions, including lingering snow in Sonoma County and on the East Bay hills.
Every year, the Santa Rosa Masters host a Resolution meet, kicking off the New Year in January. Previously held in an indoor facility, this year, the team was proud to showcase their new outdoor pool.
Picture being outdoors in 40 degrees, in the wind, the rain, and the hail, clad only in a wet bathing suit, standing on the starting blocks, shivering, while the officials adjust the electronics. This scenario does not translate into swimming your best. For the first time in 8 years, I did not attend this meet. It wasn’t the inclement weather that held me back; I would have been there for the team, but I was scheduled to speak at a friend’s funeral service. (One moment for Jeannie.)
I heard the storm pass through as I was sitting in a warm church, dressed in layers of wool, surrounded by cheerful flowers, and listening to beautiful music. I was disappointed to miss swimming but felt lucky to be where I was. My friends who attended the meet told me it took a few days to get the chill out of their bones.
Coach warned us, “Bring warm clothes and drinks. The daytime temperature is expected to be 32 degrees.” That turned out to be an over-exaggeration; the thermometer read 41 degrees, with the wind chill temperature in the high 30s, which is cold enough. Thankfully, it did not rain and hail, like in Santa Rosa, and we even had some welcome rays of sunlight burst through the clouds every so often. We all swam well, considering the circumstances, cheered each other on, and commented that swimming in these adverse conditions is supposed to build character.
This Vacaville meet featured a fun, final event: “Anything Goes for 50 Yards.” Coach Sharlene suggested we do her favorite, a 50-IM, half a lap of each stroke. I intended to swim the two laps with feet-first sculling because I’m good at it. However, we were all on the verge of hypothermia by the time the event was starting, so, did not hang around for the fun. Maybe next year.
Both the Vacaville and the Albany meets were Short Course Pentathlons, offering the same set: 50 Fly, 50 Back, 50 Breast, 50 Free, ending with a 100 IM. Under normal circumstances, this can be very fun, but the only fun part of this was when we were done, and on our way home in a warm car. However, we were very proud of ourselves for persevering.
The western sky was quickly darkening. The meet officials called a pause in the proceedings, and told everyone to take cover, as the hailstorm and heavy rain pummeled the pool deck. I had prepared by bringing my extra towels, equipment, drinks, and snacks, packed into a large, black garbage bag. It was not the classiest look but kept everything thankfully dry. When the squall passed, the meet resumed.
Because of the inclement weather, not many of my fellow competitors swam. This is good for me, as I placed well, which translates to lots of points.
My main competitor, Phyllis, swam with me at Albany and at the Senior Games. At those two meets, if I got second, Phyllis got first, and vice versa. We are very closely matched and take turns besting each other, which makes it fun. Thanks, Phyllis.
Vacaville Place Albany Place Senior Games Place
50 Fly……….45.31………1st 46.05……….....2nd
50 Back……43.00………2nd 42.66…….........1st 42.55……………..1st
50 Breast…51.98…….…1st 51.25……..…....2nd 52.83……………...1st
50 Free…….35.76………1st 36.09………….....1st
100 IM……..1:34.67……1st 1:35.97…………......2nd 1:36.37…….….….2nd
The next competition will be the Short Course Champs, Morgan Hill, in April. Maybe the rains will have stopped by then? We can only hope.
I noticed a new face at swim practice and introduced myself. Josie is a very good swimmer; it was immediately apparent that this was not her first time in a pool, or on a team. She swam in a lane adjacent to me, and I did my best to keep up with her, as I do with all newcomers. It’s a competition thing.
The practice was a hard one, even for us veterans: 75-yard repetitions on an ever-diminishing (descending) interval, interspersed with sprints. During a much-appreciated rest period between sets, I leaned slightly into her lane, breathing hard from the exertion, and told her not to worry if she was struggling. Pointing to all the other swimmers who were trying to recover and prepare for the next round, I told her that we all considered it a tough practice.
Because I was concentrating so hard on my swimming, it wasn’t until the end of the workout that I noticed that Josie was wearing a pearl necklace. I complimented her on her aquatic abilities and added, “The pearls are a nice touch.”
She said she always wore them; she sleeps in them, showers in them, and yes, swims with them. She’s had a few different sets over the years, not too expensive, but makes sure they’re individually tied off, so if the string ever breaks, she won’t lose them all.
She competed with us at our latest swimming meet, and of course, was wearing her pearls. Competitions are serious, with strict rules about anything wearable that could give an unfair advantage. For instance, smart watches are not allowed. Our new teammate asked the meet officials about the pearls and was told they were perfectly legal. When she got up on the blocks to swim, the starters commented on how fancy the swimmers looked in that heat!
