Who Benefits the Most from Volunteering?

33944149_10156550450214612_1114497597600432128_oI gave up part of my day to volunteer at the Piranhas Masters meet. I was too chicken to sign up to swim. I haven’t done a meet since pre-knee and eye surgery.

I took on a new writing job for trade magazines in the last few months that has me chasing deadlines and sources — even through the weekends. Maybe I shouldn’t have been there and should have stayed home and worked.

But, I went and feel so good about helping out, cheering on my teammates and friends.

Two things that stood out today:

The first heat I timed, my lane had a 98-year-old woman, who needed help to get on the blocks, who dove in and swam a 200 free. I said to my teammate and friend sitting next to me, “What was my excuse again for not swimming?”

Then there was the 20-something-old autistic young man who doesn’t function well in day-to-day life. I watched as he got up on the blocks, dove in, swam amazing underwaters, gorgeous strokes and won events with personal bests. His friend and coach told me he’s part of the US Paralympic Team. Although he doesn’t function in the “real world” he gets the pool. It was beautiful to watch. The support he got from his competitors was amazing, too. Everyone was on his team.

Volunteering was exactly the medicine I needed to feel fulfilled, connect with my community and get away from the stress of deadlines.

I recently read about the benefits of volunteering from several articles. Here’s one I read called “Volunteering and its Surprising Benefits” from a website called Help Guide: Your Trusted Guide to Mental Health & Wellness. Here’s the link and an excerpt:

Volunteering can help you make friends, learn new skills, advance your career, and even feel happier and healthier. Learn how to find the right fit.

Why volunteer?

With busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, the benefits of volunteering can be enormous. Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the community, but the benefits can be even greater for you, the volunteer. The right match can help you to find friends, connect with the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career.

Giving to others can also help protect your mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose. While it’s true that the more you volunteer, the more benefits you’ll experience, volunteering doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your busy day. Giving in even simple ways can help those in need and improve your health and happiness.

Benefits of volunteering: 4 ways to feel healthier and happier

  1. Volunteering connects you to others

  2. Volunteering is good for your mind and body

  3. Volunteering can advance your career

  4. Volunteering brings fun and fulfillment to your life

    16387450_10155016389794612_6785187209915237532_nWhere do you volunteer in your community and what do you enjoy most about it?

My favorite things about swim meets

I wrote this five years ago when my daughter was still swimming with the Piranha Swim Team in Palm Springs. What an amazing time we’ve had as part of Piranhas since 2001. Swimming has been a vital part of our family life, and now with the kids gone, my husband and I have joined as masters. It’s fun to look back at my memories from the team. So many great coaches, kids and parents throughout the swimming community.
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One of my favorite parts of being a year-round swim parent for the past 14 years has been swim meets. Not home meets, but traveling to meets. Don’t get me wrong, the home meets have their unique qualities that I’m sure I’ll miss — but, travel meets — I’ll definitely miss more.

kat at a meetThis past weekend, we were at a meet in So Cal Thursday through Sunday. Other swim parents posted photos and wrote on Facebook about how much they enjoyed the weekend and meet. My age group swim parenting days are numbered — 40 days and nights to be exact — but who’s counting? With my daughter leaving soon for college, I’m nostalgic about why I and other swim parents love meets. kat meet

My top six reasons why I love swim meets include:

