When passion turns into a career

kat underI remember when we became a full on “swim family,” I was criticized by well-meaning friends. They’d say things like, “Your kids have such a narrow life.” “You’re limiting their world,” or “Don’t your kids need friends?” As if being in a pool full of kids, my children didn’t have friends!

Roll forward 10 years and my daughter’s heard “you can’t be focused on swimming forever,” or “why are you still tweeting about swimming?” Funny thing about that—my daughter was delighted to accept a job today that will pay her to tweet and write Instagram captions about swimming! I’m so excited for her that she found a job connected to what she loves and she’ll be able to make a living at it.

It’s okay to have a passion at an early age. As parents, when you see your kids are really into something, it’s our job to support them. Ignore the naysayers and go with your heart. How amazing is it to swim from kindergarten through college and then work at a job in the industry you’re passionate about? It may make the day-to-day grind not seem like a grind at all.

When my kids were young, we exposed them to lots of activities and they found their own paths to their interests. We never forced them to go to practice or forced them to specialize. Swimming was part of their day and they looked forward to it. My son liked to have a lot of things going on — being in school plays, forming a band, taking piano lessons, going to science fairs. His swimming passion has now transformed into rowing and he gets up before dawn to work it into his schedule. One of the many great things swimming taught my kids was a love to be physically fit for life.33944149_10156550450214612_1114497597600432128_o

What passions do your kids have and how do you support them on their journey?

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How do varsity swimmers in Covina make a difference?

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Northview High School Swimmers at morning practice.

I was so inspired when I heard about a program at a Southern California high school in Covina where the varsity swim team reaches out to the elementary schools to teach swimming. With drowning the number two cause of accidental death in the United States, these kids are literally saving lives.

The school, Northview High School, is not a wealthy one. In fact, 74 percent of the students are “economically disadvantaged” and 92 percent are non-white. They’ve been fundraising for parkas for their swim team and quite frankly, they aren’t able to raise $100 per parka for the 60 swimmers on the team. Yet, they should be commended for being part of a program that teaches kids in nine elementary schools to swim at no cost to the parents.

Swim Parkas are worn before and after the swimmers are in the water to keep them warm. They are a standard part of any swimmers gear.

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Varsity swimmer teaching elementary kids to swim.

According to Co-Head Coach Christine Maki, the student athletes teach swimming three days a week, plus maintain high GPAs to stay on the high school swim team.

“Each school gets approximately 12 free swimming lessons per student in a four-week period. Parents are notified when their school is up for lessons and they can register at the Northview pool.” Maki said. “When they bring their little swimmers on the start date, the children are matched up with a varsity swimmer that will teach them for those 12 lessons.”

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Northview Viking student athlete with elementary student.

“We are looking to purchase high quality and long-lasting parkas,” Maki said. “Each parka’s price ranges between $100 and $125. Please help me to help the team receive a legacy team uniform for this year’s team and future team members. We need to raise between $6,000 to $7,500 to purchase these parkas, this year.”

They have a “Reaching Our Goal” crowdsourcing campaign to raise funds for parkas for their 60 swimmers. If you’d like to contribute, please follow their link here.

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Coach Mike Gatreau coaching weight training with the varsity team.

The Northview Vikings Swim Team is coached by Mike Gatreau, who developed the learn to swim program for the Covina-Valley Unified School District. Gatreau is also head coach of the Covina Aquatics Association. Maki is an age group coach for CAA and is head coach of the Competitive Tri-Swim Masters. Assistant Coach for Northview Vikings is Brianna Merritt. Northview Vikings swim in the D3, Valley Vista League.

 

Reflections from the first meet

Three years ago, I swam in my first swim meet. Actually, my second one if I count the one at the Everett Golf and Country Club when I was five years old. That meet was really a sort of fun day to end the summer lessons. We raced each other, dove for pennies, and had to pass the Red Cross beginning swimmer exam. I remember being scared at both meets. But, the more recent one was much worse on my nerves. Despite being way outside my comfort zone, I had an experience to cherish. Here are my reflections on my first US Masters meet:

 

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Yes, that’s me–diving off the blocks! Two teammates are in yellow caps.

I wrote about it for Swimswam here. I wrote about how nervous I was in my prior blog–which was before the meet. So, what else do I have to say about the meet? Here’re a few more details and photos.

I loved the people. I especially enjoyed talking with an 18-year-old from Mission Viejo Nadadores who said it was her first Masters meet, too. I asked her if she had been an age group swimmer.

