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!