  1. Spending time together.  When you are away for two to five days with your swimmer, you have a captive audience. There’s no distraction of 8 hours at school, followed by 3 hours of swim practice, and hanging out with their non-swim friends. Spending lots of time together, unfettered with household, work, and daily school responsibilities is refreshing. Enjoy your little bubble of time, treat it like a mini-vacation. Play cards, sing songs, go to the beach, have fun! You’ll look back on these days as precious memories.kat girls
  2. Nap time. When your swimmer is older, and in age groups that have prelims and finals, you’ll find yourself in your hotel — with your swimmer — for three to four hours in the middle of the day. Your swimmer needs to be off their feet and resting, so going to the beach isn’t a good choice. Nor is shopping. Bring in lunch, relax, and enjoy some of the best naps you’ll ever have!50Free
  3. Walking. Being at a meet for days on end, without cooking, cleaning, working, etc. allows plenty of time to walk. I walk during warm-ups and warm-downs. I walk with my husband, with friends, and by myself. I look forward to checking out the areas by the pools on foot. Walking gets rid of my nervous energy and walking for hours and miles has to be good for me!kat shelby
  4. Friendships. You’ll spend lots of hours with team parents under the pop-up tent. Mostly, swim parents are generous, encouraging and have the common interest of your team and kids’ successes at heart. I’ve made great friends with parents from other teams and I look forward to seeing them at the away meets. I had a great conversation this past weekend with a parent of another graduating senior. Our daughters are in separate towns, on separate teams, yet they are both swimming in college next year — and going through the same excitements and anxieties. I’ll look forward to seeing these parents in the future, during our college phase of swim meets.kat medals
  5. Watching your swimmer race. What is it about watching your child race that is so rewarding and exciting? I’m not sure, but if you have the answer, please let me know. It’s so exciting when they do well. I love that feeling when I see their hard work pay off and watch their growth as a person and an athlete.kat relays
  6. Sushi. We eat lots of sushi at swim meets. I consider myself a sushi connoisseur and I’ve scouted for the best sushi restaurants near pools throughout Southern California.  My daughter likes to eat sushi at meets, too. It’s healthy, light, provides her with the right fuel to race. My top three favorite Sushi restaurants include: bake-lobster-roll_resize

O Fine Japanese Cuisine, Laguna Beach and Irvine, CAojc_00100_resize

Zen Sushi, Lake Forest, CA, and Orange Roll and Sushi, Fullerton, CA.sunset-laguna-roll_resizeAre you a swim parent, or a sports parent? What are your favorite things about going to away meets?

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No Parents Allowed!


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This week, while I am recovering from surgery, I am reposting some of my earliest blog posts. Enjoy! I’ll try to make it back to work next week.

I was sitting outside a roped off area with a sign posted “No Parents Allowed” at a three-day swim meet in LA with close to 1,400 swimmers.

“But, I HAVE to get my son this bottle of water,” a mom begged the volunteer parent wearing a neon orange vest, who was in charge of guarding the entrance to the “swimmer’s only” area.

“ARE YOU PROMISING TO GET MY SALLY TO HER EVENT ON TIME? I’M HOLDING YOU ACCOUNTABLE!” another mother yelled with her finger wagging in the face of the orange-vested volunteer. The mom was shaking in frustration and anger.

I sat calmly by — watching, observing, and remembering  —  that was me. Not the yeller, but the one pleading. My daughter is 18 and going off to college next fall. She’s been a swimmer since age five.

Helicopter after helicopter mom argued and pleaded with the volunteers, who are swim parents themselves, on how they’d just be a second to find their child, bring them water, lunch, or make sure they made it to their event.

I wanted to tell them “RELAX!” If their swimmers had made it this far, to the season’s championship meet, they’re going to be okay. Calm down, let them hang out with their friends and teammates. They’ll be fine and will survive. After all, I had just made it through watching my daughter swim the mile. I didn’t get up once and scream, “GO!” which I have done at every flip turn for the past 15 years. If I can calm down and let go — you other moms can too!

And — if they don’t drink enough water, or miss their event — they might actually learn from it.

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Here are 10 great things to remember as a parent of children in any sport. It’s from USA Swimming.

10 COMMANDMENTS FOR SWIM PARENTS

I. Thou shall not impose thy ambitions on thy child.

II. Thou shall be supportive no matter what.

III. Thou shall not coach thy child.

IV. Thou shall only have positive things to say at a competition.

V. Thou shall acknowledge thy child’s fears.

VI. Thou shall not criticize the officials.

VII. Thou shall honor thy child’s coach.

VIII. Thou shall be loyal and supportive of thy team.

IX. Thy child shall have goals besides winning.

X. Thou shall not expect thy child to become an Olympian.

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More handy tips can be found at USA Swimming’s page for parents.