Her answer, “What’s that?”

I asked if she had swam for Nadadores as a child. “No, I started swimming as a sophomore in high school.”

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The home town pool the morning of the meet.

She was a new swimmer, like I was—although we were definitely in different age groups! She did very well and won her events. I won a blue ribbon for my relay—in the mixed 45 and older medley.

I loved cheering for and watching my teammates compete. I have a great group of friends and coach on the team. We’re all supportive of each other. The officials are great, too! Honestly, is there a better community than the swim world?

I had fun cheering for two swim moms in particular—our kids swam and went to school together for years. It was a first swim meet experience for all three of us–as swimmers. Both of these swim moms want to continue to compete and get faster. Honestly, I’m content that I survived the experience.

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Me and one of my swim mom now US Masters friends.

Sadly, I look nothing like my daughter, who is in the video below, lane one. I can’t believe how slow I look watching the video of my 50 free. Or how my stroke doesn’t look anything like I thought. While swimming, I visualize my daughter’s stroke in my mind.

I was definitely out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing. If you’re interested in swimming, I strongly suggest you find a US Masters group and dive in. You don’t have to compete, and I guarantee you’ll get in shape, get tired, sleep well–and make great friends.

What have you done lately to get out of your comfort zone?

8 Thoughts About the First PAC 12 Meet

I can’t believe my daughter’s first PAC-12 Conference swim meet was in February 2015. All four meets were great experiences for the most part–exciting times spent with great families. It wasn’t as much fun the year she got the flu, or her senior year, when her “shoulder wouldn’t shoulder.” This year, my daughter and I are going together as spectators. She wants to cheer on her friends who will be swimming in their last conference meet, plus a distance swimmer friend, who she thinks will qualify for NCAAs. We’ll be able to visit Mom, too, who lives near the meet. I’m looking forward to a mother-daughter-grandmother visit!

Here are my thoughts after my first PAC 12 championship meet:

Olympic swimmers competing at the PAC 12s.

Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin competing at the PAC 12s.

ONE

I couldn’t believe the conference meet was here already. What happened to my daughter’s first year of college swimming?

TWO

I was surprised by how easy it was to find a seat. Coming from age group meets that are crawling with kids and parents and you have to squeeze to get a seat, it was a pleasant change. However, it did get more packed as the days passed and always at finals.

The crowd at the PAC 12s.

The stands at the PAC 12s.

THREE

I still get nervous before Kat swims. Maybe it’s even worse than before. Especially at prelims. I thought I’d get over that queasy feeling, hand-shaking, palm-sweating attack. But, no I did not.

 

FOUR

I wanted to spend a little time with Kat. But, she’s on the deck with her team, and we’re up in the stands with the parents.

That's me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.

That’s me up in the stands looking down on my daughter.

FIVE

I have met some great swim parents on our new team. Don’t get me wrong, there are great families on our club team that I’m life long friends with. I’m thrilled to meet parents on the college team that are friendly and fun, too. I guess that’s what swimming parents are like.

SIX

It’s fun to cheer at the PAC-12 conference, hold up signs, and wave pom poms. Kat would have killed me if I behaved that way at an age group meet!

SEVEN

Now that it’s the last day of PAC-12s, I’m shocked at how fast the days went by. Do I really have to wait an entire year to experience this again?

EIGHT

Looking down from the bleachers at my daughter, I’m amazed at how much she’s matured this year. She’s happy and comfortable with her new family, her college team. She has grown independent from us and she’s doing really, really well. I’m happy and proud, but I’m wiping a few tears from eyes, too.photo 2 (1)

There is a college for everyone

I wrote this article a few years ago and I think it still resonates today. If you’re a swim parent, your kids can swim in college and it will add to their experience most definitely.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine a few years ago.

My kids and their teammates at a meet in Irvine a few years ago.

I read an interesting article today on my favorite website, SwimSwam.  It was written by a college swimmer encouraging high school swimmers to swim in college. It’s very inspirational you can read it here. His story reminded me of my own kids. I wish he was a few years older and could have talked to my son, who also thought he wasn’t fast enough to swim in college.

My son, who is now in is fourth year at college, refused to talk to any swim coaches while we were looking at schools with him. We tried to encourage him, but he didn’t think he was good enough. Or, that he liked swimming enough.

