,2020: A Year to Remember, and to Forget
My last entry (October 2019) was all about my favorite swimming meet of the year, the Short Course Meters Champs at Heather Farms Park in Walnut Creek, held, usually, each October. It is now September 2020, almost a year later. Months have gone by since I reported in. Why? 2020 is why. 2020.
The first wave of tribulations began apparently as a foreboding in December 2019. We learned that two dear friends had passed away. Losing friends is always painful, but even more so when they leave without saying good-bye; the sadness is very deep and personal. We were grieving. Then we received more news that we had to vacate our home after 20 years. The hits keep coming.
Moving out of a neighborhood that had become home, and find a new place to live was the next hurdle. We needed help and thankfully received it from family, especially family, but also friends and neighbors. This situation was challenging and difficult; the love and support from everyone carried us through.
Most days were spent house-hunting, cleaning and packing, lots of packing. Add a full-time job as a restaurant server into the mix. My schedule was full, which meant, along with everything else, my swimming routine was severely interrupted. I never-the-less got to the pool and tried to make as many practices as I could, to maintain normalcy amid chaos. Swimming was instrumental to relieving my stress. I caught the water, pushed it back and then let it go. I let it go. With every stroke, I pushed harder and let it go.
I am talking about water here, but also referencing my anxiety, worry and fear. I let it all go with each flip of the fingertips. The water was centering me. The balance achieved during swim practice stayed with me, helping me keep up with all the necessary details of the move. I was coping.
And then COVID-19 hit.
No swimming at all! No pools! Even ocean access was denied! Businesses closed, which included my workplace. No work? Say good-bye to any semblance of routine. Social interaction as we know it - forbidden! No gatherings! I was not able to visit my Mom on her 92nd birthday! This goes on for months! The hits keep coming! Damn you, 2020!
Then the heat wave hit. I stopped my car, safely, along the highway to snap a photo of the thermostat on my dash. It read 113 degrees. Sunday, September 6, 2020. Yup! 2020!
Now the state of California is burning. NASA and their satellite photos show that the western sections of Oregon and the State of Washington are also enshrouded with smoke from the massive fires. You can see it from Space! The fires of 2020.
But there’s good news. Besides the days that are either too hot, have a threat of dry lightning, or are too smoky, the pool is open! Coach Sharlene is adding to her workload by preparing a schedule each week of swimmers and lane assignments. Only 5 swimmers at a time (instead of our usual 12-16), one to a lane with the “start” at alternating ends of the pool. Coach does a Power Walk from one end of the pool to the other, giving instructions all throughout practice.
There is more good news on the swimming front. Something new in the COVID-19 era: Virtual Championships. Swim your favorite events, have Coach officially time them and enter your results on-line. Very cool. I registered for 200 Backstroke – we are friends again. (Reference the 2019 SCM Champs blog). I also checked the box for the 50 Breaststroke, the 100 IM and 50 Butterfly, just for fun.
I first used the phrase “just for fun” believe it or not, at my favorite SCM meet. I was really scared before I swam, so I tried to calm myself by saying it was going to be fun. I told everyone, “50 fly, just for fun.” I said it repeatedly and what do you know, it was fun! I won my heat. So, being superstitious, I say it each time I swim the 50 Butterfly. So far, so good.
Back to the Virtual Championships. I had pre-arranged with Coach that I would be timed during a scheduled practice. The time limit in the pool is now 45 minutes. I intended to swim all four events at one practice so as not to disrupt Coach’s plans too much, which meant swimming four all-out sprints in 45 minutes. This, after being out of the water for almost 5 months! I was not thinking straight.
After an all-out 200 Backstroke, I was tired. My time was slow compared to my best, but it felt good. I swam my second hundred faster than my first, in other words, I negatively split the event. This is what we aim for. After a warm-down of 200 yards, I was ready for my next event: 50 Breaststroke.
Surprisingly, I swam well with a respectable time. I have been working on my Breaststroke at practice. Now I was really exhausted and cannot quite look the next event in the eye. 50 yards of Butterfly did not sound like fun. The months out of the pool due to COVID had taken a toll on me. I had bitten off more than I could chew.
