What a difference a pool makes in a community

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Our gorgeous city pool, home of the Piranha Swim Team.

I’m researching the history of our swim club because it’s the 50th year since the Piranha Swim Team began. Plus, a big chunk of our family life centered around the pool and the Piranhas beginning with mommy and me classes, learn to swim, through the kids’ years with our team and their high school. Now my husband and I both swim Masters.

This project has been fun because it’s like putting together a complicated puzzle. I talk to a variety of people and learn about their love of swimming and how the team and city pool has impacted their lives. I’ve spoken with an “original” Piranha, who joined the team at age six from day one of the team when it was called the Palm Springs Swim Club. I’ve talked to a coach from the ‘80s who grew the team from a dozen swimmers to more than 150. 

I learned about a woman who was one of the team’s early coaches, Pearl Miller, who was greatly loved and respected by many—and found her US Masters records online. Coach Miller competed in her 70s through age 92! She began coaching the team at age 74 and held a contest to name the team. The top two names were Palm Springs Sunfish and Palm Springs Piranhas.

One of my longtime writing friends told me she moved from Montreal to work as an assistant coach for the Piranhas in the ‘80s. She said her career as a freelance writer and her marriage all came about because of her years on deck. She became close friends with several swim families including her future husband’s. Another swim family’s dad worked as the sales manager for KPSI, a local radio station, and hired her as a copywriter that spurred her career of decades.

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My kids and Angus the Guide Dog flunkie who inspired my son to fundraise at the city pool.

I remember with pride my son’s second-grade birthday party when he invited his class at school plus his swim friends. I was stressed about where we could host 50 kids.The pool at the time charged less than a dollar a kid and a pool party it would be. Then my son surprised me when I said he couldn’t have presents, because 50 presents were ridiculous. I thought about the nightmare of watching him open a stack of presents and what to do with them at home. He was okay with that and asked if he could request donations for the Guide Dogs of the Desert in honor of our Guide Dog flunkie Angus. He ended up raising close to $2,000 for Guide Dogs from the pool party, not only from his friends, but news spread and people showed up at the pool to donate.

Every year our Masters team raises money for Angel View’s Crippled Children’s Homes thanks to local CPA Steven Erickson who started the event. It’s a New Year’s Eve lap swim of 10,000 yards where we adults ask for sponsors and pledges. The pool is not just for kids, but it’s part of our adult community, too.

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Two of my friends swimming their 10k for Angel View.

 

The pool sees visitors from all over the world who enjoy lap swimming in our gorgeous pool while on vacation. The Piranhas host meets several times every year with literally a thousand families traveling from throughout the southwest United States to compete at a single championship meet and stay in our vacation resort town.

I think of all the kids who learned to swim at our city pool. It must be in the tens of thousands. Pools in backyards and condos are common in Palm Springs, where summer temps hit 90 to 126 plus degrees. Because pools are in backyards everywhere, children die from drowning. The city pool offers learn-to-swim and water safety classes. It’s literally a matter of life and death, not just recreation or sport, or a way to open doors for college. Think of those lives our pool and swim team have impacted.

From the World Health Organization:

Drowning Fact sheet
Updated May 2017:

In the United States of America: drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in children aged 1–14 years.

Access to water

Increased access to water is another risk factor for drowning. Individuals with occupations such as commercial fishing or fishing for subsistence, using small boats in low-income countries are more prone to drowning. Children who live near open water sources, such as ditches, ponds, irrigation channels, or pools are especially at risk.

Teaching school-age children basic swimming, water safety and safe rescue skills is another approach. But these efforts must be undertaken with an emphasis on safety, and an overall risk management that includes a safety-tested curricula, a safe training area, screening and student selection, and student-instructor ratios established for safety.

How is the community pool part of the fabric of your life? 

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How to find balance in parenting—surf or swim!

 

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My swimmer daughter trying surfing.

I enjoyed reading a story about “surf parenting” as an alternative to helicopter parenting written by Amy Preiser. In her article, “Forget Helicopter Parenting — I’m ‘Surf Parenting’ From Now On,” she said:

 

“Gather ’round and listen to the tale of how I, your average working mother with a tendency to over-schedule, over-analyze, and over-stress, changed my life with a single surf lesson. Of how I, a woman constantly seeking balance, found it atop a board. How my cares melted away — but what was important become crystal clear — as I rode atop a ferocious wave, hair glimmering, smile broadening, feet angled just so. I knew all my problems were solved. I would never again procrastinate or fall victim to guilt. I would be a more present mother yet a more creative and focused worker. My friendships would improve. So would the whiteness of my teeth! I would start referring to a handful of almonds as a “great snack.”