In our opinion, as parents (what do we know anyway, right?) he had a beautiful stroke and he had always loved swimming. It seemed natural to us that he’d want to continue with his favorite sport. We also knew swimming could open doors for him. It couldn’t hurt for him to communicate with swim coaches at some of his dream colleges, right? We had looked at swim times and he would have fit in nicely at a lot of them. No, I’m not talking about Cal or Stanford, which he applied to, but are in the higher echelons of D1 swim teams. His other top schools that are very selective academically had men’s D2 or D3 teams.

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But, no. He did not listen to us. His senior year, he received rejection letters from all of his top schools. It’s really a numbers game and there are millions of talented, smart kids competing for those college spots from not only the USA, but from all over the world. 

He is enjoying the school he landed at. But, it was an adjustment at first. He wasn’t happy being there. He was all alone. Now, in his fourth year, he loves it. He’s swimming again, on his own at the student rec center. He missed swimming.

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In contrast, my daughter who’s a freshman, was recruited for swimming. What a difference her entire college decision process was. She loves her college team. The entire team knocked on her door with goodies for her, while we were moving her in. They had team activities during the first few weeks, like barbecues, and volunteering to hand out balloons at a football scrimmage. The team made sure that the freshman felt the love.

My son told me recently that he sat alone in his room watching Netflix, too shy to join in the freshman welcome activities.

Last July, he came with us to watch his little sister swim at a big meet. His eyes opened when he saw coaches from all across the country there recruiting. He saw some of his top school choices. It was like a light bulb went off.

He did what he wanted to do at the time, though. One thing about swimming or any sport — it has to come from your child. We may think we know best, but in reality it has to come from them.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

My kids a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

What my kids learned in the pool

This week I received an email from a mom of a nine-year-old swimmer who wanted to know how to help her child after she missed the cut for a big meet. This is something I know all too well. I talked today to my daughter and son about it and they definitely remembered those days, too. My son said, ” That was my life!” Here’s a link to the SwimSwam.com article “Ask Swim Mom” I wrote. It also reminded me of this post I wrote five years ago!


Palm Springs Pool

One of the most important things they learned is perseverance. That stick-with-it never give up attitude that is ingrained in their brains after years of trying for swim goals and just missing them. Then trying and trying again and again until they make them. The very nature of swimming 50 weeks a year, six days a week, makes kids tough.

I’ll never forget my daughter’s frustration of missing her junior national cut by fractions of a second for two years. She didn’t give up. She worked hard. She would still miss.

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“Are you kidding me!” She said looking at the scoreboard to see her missing the coveted junior national cut by mere tenths of a second after dropping three full seconds on an 800 meter freestyle race.

The next race, she said, “I’m so done with this!”  She dove in with more determination than ever, and yes, she made her cut, dropping seconds on her 200 meter free and coming in second place to one of the fastest girls in the country.

So, what does all this have to do with life?  Take her hardest class, AP Stats.  She knows that she can do it. She just has to put in the work and time. That may mean getting up and into the classroom at 6 a.m. for extra help, rather than staying warm tucked into her bed. But, she does it — all on her own — without me suggesting it. Her teacher told me, “I know that she will do whatever it takes to be successful, so I am not worried about where her grade is today.”

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My son also swam. He worked so hard for every goal, trying to qualify for meets through ten years of year-round swimming. I’ll never forget his determination as an 8th grader. I was a chaperone for his Washington DC trip with his class. He knew he’d be missing too much swimming, so he would run up and down through the Mall, up and down the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, while everyone else strolled. At night in the hotel, he ran the gray cement staircases, up and down the five flights.

When he returned to the pool, he did it! He made his first Junior Olympic time.

Now he’s in college and he knows how to persevere. He wanted to work at the campus radio station. He put in his application as a freshman and was declined. As a junior he has been assigned a time slot on the FM station, moving up from his prior show on the AM.

He wanted to be in the College of Creative Studies, “a graduate school for undergraduates.” He applied and was devastated when he was declined. I told him to move on, it was okay, get a ‘normal’ degree. But, he didn’t give up. The next year he applied again and was accepted. Learn more about the UCSB CCS program here. Just click.

I’ve had friends ask why my kids spend so much time in the pool, aren’t they missing out?

I beg to differ.  Spending most of their lives in the water has served them well. Being mostly wet has given them skills for life.

Find a local swim club here on the USA Swimming website.