Coach Sharlene informed me that the deadline for entries had been extended. Therefore, I could postpone the Butterfly and the IM until the next practice. I heaved a sigh of relief and took her up on the offer. The next practice day was extremely smoky due to the fires and I felt dizzy and woozy. “It’s the smoke” said Coach. I felt terrible, but raced the 100 IM, using everything I had. For a second time, the Butterfly did not seem like fun. I postponed it again.
More fires and more smoke meant the air was too polluted for any outside exertion. I could not get to the pool for a few days and the deadline came and went. No butterfly. Ah well.
This was a National Competition, with almost 400 swimmers in my age group. The results of my endeavors are: 76th place for my Backstroke, 67th place for the Breaststroke, and 57th for the IM. Top 20% in the Nation. I accept this with the understanding that I can do much better, maybe in the New Year, when we can say good-bye and good riddance to 2020. Keep swimming.
Short Course Meters Championships, Walnut Creek, Clarke Swim Center, October 11-13, 2019
(The exact same spot where we just now had a 4.5 earthquake, Monday night, October 14, 10:45 PM, felt in Petaluma as I'm writing this!)
What a great weekend! I along with my teammates, the Rolling Hills Mud Sharks, attended a terrific, well-run swimming meet Friday, Saturday and Sunday, complete with team camaraderie, exciting races and personal victories. I signed up for seven individual events, including the 200 breaststroke that I haven’t swum since 2014. Somehow, I fit in 5 relays too!
I slipped the 200 breaststroke in, omitting my signature race, the 200 backstroke. We’re not friends anymore since I swam 9 seconds slower than my seeded time for the long course champs in July. I’ll give it a much needed “time out” and perhaps the 200 back and I can connect again next year.
I won my 200 breaststroke. No need to mention that I was the only brave one in my age group to attempt the swim.
Two hard-won 2nd place finishes, behind Laura Val, in the 50 back (45.19) and what has become one of my favorite races, the 100 meter IM (1:41.02). I got 4 third place finishes with my 100 back (1:39.52), the 50-meter breast (57.65), the 100 free (1:22.99) and the 50 fly (44.50).
Now, about that 50 fly: I read the heat sheets before the meet and saw that Mary Welsh, 66 years old, just like me, was seeded right next to me, with the exact seed time, 45 seconds. Mary is usually a faster swimmer, so I was nervous for a few days leading up to this close show-down. Come time for the race, and I’m ready, goggles affixed, standing at my designated Lane, #3, preparing myself for the upcoming exertion of 50 meters of butterfly. I see my nemesis Mary coming along the deck with a panicked look on her face, saying, “I don’t know what lane I’m supposed to be in!” (As an aside, this has happened to me before. At the short course champs last summer, I wrote down the wrong heat number, missed my event and received a no-show as a reward!) Now here’s my competition, in the same predicament.
For a split second, I considered keeping my mouth shut and allowing her to miss the event, giving myself an advantage… But, we swimmers don’t do that to each other, and I called out, “Mary! You’re over here in Lane #4, next to me! My name is Linda.” She responded, “Thank you” and then hesitated, “Oh! You’re THAT Linda!” Apparently she had noticed my name as I had noticed hers.
Off the blocks we went, and butter-flied our way down the pool. We both turned at the same time, and I kicked and pulled as hard as I could to keep up with her…and completely ran out of energy, kicking in the last meter to the wall, to the finish. I had no more strength to do even one more arm stroke over the water… and saw her touch just before me.
She had beaten me, but in the process, pushed me to swim my best time in years, 44.50. Thank you, Mary. I told my teammates that because I helped my competition like that, and accepted the “loss”… I may have guaranteed my entry into Heaven.
It was a wonderful meet. Great people. Inspirational swims. I saw my new swimming friends that I had spent so much time with in St. Louis at the Convention. The Mighty Mud Sharks finished 5th overall, with only 13 registered swimmers, and third for medium teams. Go Mud Sharks!