Yeah, that was not how it went. (Did you already guess?)”

I’m big on getting out of your comfort zone to try new things. I’m impressed she took on surfing, which is a little too much out of my comfort zone—and will never try. I also liked her article because I was writing about finding balance as a swim parent today for SwimSwam.com. Swimming requires balance in the water, kids need to balance their academics, social life and sport—and parents and families need to find balance with all the demands of being a busy swim parent.

Another thing I liked about her story was the surf instructor was an ambassador for Sanuk, a flip-flop manufacturer that I adore. I have worn Sanuk sandals with soles made from yoga mats for years and years. I absolutely love them for their comfortable, sinking in feeling. They remind me of two decades of summers in Laguna with the kids–where I bought my first pair of Sanuk flip-flops.

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Me and my college roomie discovered we had good taste–Sanuk sandals.

 

My leap out of my comfort zone came through swimming, of course. Signing up for Masters with the Piranha Swim Team—my kids’ team for 15 years—was tough. I procrastinated and thought about it for four months before finally showing up on deck. Then, the following year, I signed up for a meet and just about died of fear learning to dive off the blocks let alone race in the meet! Then this past spring, I swam at my first (and only?) US Masters Nationals meet. I came in last in my age group, but seriously, it was about the experience–not winning medals. I’m thankful to have made it through the day with all the anxiety and stress I felt.

Practice at the city pool is my zen space. I practice my balance in the pool, standing on the blocks, and making time for myself in my busy day to get outside and exercise.

It’s all about finding balance.

How do you find balance in your life?

 

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That’s me diving off the blocks at my first meet.

 

 

 

A Conversation With Legendary Swimmer and Swim Mom Sippy Woodhead

 

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Sippy Woodhead in Russia during her first U.S. National Team trip at age 13.

I had a great conversation yesterday with Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead, a phenomenal swimmer who began breaking world records at the age of 14 and still holds a number of records for Southern California Swimming. She’s the mother of twins and enjoys being on deck in her role as a swim parent.

 

She has great advice for swim parents and works to ensure her kids enjoy the same carefree experience she enjoyed before the days of hovering and helicoptering parents. Sippy grew up a block from a pool and her summers were spent “waiting outside the gates for the pool to open at 10 a.m. and playing sharks and minnows and chasing lizards until it closed at 6 p.m.”

When she was a swimmer, she said meets were like “playdates” and she knew her parents were on deck, but she never saw them. To read more about Sippy and her accomplishments as a swimmer and her ideas on parenting click here.

As a swim family, we have great memories from meets at the Sippy Woodhead Pool. I’ll never forget that it was one of my daughter’s first long course meets and her age group coach wasn’t at the meet. It was the head coach instead and my daughter was a little nervous. When she swam her 50 free as she passed him, she lifted her head up high, paused mid-stroke and gave him a huge smile!

What a neat thing to get to talk to Sippy and understand the person behind the pool bearing her name. Her former swim team, Riverside Aquatics Association has a great story called “Who is Sippy?” on their website. Click here to read it.

 

 

What Matters Most: Times Together

18920581_10213697294890444_4649514921325596156_nThis past weekend, I was in mom heaven. My daughter was at a swim meet an hour away from where my son now lives. We didn’t do anything that special, we got to hang out together. It was one of my favorite weekends in recent memory.

At first, I was worried about how my daughter was going to do at the meet. She had already told us that due to other things going on in her life, her last few weeks of practice were not consistent at all.

I told her, “You can still get a best time and swim well.” 

She thought I was delirious. She was very realistic about what she could do at that point in time. I have to admit that after her first race, I got it. I relaxed about the times and understood that this meet was about being together as a family. It was a small slice of time where we could hang out and enjoy each other’s company. If I had been focused on her times and upset that she wasn’t at her peak fitness, I’d have been so disappointed. Instead, I reflected on being the mom of two almost grown kids that I’m so proud of. And, the fact that they enjoy being with me and each other.18920513_10213697294250428_7072346138704993087_n

While we were driving around town, the kids were in the back seat pretending to be little kids elbowing each other. I turned around from the front passenger seat and said, “Children, there’s an imaginary line going down the middle of the car. You can’t cross that line!”

