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.

 

 

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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.

 

When Things Don’t Go As Planned

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The snowy view from our hotel room.

This weekend, I had a couple things happen that weren’t supposed to and could be described as downright awful.

First, the diamond fell out of my ring–at the airport.

Second, our flight turned around and returned us to Salt Lake City because of bad weather at home–when it was time to get back to work.

Through these unexpected turns and twists, I found myself calm and accepting. I certainly couldn’t control mother nature. But, I could control how I reacted to our plight. In fact, the only thing I can control in life is my attitude. I learned this fact from a sermon by Pastor Scott McKinney at CenterPoint Church in Orem, Utah. Scott is a childhood best friend of my husband’s and during most trips to watch our daughter swim, we visit him, his family and church.

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Seniors made their way through the tunnel of teammates during their last home meet.

This weekend was special because we took my 85-year-old dad to visit Utah for the first time and went to the big rival meet between Utah and BYU. Utes won! We also went to watch the Red Rocks gymnastic team win a quad meet. We shared delicious meals together as a family and with my daughter’s friends. We stayed in our favorite hotel, the Little America, and for no reason, they upgraded our room. All in all, it was a perfect weekend.

But when we were headed home, things went wrong. We had a late night flight at 9:35 p.m. While sitting at Gate B 73, waiting for our flight home, I noticed my ring felt weird.

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Something major was missing.

I retraced my steps from my seat by the gate to the bathroom several times, bent over and shining the flashlight from my iphone. Several strangers stopped me and asked what I was looking for. I showed them my ring and they were horrified. My husband surprised me. He was also very calm and said, “Oh well. I guess it’s time for a bigger diamond.”

We were minutes away from boarding time and I looked around me and noticed almost all of the people in the terminal were on their hands and knees searching for my missing diamond. In this moment–that should have been panicky and stressful–I was amazed and hopeful about humanity.

My dad, sitting in his seat, digging through my purse, raised his hand and said, “I found it!” Applause broke out, whoops of “Yes!” and high fives surrounded me.

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Our favorite hotel, the Little America, with the Grand America across the street.

We were halfway home when I felt the plane take a sharp right turn. The pilot announced that we were headed back to Salt Lake City because the weather in Palm Springs had deteriorated to the point where no flights were landing or taking off.

We landed and waited in line to find out what our choices were. We decided to fly out the next morning on a flight to Seattle, followed by a flight to Palm Springs. I saw people visibly upset and yelling at the poor airline employees like they played a dirty trick on us for fun!

My husband and I stayed calm, we got our new tickets, found our way to a taxi with my dad, and directed the driver to return us to our hotel where we hoped to catch four hours of sleep. The taxi driver was very philosophical and said, “You guys are okay. You’re alive and this is just an experience. Embrace it.”

That’s what we did. We were inconvenienced but we survived–others in our country over the weekend who experienced bad weather were not as fortunate. Yes, we were delayed for a day and traveled with only a few hours of sleep. But, a situation that could have been ugly was okay. Because we decided that it would be.

Below are short clips from the Gymnastics and Swim Meets:

Food for Thought, Fuel and Recovery

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Nutella stuffed 1/2 cronuts. Food for thought?

 

I called one of my mentor swim moms, who has advised me all along the way from my son’s first swim meet in 2001 to navigating college recruiting years later. She worked as a dietitian years ago, and I wanted her input for a SwimSwam article about what kids should eat at meets. I asked a half dozen more moms what their kids ate at meets because we happened to be at UCLA and USC swim meets watching our Utah kids compete.

After I wrote that story, that you can read here, I thought, “Yikes! I do not practice what I preach!” I’m finding it harder to recover after a workout and perhaps if I looked at my own diet, I would feel stronger.

I’m swimming consistently three days a week, and after I swim I get so hungry. I have a tendency to believe that because I made it through a tiring swim practice, that I can eat whatever I want. Most often, I make terrible choices including a #1 meal at Taco Bell (taco and burrito supreme) or fried chicken! Seriously, what am I doing to myself?

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At USC for a swim meet.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s okay to eat unhealthy now and then. But this has turned into a habit to reward myself after a healthy workout with fattening food that lacks much in nutritional value! It’s totally unproductive.

I discussed this with another mom via text. This mom is crazily fit and works out for hours every day. She had some great tips that I’m incorporating into my daily life that she promised would improve my muscle recovery.

AVOID SUGAR AND CARB LOADING

“I’ve actually been learning to fuel my body with fat. However, I’m not a swimmer so I would not begin to offer advice. But, after doing research I started limiting my carbs to less than 50g/day and saving them until dinner. During the day, I fuel my body with healthy fats. I’ve noticed a huge difference! Swimmers need a lot of energy but they won’t get any energy from sugar.”

PLAN AHEAD

“Have a plan. Know what you’re going to snack on after practice. Prepare eggs and a meat before you leave for practice so that it’s ready when you get home and you won’t eat the ‘worst stuff.’ Plus, the protein in the eggs will assist in muscle recovery. Or have peanut butter on a rice cake. But the important thing is to have it prepared so you can grab it right away.”

HOW ARE YOU FUELING YOUR BODY?

“Also, when eating your snacks, look at it and determine how you are fueling your body for recovery and the next day’s workout. That’s what keeps me honest with myself.”

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At my first meet a year ago with my good friend and fellow swim mom, Linda.

Yesterday, after practice I had a half banana and a hard boiled egg when I walked through the kitchen door. I was able to make it through until dinner without fast or fried food and I feel less sluggish and tired today. I’m curious to see how this plan works for me and if I’ll feel stronger after a few days. After all, I have my own swim meet coming up this month!  I’ll let you know how it goes.

What do you eat after working out?

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At UCLA last Friday.