Rather than giving her an advantage, the pearls turned out to be a slight hindrance, catching on her chin as she was breathing during her breaststroke event, but not enough to prevent her from swimming very well at the meet. Our team has dubbed her the Pearl Lady.
Here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, we swimmers take advantage of the many beautiful, natural, watery settings. One of the favorite Open Water events starts from Baker Beach on the northern tip of San Francisco, under the Golden Gate Bridge, to Fort Baker on the Marin Headlands, naturally named the Baker-to-Baker Swim.
Josie told me about one of the times she swam the Baker-to-Baker. She had done the swim before and wanted to try something different. An item on her bucket-list was to swim the course naked and since none of us are getting any younger, the time had come. She swam au natural. For our Pearl Lady, that meant wearing only her pearls.
Her mother was on the Golden Gate Bridge, filming as she swam underneath. Unfortunately, due to the traffic and the crowd of people who had gathered to see the finish of the race, Mom was not able to park and get down to the beach in time to greet her. When Josie finally felt toes in the sand and emerged from the surf, completing the formidable swim, there was no congratulatory hug or warm towel awaiting her.
There was no way around it. She had no choice but to walk up the beach, past the other swimmers who had just finished, with all their supporters, hundreds of people, to get to the parking lot just as she was.
Rather than cower and attempt to cover up, she decided to “own” the walk. Holding her head high, feeling accomplished and proud, she competently strolled, found her mom, dried off, and went home.
A few weeks later at the local grocery store, a man approached, and asked if she had recently done the Golden Gate Bridge swim. Josie was a little surprised by the question and answered that yes, indeed, she had been there! He smiled and said, “I recognized the pearls.”
by Josie Viscardi, as told to Linda Hepworth
Rolling Hills Mud Sharks, Pacific Masters
October 7-9, 2022, Heather Farms Pool, Walnut Creek
The Short Course Meters Championship is the third of the triad of Championships held annually by Pacific Masters Swimming. We have Short Course Yards in the spring, Long Course Meters in the summer, and culminate the competition season with Short Course Meters in the fall.
I drove to Walnut Creek all three days, ignoring the horrible price of gas. I was excited and became very nervous, starting a week before the festivities. My level-headed acupuncturist said, “I know you’re anxious, but you’re also mature enough to enjoy this, right?” She was right, of course, but I needed to hear it. Go, swim, compete, enjoy, which I did.
The weather was perfect. Cool in the mornings turning warm and sunny in the afternoons. 400 swimmers attended, an almost-normal turnout after the COVID lockdowns. It was a festive affair, complete with close races, records broken, and friendly camaraderie. I am getting to know many of the participants and officials since I have been working on the Pacific Masters newsletter, The Update, as an Editor, and attending Conventions and Marketing and Membership meetings. I was with my friends the whole weekend.
On Friday, Annette and I arrived early (7AM) to claim our team’s spot for the weekend. We both swam in the 800-Freestyle Relay and then sat down to wait. And wait we did. Annette was in the 11th heat of the 1500- Freestyle. Each heat took, on average, 20 minutes. Do the math!
I was her designated counter and had a big responsibility. The 1500, 60 laps of the pool, is a distance event and a lot easier to swim if you’re not worried about losing count. I had to pay attention, not wanting to hinder my friend’s swim in any way. She swam well, the correct number of laps, and we finally left for home a little after 5PM.
Back at it on Saturday morning. A week before, I had glanced at the published heat sheets of the meet, the list of who is swimming, in what heat and in which lane. I saw some names that I did not readily recognize, new names, just moving up into my age group. Young whippersnappers who had registered some very fast times, and consequently, I was seeded second place in many of my events, and third place in two swims.
In only one event, the 200-Meter Breaststroke, did I have a chance to win because I was the only one in my age group who had entered – so long as I did not get disqualified. That meant, two-handed touches, shoulders level at the turns, good pull-downs with only one dolphin kick. I was happy that I was the only one who had signed up for the 200 Breast. Not many women my age can swim eight laps of Breaststroke as it is very hard on the knees. I tore my meniscus a few years ago and did not swim the Breaststroke for a long time because of it. My BEMER machine (BEMER USA.COM) saved me, with no surgery required, and I am now able to frog-kick my way to victory!
My first event on Saturday was the 100-Meter Backstroke. Take your mark. Beep! Backwards, blindly, and belly-up, I swam four laps as I had been instructed by Coach. Start out comfortably for the first two, build the third, and come home as fast as possible. I did a good time for me and came in second place for a red ribbon. I prefer blue for first, but red is a very pretty color.
The best part of the swim was that, with the exertion, my nerves had dissipated. I was now ready for the rest of the meet. 50-Meters Breaststroke was next. I had been going to more practices in preparation for this competition, attacked the Breaststroke with vigor, using my knees, and took three seconds off my best time. Yeah! Second place again, now with two red ribbons.