My daughter immediately yelled out, “Mom, Robert crossed the line!”

Later, after fits of laughter, we hung out together in a park, lying on the grass and staring at the green leaves and blue sky.18835878_10213697294490434_3338216834463049598_n

We shared books, ideas and meals. My son’s vocabulary had us looking up new words and trying to memorize and pronounce them, like “primogeniture.” One of my kids favorite things to do was to copy our faces. My son does an imitation of me, while Kat has perfected her dad’s scowl. It always ended in a burst of laughter and fits of giggles.

The swim meet was exciting with a who’s who in the swimming world in the final heats. I witnessed amazing races and the international flavor was so hopeful and invigorating with countries in attendance including Argentina, Mexico, Japan and China.

It may be the last time we’ll be staying in a hotel with our daughter at a meet. Ever. Her final college season is ahead this fall and she’ll be with her team, not us. I was a little teary-eyed when the weekend flew by and it was time for me to return again to my empty nest.IMG_7880

Role Reversal: From Swim Mom to Swimmer

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US Master Spring Nationals, 2017 at Riverside City College.

Is it easier to watch your kids compete? Or, swim yourself? I found out the answer at the US Masters Spring Nationals in Riverside, CA this past weekend.

It was the second time I’ve competed in a swim meet in my entire life. I was nervous, anxious and wondered repeatedly, why on Earth did I sign up for the meet? Who do I think I am that I can dive in with Ryan Lochte and Nathan Adrian?

The answer from one of my fellow masters swimmers was “You’re not racing either of them!” True. I’m not in their age group, nor do I share their gender. But, still. Who do I think I am to swim at a meet with 2,026 swimmers and some of them Olympic champions? I am in my 50s, new to swimming—and slow.

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Me and two of my masters swim buddies.

While riding in the back seat to the meet, with my husband and daughter up front, I looked back at car rides to meets with my kids with a smile. The mornings were filled with anticipation as I wondered what the day ahead would bring. I wasn’t nervous at all then. I hoped for a successful, fun day and a happy car ride home.

But, when they were behind the blocks for their first event, I’d get a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’d wring my hands and hope for a good race. I was a nervous wreck until their first race was over. Then I sighed with relief that yes, they actually could swim and I relaxed for the rest of the day.

Then this past weekend at the pool, it was my turn to be the swimmer. I had a pit in my stomach. It was all up to me to get to the blocks in time for my race. I had my daughter at my side. She helped me with my cap, sprayed on sunscreen and held my towel. She said she’d been looking forward to this day. I wanted to make her proud.

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My daughter in the 8-and-unders, when she swam 25’s.

She walked me to the warm-up pool and I stood there. She told me to get in and warm up. Each lane had seven or eight swimmers—real swimmers—not wannabes like me. They wore fast suits, flipped fast and hard. How could I get in with those sharks?

“Mawm, get in!” she said.

“How? They’re so fast.”

“Get in there, then,” she said pointing to the lane marked 65 and over.

I do have some pride, so for the first three-hundred swim part of my warm up, I jumped into the mosh pit and repeatedly felt my foot pulled, got flipped turned on and stressed out on how I was going to make it through warm up. For my kick and drill sets, I did move over to the 65-and-over lane. After all, it was empty and I’m really, really slow when it comes to kicking and drills.

It dawned on me that the race would be okay. I would have my own lane. If I could survive warm up, I could make it through my races in one piece.

My daughter was at the end of my lane cheering for me along with my husband, coach and teammates. After my races, she told me how proud she was of me.

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Role reversal: my daughter sitting in the stands reading a good book.

Sometimes it’s a good to switch roles with our kids. My daughter said after Masters Nationals, that she never wants to be a swim parent. After all, it was a long hot day, with two swims, hours and hours apart. But, in spite of that, she was a darn good one. She was encouraging, positive and her presence made me feel calm. I knew I had her unconditional love, no matter how I swam. She acted like a perfect swim mom. I could learn a few things from her.

My 50-breast with husband and daughter cheering me on. 

What Have I Done Now? Or, Why Did I Sign Up for Masters Nationals?

