At the ripe old age of 24, I competed in what I thought would be my very last swim meet, because, after all, I became a “working professional” with some very long and crazy hours in the cable and broadcasting industry. I trained almost every morning before I went into work with some very nice “older” people at an area high school pool. Eighty year-old Morey and his wife Shirley would show up faithfully at 6 a.m. and get their 20-minute swim in, while I would turn into a whitewater monster that no one wanted to be near. I swam in the “last” Masters meet in Buffalo, New York, and placed fairly well in my age group and headed 2 1/2 hours home with my medals, enjoying my youth of the mid-1980s…
Fast forward, 33 years later, and here I am, back in the pool, only after after work, marriage, dogs, kids, and travel consumed me, but very happily I must say. My time in the pool has provided me with a comforting solace, given me mental and physical strength, and allowed me to be my “young” self without delving too much into my past and attempting to re-live my 20-something years.
But there’s always been the itch to compete. To feed that swim ego once again. To go against someone and beat them while experiencing that immense high one feels from winning, or at least placing in my age group. Well, along came that itch, and it wasn’t too long ago when I received an email that a large statewide Masters swim meet was coming soon to somewhat nearby Binghamton, New York. Too enticing not to pass up, I registered and quickly entered my old high school and collegiate events, including my “signature” event, the 500 Freestyle. Seed times needed to submitted as well, so I had a huge reality check when I realized I could no longer break 1-minute in the 100 Freestyle. But I’m 57, not 24. My “new” 100 Free time is the approximate time I swam in a pool recently, not going all out, but a baseline with which I could try to beat in this meet of the ages.
This was definitely a venture into new territory. I really won’t know a soul who will be there, as I’m back to “Independent” status, just like I was right out of college. No team, no “Swimmers Sisterhood of the Traveling Goggles”….just…little…old…me.
My biggest fear about the meet? My goggles will fall off when I dive in. A nightmare.
Most of my events were freestyle, but just for “fun” I signed up for the 100 Individual Medley, aka the “IM” (25 yards each of Fly, Back, Breast, Free). I did some IM practice turns recently and I believe all I did was provide many laughs for the lifeguards.
Then came time for the meet at Binghamton University. I walked in (very early!) to the women’s locker room and was warmly greeted by one of the BUMS, that is, Binghamton University Masters Swimming. I felt immediately at ease. No butterflies, no apprehension about driving south for an hour and a half at 6 a.m. One of the women, whom I’m certain was in an upper age group from me, acted as if I was her long lost cousin and escorted me to the beautiful pool I hadn’t seen in years. Crystal clear water, bright lights above and below, and a separate diving well, one couldn’t ask for a better place to reconnect with competitive swimming.
There were BUMS everywhere – BUMS in green coats, green hats, green sweatshirts and BUMS in green swimsuits. I had recently purchased a black suit with green trim to honor my alma mater, Oswego State University (and wore a gold cap the first day), but I was happy about the color choice because I also felt a sense of “BUM belonging” – like I was one of them.
My first events came and went, the 100 and 500 Free. I won both events in my age group which came as a total surprise – but most important – my Goggles stayed on! I also survived the 500, and a nice BUM counted my laps, just they way I like it. My husband quickly captured my 100 Free time on the scoreboard (Lane 5), and this will give me incentive to break that time with more training (and perhaps a few less lbs?!).
Some of the BUMS congratulated me on my way back to my bleacher-based campground, which was unexpected, yet so very nice. My husband, camping with me for that first day, was quite impressed with the organization, dedication and friendliness of the BUMS. I had to remember this wasn’t a bunch of over-competitive college kids (although…I must tell you… the 30-something men had some serious races going on that day!).
Day 2 left me truly alone, as my husband remained home since it was going to be a longer day with 3 events spread throughout. But I wasn’t alone, I was in BUMS Country! Meeting many more BUMS and other swimmers along the way, I ended up breaking a 25 year-old meet record in the 200 Free, one of the highlights of the weekend.
My itch had been satisfied, and I will DEFINITELY take advantage of the next exciting season of Masters swim meets, well, just as long as I can hang out with those BUMS again.