The 100-Meter Freestyle was my last individual event on Saturday. I finished in second place. Our 800-Free relay had won, so I had a pretty, blue ribbon to break up the monochromatic grouping, and our 200 Medley relay had come in third, so a pure-as-the-driven-snow white ribbon balanced out my colorful ribbon display: one blue, three reds and a white.
Sunday morning came early. The familiar drive was almost lonely compared to the previous two days of Friday commuter and Saturday traffic. At 8 AM, I jumped into the water for my 50-Meter Backstroke. There and back as fast as I could. Again, I swam a good time for me and earned second place.
The 200-Breaststroke was next. I swam the long eight laps relatively slowly and methodically and had enough energy at the end to sprint home, coming in four seconds faster than I had swum the event in July. That result lends credence to the tale of the Tortoise and the Hare, and a blue ribbon for my efforts.
Just to show that you never know how a particular race will turn out, even though I was listed as second, I surprisingly won my 50-Meter Freestyle. I’m not sure how, but I quickly retrieved my blue ribbon before anyone changed their mind! Four second places and two firsts. One more race to go.
The last race was my favorite, the 200-Meter Backstroke. It has become my signature race. I nailed it in July, at Long Course, finishing many seconds ahead of my nearest competitor. This Sunday was different. I was seeded second, with a very fast swimmer ahead of me, and my friend Phyllis very close behind me. It was going to be a race!
The faster swimmer was a no-show, so the anticipated race was between me and Phyllis. I swam well, started out slowly as is necessary for a 200, and came back fast. But not exactly fast enough. Phyllis out touched me by a second. She beat me fair and square, but in so doing, pushed me to do a very good time. Second place again.
Phyllis won High Point and she deserved it! She swam all the distance Freestyles, the 1500, the 800 and the 400. She conquered the amazingly difficult 400-IM, 200-IM, and 200-Butterfly, finishing with her triumphant 200-Back. Very hard races, all. Congratulations to my competition.
Thank you, Pacific Masters, for an amazing year of swimming. I’ll see everyone in Santa Rosa, at the Resolution Meet in January, and we’ll do it all again.
, Our annual Long Course Champs were held July 29-312 at the brand-new College of Marin, Indian Valley Campus Aquatic Complex in Novato – literally in our back yard. Before this beautiful pool was built, we had to travel far and wide to find a 50-Meter pool suitable for our first-class competitions: San Jose, Moraga, Morgan Hill, to name a few destinations. It was wonderful to be close to home, swim our events, and go home to rest and sleep in our own beds. Well, some of us went right home. I swam my events, went to work in the evenings like every other weekend, and was back at the pool each morning at 7:00 AM. What a trooper!
I had of course, registered for seven individual events. The only way to win High Point is to swim the maximum number, as tiring as that can be.
Swimming Long Course, 50-Meters, is very different from swimming Short Course, 25 yards. Twice as long, plus ten percent. One easy illustration: I take 15-17 strokes to swim one lap of Short Course, and 44 strokes in a Long Course pool. It can feel like an eternity. Coach Sharlene called in some personal favors and was able to get us a few practice sessions in the new pool. This was a feat as it was not open to the public. When I first arrived on deck for one practice, the pool looked enormous. Besides the length, it’s ten lanes wide. I was intimidated.
At the far end is a very deep, diving well with multiple heights of diving boards and platforms. During our practices, we swimmers were distracted by the dives that were being performed. And the exhibitions, and distraction, continued throughout the meet. Here we are, older swimmers, asking for help stepping up onto the starting blocks, a foot or so high, while we watch these limber young divers bounce, jump, and dive from great heights with apparently no fear. Some contrast!
My Saturday began with the 100-meter Freestyle. Coach Sharlene has taught me how to swim it: Start out comfortably and build the first lap. Steadily pick up speed on the second lap and sprint home for the last twenty seconds, or so. I followed her advice and won my event. What a great way to start out a meet. A coveted blue ribbon and 21 points! Sharlene and the Mudsharks love points. Go Mudsharks!
50-Meters Backstroke was next, as fast as I could stroke for one length of this very long pool, resulting in another 1st place. Excellent. I could get used to this! My 200 Backstroke felt wonderful. Again, following Sharlene’s advice, start out comfortably, build speed and then come home as fast as you can. Another first place!! My winning streak was broken with a second-place finish in the 50 Backstroke. That’s OK because the winner was Cindy from our team. I don’t mind that! Saturday was wonderful.
I went to work Saturday night, full of pride and showed off my ribbons to all my co-workers and customers. Sunday was another story.