 

Photo credits: The Palm Springs, CA Pool — one of the most beautiful views while swimming ever. My daughter diving wearing the yellow cap. Yellow-capped swimmers sometime at some club meet. And a great meme for a distance swimmer.

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I want to be a “Scilly” swimmer too!

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The swimmers gather with their groups. Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.

I feel like I am standing still in cement while I watch my swimming friends fly off without me. I barely make it to the pool more than twice a week lately–and I’ve had to start completely over this year due to knee surgery.

Meanwhile, my Piranha Swim Team Masters’ friends are getting faster, stronger and swimming longer workouts. Not only that, they are taking on challenging open water swims like the Tiki Swim in Oceanside and the Scilly Swim Challenge in the United Kingdom, 35 miles off the coast of Cornwall.

My friends Linda and Karl, who were former Piranha and St. Theresa parents with me, swam the Scilly Swim Challenge for their second straight year. This swim challenge is a 15k swim combined with a 10k walk.

Event organizer Dewi Winkle said, “We are on year five now and 10th Challenge just completed. Nick Lishman and I came up with the idea in 2013 and we thought the islands are so beautiful and the attraction of swimming between them would be well received. We started in 2014 and have now built to three events a year with up to 150 people per event.”

Dewi said their plans include a race around St Mary’s as a relay event and a test event in Croatia in October. Currently, they have a two-day and one-day swim in September and a Spring Swim in May.

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A map of the Isles of Scilly and route courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.

From the Scilly Swim Challenge website

Swim and Walk the Islands over one or two days

6 swims averaging 2.5 km (total 15km) and 6 walks averaging 1.7 km (total 10km) completed as a group with full safety and logistical support.

Whether you choose to complete in one or two days you will experience  the amazing swimming and beautiful scenery Scilly has to offer.

Route

The event will start and finish on St. Mary’s, the main island, visiting St. Martins, Tresco, Bryher, Samson and St. Agnes.

It’s not a race and the emphasis is on everyone getting round safely.

While you’re swimming we will transport a bag for you which will be available at the next island. You will then carry it to the start of the next swim.

Full safety support is included.

There are food stops at the end of each swim.

Wetsuits optional.

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The Kestrel, Linda and Karl’s ride for two days, at Hugh Town. Photo courtesy of Karl Siffleet.

According to Linda, her second year was easier than the first. “Coming out early to get used to the water was helpful,” she said. The water temperature was 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). In contrast, we swim in a pool with a temperature of around 80 degrees! Yes, she wore a wetsuit the entire time.

Linda and Karl signed up for the one-day swim but arrived several days early and volunteered to help out or “crew” for the two-day swim. The two-day swim allows a more leisurely pace than the one-day challenge. Linda and Karl checked swimmers in and out of the water and helped with the baggage boat. Linda said the support staff is incredible and includes “30 kayakers—they were awesome! Five safety boats (power cats) and a baggage boat.”

Swimmers can swim as much or little as they want. If they need a break they can hang onto a kayak or climb aboard a boat and go to the next island. In between, they are fed snacks and drinks.

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Photo courtesy of Linda Burns.

“There was tea, coffee, other hot drinks. Cakes, soup, salads, rolls, candy bars. Diet Coke, homemade pastry and Cornish pasty,” she said.

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Hot tea after a cold swim! Photo from Linda Burns.

The swimmers pick which one of three groups they want to swim with according to their speed. “We swam in different groups and nobody keeps time. You can swim as much or as little as you want.”  She said the groups are “Red, amber, green. Swimmers self-select which pod to swim with. Red is fastest. Karl swam amber and I swam green. I was much happier swimming in the front of the green than the middle of the amber.”

I’m sure a lot of the appeal on taking on a challenge like this is the camaraderie. The swimmers must feel so much accomplishment and bond together after their swims. I know it motivates Linda and Karl to keep swimming year round and a goal to work towards in their practices.

Like I said, my friends have been getting stronger and faster. Linda said she felt great swimming. “I felt good. I got into a good rhythm for sighting and really enjoyed it—except the several times a wave broke over me as I inhaled and I thought I was going to cough up my lungs.”

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Photo from Linda Burns.

Someday, I’d like to take this challenge, too. I don’t think I’ll be strong enough yet in May, but perhaps in a year or two. In the very least I’d like to travel to the Isles of Scilly and see this quaint, quiet and beautiful area for myself.

What motivates you to get out of your comfort zone and try something incredibly challenging?

 

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Photo courtesy of the Scilly Swim Challenge.