And the highlight: Our coach missed our splits on the 400 medley relay because she was distracted by a young man, in another lane, doing the butterfly, losing his swim trunks along the way, with a white butt rising and lowering, rising again… Not to worry, our splits will be posted on the results page on the web. I love swimming!
I just returned from being a delegate for Pacific Masters within the United States Masters Swimming Organization (USMS). I spent 4 days with swimmers from all over the country as we debated new rules and regulations and held elections for next year. Here's my summary:
2019 USMS Convention, St. Louis, MO. Sept. 11-15
By Linda Hepworth
St. Louis, Mo, Gateway to the West, was the location of the 2019 USMS Annual Convention. Under the shadow of the amazing Gateway Arch, committee meetings were conducted, rules were clarified and elections were held as swimmers of all backgrounds and abilities were celebrated. Delegates and representatives of Local Masters Swimming Committees (LMSC) had a great time meeting old and new friends, while learning about the hard work that goes into keeping USMS such a vibrant organization.
This was the last annual meeting of the first half century of Masters Swimming! Established in 1970, 2020 will be our 50th year. 2020 is also an Olympic year, so expect to see “50 years of USMS” branding prominently displayed throughout the games!
One of the most notable moments of the convention was when our own Pacific Masters’ Peter Guadagni accepted the position of President of USMS for a 2-year term. He began his speech with, “Shoulder blade, upper arm or calf…” Since branding is so important, he asked the House of Delegates to vote on where he should put his tattoo! I do believe calf won, but there was too much laughter in the room to really know.
There was a lot of discussion, again this year about what to do about our dwindling numbers. Membership is down from 60,000 last year to 57,000 this year. However, our new College Club program is paying off with 5,500 new members recruited through their efforts to reach out to newly graduated college swimmers.
Swimming Saves Lives (SSL) is front and center of our attention. To help with that ideal, I attended a luncheon hosted by USA Swimming Foundation. Spokesperson Rowdy Gaines sat informally with Elizabeth Beisel and Chase Kalisz discussing their amazing Olympic careers and dreams while we had a beautiful lunch. USA Swimming Foundation serves as the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming.
At that luncheon, I learned that if the parents in a family don’t swim, only 14% of those children will ever learn to swim. Some staggering statistics were brought forth about drowning in this country every day, mostly adults. Drowning is the fifth common cause of death in this country. And this is preventable!
Rowdy Gaines was friendly, taking pictures and giving autographs. He graciously accepted a copy of my book, The Water Beckons, about how I returned to competitive swimming after a 40-year hiatus! Later that evening, I attended the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The nine inductees, including Rowdy Gaines, were impressive, inspiring and humble. Rowdy said he was in a room filled with his idols. “Rick Colella is here!” And then he added, “Wow! There’s Laura Val!” Everyone laughed.
During the meet-and-greet, he remembered me, “Hi there! I have your book!” I was impressed. Apparently we’re pals now. What a night!
I made two (2!) early morning workouts this time!! “The bus leaves promptly at 5:30!” On Thursday morning, I woke and along with 60 other crazy people were chauffeured, in two elegant coaches to Maplewood Swim Center. Practice from 6-7 AM. The outside air was warm and the pool water even warmer. The pool seemed long. Maybe my stroke count was off. But no, it wasn’t me. The pool is 57 yards long!!! They apparently ran out of money for a bulkhead.
The outside lanes were coached, but the middle of the pool had no lane lines. There was a mass of confusion, or so it appeared to me, but made complete sense to the open water swimmers who were churning the water.
Saturday, I woke again, snuck out of the room in the dark (as to not awaken my roommate) to attend another practice. This time it was different. There were no buses waiting. A few minutes late, two older school busses pulled up. We climbed in and headed out. I noticed, and wasn’t the only one, that we did not pass by the impressive and well-lit Busch Stadium like we had on Thursday morning, and we appeared to be going in a different direction. After much a-twitter amongst the swimmers, someone spoke up to the driver who was indeed taking us to a different pool. When she realized her mistake, she turned around and tried to make up time. I didn’t know that a school bus could go that fast! No seat belts, mind you! She got us there only 5 minutes late. We all thanked her for “kicking ass!”