I wasn’t scheduled to swim until later in the day. I spent the morning wandering around, talking, enjoying myself. I did not rest. I did not prepare myself. I was full of confidence. Many hours after I had arrived, my first event, the 200 Breaststroke was up. I stepped up onto the blocks. My teammate Sherri was in the lane next to me. Ignoring everything I have learned, I dove in and immediately tried to keep up with Sherri, a much faster, younger swimmer. Bad idea.
200s are hard anyway. They’re not a sprint and they’re not distance. A specific strategy is required to swim them well. Starting out with a sprint to show off for a teammate is NOT the way to swim a 200. I quickly tired, made my first turn and realized I had made a huge mistake. With three more very long laps to swim, my arms felt like lead. My legs did not want to kick anymore. Fighting every instinct to climb out and quit, I continued and swam three more laps, each one progressively slower and slower. I was beat. The 200 Breaststroke had whipped my ass! Second place, only because there were only two of us in my age group swimming the event. It felt like a consolation prize.
My 100 Backstroke came up too quickly. I was still breathing hard when I jumped into the water. Thank God for the Backstroke, my favorite. I can almost do it in my sleep, which is what I did. I won the event, but with a not-so-pretty stroke or a very good time. In the warm-down pool, I told a swimmer that I didn’t swim very well, that I was still recovering from the 200 Breaststroke, and she understood.
My last event was 50 Breaststroke. Breaststroke again? When I had told my arms and legs that they weren’t going to have to do that anymore. Second place, consolation again. Sunday was getting to be a letdown after such a triumphant Saturday.
Somehow, I ended up with High Point. I found out later that many of my competitors had not swum a full contingent of events. The Nationals were being held the next weekend, and they were saving themselves for those races. Does winning High Point, after some disappointing swims due to bad judgement, and because everyone else wasn’t swimming, even count?
I got the certificate and the gift card but haven’t spent it yet. I know it wasn’t the best meet for me. I know the mistakes I made, and why. But the results look impressive on paper, four first-place blue ribbons and three second-place red ribbons. I’ll take that.
Next and final competition for the year will be the Short Course Meters event in Walnut Creek. Onward!
I just had another amazing, memorable swimming experience! These champs, one of the first gatherings after the infamous lockdowns, was held at the Morgan Hill Aquatic Center. It was one of the best swimming meets I have ever attended.
It was momentous for two reasons. First, I swam well, chose the right events to swim, and won High Point for the first time in my swimming career. High Point, accumulating the highest number of points in my age group, earned me a place in the record book, a bona fide certificate, and a gift card (to buy another bathing suit, of course!). Earning High Point is a highlight for me.
But overshadowing that accomplishment was the fact that my family, again, was there, and swam along with me. If you have read my book, The Water Beckons or know any of my history, you will understand the importance of having my family attend the meet and better yet, participate. This is how it all began:
Back in February, my team, The Mud Sharks, were making plans to attend the Short Course Champs. Coach Sharlene was preparing the list of attendees, recording what events they were going to swim, and tentatively putting her relays together. Out of the blue, she said to me, “Linda, we need another woman to fill out our relays.” I jokingly answered, “I’ll get my sister.”
My sister Jeri is a fantastic swimmer. Jeri was the one who got our family started in the world of competitive swimming, many decades ago. She lives on the East Coast but happened to be working temporarily in California. Without consulting Jeri, I volunteered her services to Coach, who takes these things seriously, and without hesitation, said, “Call her!”
I left a cryptic message on Jeri’s phone, something about swimming and an up-coming event. Jeri immediately responded, “I know what you’re doing. I cannot swim in a meet.”
There were the usual reasons:
These are all valid concerns. But Jeri is a trooper. Swimming is in her blood. She can do it in her sleep. For the “I’m out of shape” complaint, I knew she had been swimming only a few times in her new temporary location, but had kept her feet in the water, so-to-speak.
So, I goaded her by asking if she could get “there and back” in under a minute. She was incensed and insulted, “Of course I can!” All right then, I tell her, “You’ll be swimming the freestyle in our relay. And, while you’re there, you may as well enter an individual event. That gives you a second chance to swim, and you’ll feel accomplished.”
Regarding the “haven’t competed in years” worry, she was in luck. This Morgan Hill meet was the first Pacific Masters pool meet in two years, due to the COVID, and everyone was in the same boat.
About the starting blocks, many swimmers do not use the blocks. Maybe they have issues with their back, or simply, don’t like them. Masters Swimming allows anyone to start from the edge of the pool, or, even better, if they are having troubles with their dive, or their goggles, they may start from the water. Jeri did not have an “out.”
She reluctantly agreed. First step was to register with USMS (United States Masters Swimming) as a member of the Rolling Hills Mud Sharks. The next step was to start practicing in a pool she found nearby. Yeah! My sister will be swimming with us!