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US Masters Meet in January at our Palm Springs pool.

 

In a little less than two weeks, I’ll be swimming in another meet. This one will be my second meet in my two-year swim career. I attended a meet a few months ago, but right before it was my turn on the blocks, the pool was closed. The transformer was hit during an accident and the power to the pool went out. I haven’t decided whether that was a good thing or not that I didn’t have to dive off the blocks and swim.

This time is a little more frightening because of the name of the meet: US Masters Nationals. Yes, I said NATIONALS! Six swimmers from our Piranha Masters have signed up and I get nervous when I think about it. There are more than 2,000 attending.

My coach says not to think about it, but just show up and swim.

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My daughter at a swim meet with her best friend and coach.

 

I made the mistake of looking at the psych sheets and names like RYAN LOCHTE and NATHAN ADRIAN popped out at me! Who do I think I am to be signed up for this meet? I’m seeded dead last in my events by a lot—in my age group. However, there are swimmers ages 18 to 95, so maybe I should focus on picking off the swimmers 90 and above.

Swimming at this meet does make me more than anxious, so I have to remember what I would tell my kids and other swim parents:

ONE
Don’t worry about other people’s times. That’s right. I cannot control the fact that my friend Bonnie is 20 seconds faster than me in the 50 free. Yes, 20 SECONDS!

TWO
Relax and have fun. Yes, I’ll have so much fun with all my friends and watch great swimmers. I don’t want to freeze or panic in the middle of my 50 free and have to be dragged out of the pool. That would not be fun.

THREE
Try your best. I’ve put in the hard work. I’ve made it to practice for more than a year since my first meet. I can flip turn and dive off the blocks without hitting the bottom of the pool. I can do this. 

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My son (front) with swim buddies at a meet having fun.

P.S. My daughter, who’s a swimmer in college, will be home that weekend. She told me she plans on driving me to the meet, will stand at the blocks holding my towel, and will make sure I talk to our head coach Jeff Conwell before and after each event! Somehow, I think she’s looking forward to this more than I am!

 

Round Two: Why Parents Need to Compete, Too

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Our beautiful Palm Springs pool.

This past weekend, I was at my second swim meet where I was the swimmer. I made the plunge once before—a year ago at the Palm Springs Piranhas hosted meet. I worried all week as the date of the meet approached. What had I done to myself? Why did I sign up for the meet?

Here is a partial list of things I worried and stressed about:

ONE

Standing on the blocks. It’s scary up there.

TWO

Diving off the blocks. I was afraid my goggles would fall off and I’d lose my contacts.

THREE

Doing a flip turn. In practice, I stick with slow open turns. While practicing flip turns the day before the meet, I got water up my nose and hit my head on the bottom of the pool.

FOUR

Breathing. I worried that halfway through my 50 free I’d start to panic and revert to breath-holding.16387450_10155016389794612_6785187209915237532_n

Then, I realized that last year I couldn’t get out of the pool and I had to swim to the ladder. This year, I didn’t have to worry about that. I can now get out of the deep end. That thought made me realize all the things that I had done to prepare for the meet and what was under my control:

ONE

I had gone to practice consistently for an entire year.

TWO

I had improved my diet to make sure I was properly fueled.

THREE

I stayed hydrated.

FOUR

I worked on dives and flip turns with Coach Jeff and felt more confident.

FIVE

I started a stretching regime that included warming up my shoulders.

SIX

I was one year stronger and better at swimming than at my first meet.

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Here I am with a few of my Piranha Masters friends.

 

I was mentally prepared. I was physically ready. I know I’ve made huge progress. Maybe at the next meet, I won’t get so worked up.

My only regret is that I didn’t start swimming when my kids were young. I’ve learned so much from swimming masters about how hard they work, how great their technique is and how hard it is to swim fast. I took it all for granted. I would have had a different perspective on swim meets and practice if only I had begun swimming years ago. I would have shared this bit of wisdom my favorite ref, Paul, told me at the meet, “Relax and have fun. It’s only a swim meet!”

Why do you think swim parents should compete? What makes you nervous before swim meets?

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Me and Linda. Two swim moms and swimmers.

P.S. One of my most favorite things this weekend was to see and talk with three “kids” who swam with my children on Piranhas at my Masters meet. They are all grown-up and continuing with the sport they love.

Photos courtesy of Piranha Swim Team.