Bagels were provided after the practices. This is so appreciated and has indeed become expected!
After all the business was finished, the convention ended with a grand banquet Saturday night featuring video presentations and awards for all four factions of US Aquatic Sports affiliates: Water Polo, Masters, Synchronized Swimming (now called Artistic Swimming) and USA Swimming.
There was some time for sight-seeing. Many folks went to the Busch Stadium Friday night to watch the Cardinals trounce the Brewers 10-0. Sunday morning, a group of us Pacific Masters went over to the Arch. The underground museum told us about the history of St. Louis and how the Arch was built. We got in little pods and climbed 630 feet in the air for a magnificent view of the area. Great finish to an exciting week!
The whole convention was a wonderful experience. I spent time with so many involved, enthusiastic, like-minded people and really got a sense of how our USMS and Pacific Masters groups are organized, and how we volunteers all work together. It’s not easy putting on the many open water, competitive and championship events. History and Archives keep all the records, too! So much is taken into account. Safety is the first concern as well as insuring the rules are upheld to make the competitions fair.
The 2020 “50th Anniversary of USMS” Convention will be held in Jacksonville, Florida. I can't wait!
July 22nd, 6 PM, Le Chalet Basque was unusually alive and active. It was a Monday, and the restaurant is normally closed. But, Linda was presenting her new book, and everyone she knew showed up! Her Mom was there, along with her Aunt who lives in Montana. Her sister Tracy, the "champion in the backstroke" who helped Linda edit the manuscript, heard her words being read out loud. Linda's cousin Pam, who never misses these events represented the rest of the family. The Mud Sharks came out to support Linda, and to hear what had been said about them. No worries, it's all good!
Linda greeted everyone in her blue lace, water-colored dress, but then changed into her Mermaid outfit resplendent with a "ridiculous bow" covering one shoulder. As one friend exclaimed, "It's so out-of character, yet in-character!"
Linda Hepworth: still a waitress underneath the mermaid outfit! Here I am cleaning up after my presentation. I can't help myself!
Long Course Champs were held July 19-21. I swam Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was not my best day. I felt great, was happy to swim my events, but didn't swim very well: many seconds slower than usual on my 200 back! No explanation, just slower. As a consolation, fifth place ribbons are a beautiful, bright green. Slightly depressed, I went home Saturday night and had a fleeting thought: "I don't have to go back tomorrow!!"
But that would be quitting and I'm not a quitter. Besides, my team, The Rolling Hills Mud Sharks, are depending on me to be there for the relays.
I am so glad I went back on Sunday! I placed third in the 50 fly, the 50 breast and the 100 free, with very respectable times. I won my 100 backstroke!!! Yeah!! I helped The Mud Sharks win 2nd place for small teams (out of 33 teams) with only 9 swimmers! Even though I'm not always personally victorious, I still love swimming.
Join me for a fun-filled evening!
I'll read from The Water Beckons, tell some stories and have books for sale.
$19.00 (inc. tax.)
When: July 22, 2019 6 PM
Where: Le Chalet Basque Restaurant
405 North San Pedro Rd.
San Rafael, Ca. (415) 479-1070
Light appetizers will be served and the bar will be open.
It's been six years since I began writing my third book, The Water Beckons, and it is finally finished! All these months, my family and friends have repeatedly heard about this endeavor and have been very patient. I wanted to capture the essence of a National Swimming competition and bring the reader along for the ride, actually along for the swim, while telling the tale of my life-long love of the water. I hope I have accomplished my goal.
I thank my family, all of the United States Masters Swimming (USMS) organization and our local Pacific Masters for allowing me to share their stories along with mine. With love, may I present, The Water Beckons, A Swimmer's Story.
Just got back from the Short Course Spring Champs this past weekend. This meet was different. For the first time ever, I missed my event. I had the heat number wrong, and by the time I figured it out, I ran to the blocks, with everyone else ready to go...
The timer saw me running up and yelled to the starter to wait. Coach Sharlene was yelling "wait!" But the starter didn't wait and sent everyone off as I stood there. I now have a permanent NS on my record. A No-Show.