I told my brother Mark, also an amazingly strong swimmer, specializing in distance events. As it turns out, he would be visiting his son and family in Colorado the week before. Instead of going straight home, he could change his itinerary and compete at the meet with us!! And then there were three. Once Coach got wind of this and started adding up the extra points to be earned with two new swimmers, there was no turning back.
Now Mom had to come, too. Over her 93 years on this planet, she has spent many a weekend at swimming meets, having five children competing in the sport. She understands everything, each event and all the rules. Familiar to her are the sounds of the splashing water, the whistles and starting buzzers, and the constant congratulatory cheering. She knows very well the smell of chlorine and the feeling of wet feet as each flip turn brings more of the pool water up onto the pool deck. She told us that mostly she remembers timing and officiating, and the snacks that came her way: free sandwiches, fruit, drinks, and cookies! (We must keep our timers and officials fed and hydrated!)
A special shout-out and thank you to sister Tracy, who was not swimming, although she is fully capable of diving in and probably beating us all, for bringing Mom. And to Tracy’s daughter Andrea, son-in-law Matt, and their two daughters, Emily, and Leah, for showing up to cheer on their crazy great aunts and uncle. What good sports! It made it a truly wonderful family occasion. Only one sister, Jodie, was missing due to a pre-planned family vacation. She was conspicuous by her absence.
All three of us swam well. Mark did better than he expected, beating his seeded times by a large margin. He swam seven events: 50 Free, 100 Free, 500 Free, 50 Fly, 100 Fly, the 100 IM, and HE WON HIS 200 IM!!! He racked up lots of points for the Mud Sharks! And had fun doing it.
Showing no signs of nervousness, he entertained us, and the crowd, while awaiting his events. Standing up on the blocks, he pumped his fists and made Tony the Tiger gestures before each event. That’s my brother! A swimmer can only get away with that when they’re good!
Mark wrote up a heartfelt letter to the team after the meet:
“Okay, an outsider’s opinion: Well-run swim meet with excellent venue. I entered the meet on Saturday knowing only one other participant… no problem. The Mud Shark team is a family disguised as a swimming association. Everyone was incredibly warm, welcoming, and personable. Thanks to everybody for the camaraderie and take stock that you are all so fortunate to have such a cohesive, supportive group of friends. Go Sharlene, Go Mud Sharks!”
Jeri did so well! With all her trepidations, she dove off the side of the pool (not having to mess with the intimidating, slippery, slanted, starting blocks), and came in second in her 50 Freestyle!! This is the annual Pacific Masters Championship. Everyone who is anyone shows up, and second place is astoundingly good, especially considering that Jeri had not even been swimming regularly!! Just imagine if she had been training along with us!!
And my siblings and I swam in the relays, helping Mud Sharks take first places! The announcer at the meet acknowledged the family affair. Mom didn’t really hear it through all the commotion, but it was for her.
The weekend was not without drama. On Friday, just before my first event, the 200 Freestyle, I fell. I had just commented on the surface of the pool deck. It was not the usual concrete. It was sort of coated, with a softer texture, that felt good under our bare feet. I was moving quickly and, suddenly, I was down, with my left leg bent under me, and my left pinky toe crunched. Other swimmers saw me fall and rushed to help me get up. Ouch. The surface was soft, but slippery. Now I knew.
I watched as my little toe began to discolor, then turn a bright, swollen purple. Some said I may have broken it, but I didn’t, just a really, bad bruise. But the worst part was that when my leg got bent under, it wrenched my knee and pulled my thigh muscle. That started to hurt, and I was limping slightly. But then my event was up. I had come too far to not swim, and I dove in.
On my first turn, the little toe reminded me that it did not want to help in pushing me off the wall, and I compensated for the next six turns. My left thigh muscle did not want to participate and kick, so I let it drag. Unbelievably, I still did a better time than I had anticipated. Maybe it was luck, but also excellent training by Coach Sharlene. She had done her best to prepare us for this competition.
That night, at the hotel, I iced my leg and toe. (I had not brought my Bemer machine with me, that would have alleviated a lot of the swelling and pain. Too bad.) The limp had now become pronounced, and I was very concerned about the thigh not wanting to do the frog kick required the next day for my 200 Breaststroke, eight laps.
Thankfully, the next morning at the pool, after a very slow warm-up, the thigh muscle allowed me to kick, but not with the same vigor that I had been training for. I made it through the 200. The toe was beautifully discolored, and the bruising was spreading throughout my foot, but at least, the leg was feeling better.
Now Sunday morning arrives, and I plan to swim again. I have the 100 Freestyle followed by the 50 Breaststroke. I’m feeling pretty good and confident, and jumped into the pool for my warm-up. I did a wacky jump into the pool, well… because I always do… with one leg in front of the other, like the old lifesaving jumps they taught us, to not go in too deeply. But this day, the pulled thigh muscle got pulled back again. Really ouch. Oh boy! The same spot re-injured in the same way. I was so mad at myself. And during the warm-up, the left leg was again, refusing to do the frog kick. It just said, no. I swam slowly, giving it a chance to get used to the water, and got through my 100-yard Freestyle race not kicking very hard.
For the 50 Breaststroke, I told my leg that it was only two laps, and I would baby it for the rest of the day, or even week, if it would only do its job for two laps. Breaststroke must be swum symmetrically, arms and legs, and most of the forward momentum comes from a strong frog kick. Thankfully, my leg and knee complied, and I completed a respectable 50-yard breaststroke. Phew. Injuries can happen so fast. I am super lucky that I wasn’t side-lined.
As I said earlier, I swam well. 200 Free, 100 Free, 50 Back, 100 Back, 200 Back, 50 Breast and the dreaded 200 Breast, earning 136 points, giving me High Point. So exciting! Excuse me for mentioning it twice.
I tried to collect all our ribbons at the end of the meet on Sunday but missed a few, including a hard-earned blue for placing First in my 200 Backstroke. Oh well. The ribbons are nice, but nothing is as important as more family bonding over our love of swimming. It was the best one yet!!
I’m looking forward to our next meet, at the end of July. Long Course Meters, to be held at the brand-new facility at the Novato, Indian Valley College of Marin campus. And so, the saga will continue.
Walnut Creek, Pacific Masters Short Course Meters Kerry O’Brien Championships
October 16 and 17, 2021
Yeah! Heather Farms, Clarke Swim Center, or whatever other name this pool is referred to! Home of Walnut Creek Masters, host of the annual Short Course Meter Champs for many years. I was so happy to be able to compete in person after two years, at this pool, which for some reason has always treated me well.
Early on, our Coach Sharlene was advising all her swimmers, if they intended to compete at the meet, to take it easy. Maybe swim only two or three events. We haven’t had competitions in two years, she explained. Don’t worry about times, just swim your best and finish well.
I protested. “But Coach, I want to swim 7 events, the maximum allowed. If I don’t, there’s no way I can get High Point.” High Point is given to the swimmer for each age and gender group who earns the highest number of points. For each swim, first place is awarded 21 points, 2nd place gets 19, 3rd earns 18, etc.
I once tied for High Point. That’s as close as I’ve ever gotten. But Coach told me tackling seven events was probably too much. I’d do much better concentrating on my favorites. I did agree with her because I felt the familiar fatigue set in early when I practiced racing leading up to the meet. I wasn’t in the best shape, and two years older since I last competed in this pool.
I told Coach that I would sign up for my favorites, the 200 Backstroke and the 200 Breaststroke. And maybe throw in a couple of 50s, also Back and Breast, thinking that 50s might be easier, two laps as opposed to eight! I deliberately left any Freestyle events out as I haven’t been feeling very fast or confident in the Freestyle lately. Also, I calculated, most of my competitors would swim the Freestyle, and I would have a better chance of finishing near the top in the other strokes.
The problem with my plan was that when I went on-line to register and looked at the program, I saw that three of my four chosen events were all on Sunday. To make matters worse, the 200 Breaststroke, my most grueling event, was immediately after the 50 Back. Even though it was only 2 laps, I could not rest or take for granted, that 50 Back. There were competitors licking at my heels and I had to give it my all to get in the top three finishes. Knowing I had a hard race to swim right afterwards would be a weight on my mind. I had a talk with myself. I can do it. I know I can do it. So, I signed up for the first two consecutive events, finishing Sunday with the 200 Backstroke near the end of the day. Sunday was going to be challenging.
We used to be friends, that 200 Back and me, but it’s been fickle lately, sometimes treating me well and sometimes kicking my butt. It was the last event of the day before the relays, so anxiety loomed the entire two days of the meet.
The fourth event I had decided to swim was the 50 Breast. That was on scheduled on Saturday. Fine. I’ll do the 50 Breast along with two probable relays that Sharlene would have us swim as Mud Sharks team efforts. However, I know myself enough to realize that I would not be happy sitting at a swimming meet all day Saturday to swim only one event, so therefore, signed on for both the 100 Backstroke and the 100 Breaststroke to fill my time. I called Coach Sharlene. Explaining the predicament, I told her that I had registered for 6 events, against her advice. She surprised me by saying, “If six, why not seven?”
Seven? Oh no! She had scared me about doing more than four. Six was more than any of my teammates were doing. Seven would be too much, I thought. Turns out, I was wrong.
On Saturday, at 8 AM sharp, my 100 Backstroke was the first event of the day. I had warmed up and was ready, waiting at the blocks for my heat number to be called. Reading the heat sheets prior, I knew that two other faster swimmers in my age group had also signed up for the 100 Backstroke.
As we were waiting to swim, I heard the Announcer call for first one, then another familiar name to the blocks for their race. Apparently, both of my competitors were not there to swim the event. No-shows; both no-shows! I quietly thanked God for my good fortune, and confidently swam my 100 Backstroke in the time estimated by Coach Sharlene, slower than pre-COVID, but a good time. I received First Place, and a Blue Ribbon. Although it’s a terrible way to win, I was ecstatic! Brother Mark reminded me that you “must be present to win.” And the age-old adage, “Half the effort of all successful endeavors is just showing up.”
By the time of my second event, the 50 Breaststroke, more swimmers had arrived at the meet, including two speedy women. I swam hard and came in third, with a beautiful, pristine white ribbon as the award. White compliments blue rather nicely.
Surprisingly, I won my 100 Breaststroke, won it fair and square. Another blue ribbon added to the arrangement. Saturday was a good day, but there’s no resting on any laurels here. The next day’s difficult races were foremost in my mind. I tried to get a good night’s sleep and was back at Heather Farms pool early Sunday morning.
The 50 Backstroke began the day for me, and I unexpectedly won! The 200 Breaststroke immediately followed as planned, which was brutally grueling, eight very long laps, each one taking longer and longer. Completing that event was downright hard. The silver lining was that I was the only one in my age group brave enough to attempt eight laps of Breaststroke, so received another Blue Ribbon for my considerable effort. Phew!
My teammates were swimming beautifully and competently, making us all proud. Along with my individual races, I swam on four relays, placing third, two seconds and a first. As it turned out, with only six swimmers, our amazing Mud Sharks came in 8th over all with 52 teams participating!! Go Mud Sharks!
Besides racing in the relays, I sat quietly anxiously anticipating my last swim, the 200 Backstroke. I could not relax. Tired from my previous exertions and worried that I had indeed signed up for more than I could handle, I really had to concentrate. “Take it out slowly” I repeatedly told myself, “You like this event!” And I do, so I was believing my mantra.
The 200 backstroke was wonderful, it felt good. I nailed all seven of the turns, four strokes exactly from under the flags, turn over, somersault, and push off. I saw and heard Coach encourage me as I came up for air and had enough energy left to finish strongly.
Phyllis was there as I exited the pool, complimenting me on my swim and letting me know that I had indeed come in first! She’s usually my competition, and I asked her why she had not swum the 200 Back. She smiled and said it was because of me!! Me?
Yup, she said, she knew I’d be swimming the 200 Backstroke so she decided to swim the 400 Freestyle, something I would not be entered in. If she had entered the 200 Backstroke and come in second behind me, a possibility, then I would have earned one more point than she, giving me High Point. Aha! I was not the only one calculating final totals. If only I had taken the last word of advice from Coach and entered, and won, a seventh event… If only…
There were some chuckles from my teammates that I should deck-enter the 400 Freestyle at the last minute to get more points and head Phyllis off at the pass. That would have been perfectly legal to do, but in my mind, poor sportsmanship. Besides, time was an issue; I had to go to work.
I did leave the meet to go to work at Le Chalet Basque Restaurant Sunday night, both exhausted and exhilarated from my weekend, and showed everyone my beautiful, mostly blue, ribbons. Five individual first place finishes and one third.
Phyllis won the 400 Freestyle and racked up 20 more total points than I did, 143 to my 123, winning High Point. She swam the events I won’t do, the hard ones: 1500 Free, 400 IM, 200 IM, 200 Butterfly. She earned that High Point award, for sure.
At 68, I am near the top end of my age group and “young” 65- and 66- year-olds are now “aging up” into my competitive circle of 65-69. Attaining High Point may not be easy in the coming year. This may have been my chance. If only…
There are a few lessons to be learned from this story:
There has been a disruption in the proceedings. Something about a COVID-19 Pandemic that stopped the world for a while. In-person swimming meets have been put on hold. It is now September, 2021.
The good news is that POSSIBLY (!) we competitive swimmers will be congregating in Walnut Creek next month (October 2021) for our Short Course Meters Champs. My mind is getting back into the swimming meet mode. Our collective fingers are crossed.
Flipping through some of my archives, I ran across this piece I wrote a few years ago about the Santa Rosa 2018 Resolution Meet:
I woke up this morning still excited about the day I had yesterday. Santa Rosa Community College held its annual, small (120 swimmers) swimming meet. This venue has a reputation for being cold. It is an in-door pool, with a retractable roof. That sounds fine except that when the roof is closed and the pool area is nice and warm, no one can hear the PA system due to the reverberations. So the roof is uncovered as soon as the meet starts, and we have an outdoor pool. It's been cold here, 40 degrees in the mornings, making it a bit uncomfortable to be sitting around wet, almost naked, waiting to swim. Even the spectators dress warmly. Coach Sharlene mentioned the meet coming up and I had responded, "I don't do Santa Rosa. It's cold."
At home that evening, I thought about it. Santa Rosa has always been held as a low-pressure, fun meet. It's the first Pacific Masters competition of the year, geared to bring everyone together, to get their feet wet, so to speak. No team points are tallied and there's an unusual 100-yd Freestyle relay on the schedule. Each swimmer swims one lap. In past years, I've been a spectator and watched this relay. It goes fast and everyone is laughing and fooling around, yet trying to swim fast, for one lap.
Just for a lark, I turned on my computer to see if the 100-yard relay was scheduled for this year, and it was! Then I started perusing the list of events, causally tapping the events I might swim, if I were to attend this meet. First event, the 200 Free. I could do that, if I were going, I told myself. Oh look, the 50 Back. Of course, I would have to do that one also. Well, since I might be there, I may as well enter the 50 Free, and finish with my signature 200 Back. Yup. That's how I'd do this meet.
And I'd keep warm by bringing things I would need: 4 different swimsuits so that I would not be sitting around wet and shivering between events. Also added to my bag would be 2 tee-shirts, 2 sweat shirts, 2 extra pair of socks, 4 towels, my light pants and jacket outfit emblazoned with our Mud Sharks logo, topping it all off with my stadium coat, long, hooded, and warm. I would have hot chocolate for breakfast that morning and bring a thermos of hot tea, solving the temperature problem. Then the registration page prompted me to pay. If I were going to sign up, I would use this info. Tap tap. It then said, "Submit."
Oh Hell, I'm going to the meet, I said to myself as I pressed the button and officially registered. I then e-mailed Coach Sharlene, asking if a lady was allowed to change her mind.
At practice the following day, I was very surprised to hear that only one other swimmer, Greg, had signed up to go. The reason given was that it was cold. I smiled. Coach thanked me and said Greg was happy for the company.
Thankfully, yesterday was sunny and relatively warm. Sharlene arrived with her husband Eric, who had been bitten by their dog (!) and therefore was not going to swim in the meet. She showed us where to set up, near the large sunny windows and not in the breezy bleachers. The roof was only open a couple of feet and temperature was not a problem throughout the competition. The warm-up pool was outdoors, chilly going in and out and could have been a problem if it had been raining, but otherwise I did not need all the gear I lugged in.
My 200 Free was good, not great. I got tired and posted a time of 2:49. It's a new race for me and I need to work on pacing myself, but I was happy. My 50 Back felt strong, .40 seconds, one second slower than my best time, but still a good race for me. At this point in the proceedings, no results are posted yet.
I had taken most of December off from swimming (it has been cold!) and Sharlene complimented me with, "Who does that? Takes a month off and still swims almost her best. Who does that?"
Now it's time for the famous 4-man, 100-yard relay and there are only two of us. Eric went around the pool deck asking for volunteers to swim the relay with Greg and me. Usually a relay team must be made up of swimmers all from the same team. However, in this instance, the rules were lax. It is a non-sanctioned event and no team points were being accrued.
Laura Val was in attendance with her teammate Rich Burns, representing the Tamalpais Club. They are both world record holders and Laura is my idol. I swim my 200 Back in 3 minutes and she does it in 2. Yeah. And she's amazing to watch, makes it look effortless, and she's nice. We had greeted each other earlier in the day.
Rich and Laura were the only two from their team and they agreed to swim in the relay with us. I wish you could feel and understand my pride. I am swimming in a relay, such that it is, with Laura Val. This is a dream come true. If I died tomorrow, everything would be all right. (Just kidding here, well, almost...)
Laura led off, speeding her way down the lane. Then Greg, who started from the water at the other end because the depth of the pool is only 3 feet there and we can't take the chance of anyone diving in such shallow water. I went off the blocks with Greg's touch, and Rich brought it all home. I was the slow man, obviously, but it didn't matter. Our total time was 52 seconds. I swam my leg in 15 seconds, so you know how fast the others were! We had our picture taken when we were finished.
I was invigorated. My 50 Free was up next and I swam it in 32 seconds: very fast for me, as I had a seeded time of 33. I was smiling ear to ear. I got tired on my 200 Back and swam a 3:10 instead of my usual 3:07, but I was still happy, especially now that all my events were over!
Then the results were posted: 2nd place for my 200 Free, where I had been seeded 7th, but a lot of people did not show up, 1st place for both Backstroke events and 2nd place for my 50 Free, that I swam in 32 seconds!!
Greg entered 5 events, 50 Breast, 200 Breast, 100 IM, 50 Free, and 200 Back. He got 3 firsts and 2 seconds. He's a great swimmer and good company. Man, I love swimming.
Alas, there's no rest for the wicked. The next meet, counting for team points, is in two weeks at USF. I think I'll be there.