FYI, the top photo of my daughter’s relay team was taken by a 12-year-old teammate, who obviously can make it to her events, stay hydrated, swim fast, and take great pics! The second photo is my daughter 12 years ago. The last photo was taken from the “parents only” section of the East LA College pool.

Video of my daughter’s 400 free relay from TAKEITLIVETV from Feb. 17.

Get out of Your Comfort Zone and off the Blocks

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Do you ever look back at what you were doing a year ago? Or a few years ago? This blog allows me to review a snapshot of what I was feeling and doing during any month since 2015. Two years ago this week, I made a huge commitment that was totally out of my comfort zone. If I wasn’t injured today, I’d be swimming in my third meet next weekend. Here’s what I wrote in late January 2016:

I started swimming in April last year with US Masters, with my kids’ team Piranhas. It was my New Year’s Resolution to take the big plunge in 2015. I am embarrassed to admit that it took me until April to start on my New Year’s Resolution.

Eventually, I jumped in and I think it’s one of the best things I did for myself in 2015. You can read about my first days of Masters, here.

I equate joining US Masters to how I believe swimming was one of the single best things my kids did growing up. To a non-swimming family, this may sound crazy. But, there are so many benefits to swimming that changed my kids’ lives. Read more, here.

Biggest example—swimming changed my son’s health. He was, as his favorite coach termed, “A Secret Garden Child.” He suffered from asthma and chronic illness and swimming doubled his lung capacity. His asthma doctor became a big advocate for him to swim.

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My daughter diving in her senior year of high school at Super JOs, East LA.

I can go on and on about what a great thing swimming has been for my kids. I write about it regularly on SwimSwam and my blog. Here are links to a few of my stories.

So, what am I doing this year to push myself and what’s my New Year Resolution? One thing I’d like to do and I’m not 100 percent successful with is to get up an hour earlier each morning. I’m getting better, but it sure didn’t start off well. I have noticed, though, that I’m more productive with an hour earlier start.

The other big thing I’m doing to push myself out of my comfort zone is I signed up for my first swim meet. YIKES! I said it. I signed up for a Masters meet hosted by Piranhas. I’m scared to death. But, actually not as frightened as I was my first day in the pool last April.

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Piranhas on the blocks.

I practiced going off the blocks twice and it wasn’t pretty. When I was a kid, I learned to dive with a flat, almost belly flop “racing dive.” Old habits are hard to change. I’ve decided it might be best if I push off from the wall at the meet. But then my 83-year-old dad said, “I’m not going to come and watch you race if you push off the wall!” I’m not sure if he’s kidding or not!

In any case, I’ll let you know how it goes. If I show up or chicken out. If I dive off the blocks.

 

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My daughter with her first swim instructor.

 

What have you done to get yourself out of your comfort zone and get off the blocks?

 

A Word of Advice for Sports Parents: “Chill”

 

 

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Our gorgeous Palm Springs pool.

I volunteered a couple hours at my swim team’s big November meet. It’s been three years since I’ve had a swimmer at that meet and the distance of time allows me to look at parents and swimmers through a different lens.

Wow. Do parents ever get worked up watching their kids swim! I observed some parents running around the pool deck, yelling and visibly shaking. I was worried a few would have heart attacks. I acted exactly the same way years ago and I still get nervous and worked up. But I don’t show it as much, anymore. I believe it’s newer parents who are the most anxious because it’s all new to them and confusing. Give them a few years, and they’ll probably relax a bit.

One woman frantically came to the admin tent and said in a panicked voice—bordering on hysteria—“I can’t find my son! I don’t know where he is! Help me find my son!”

My friend, who was running things for the parent volunteers under the tent, asked in a very calm voice, “Please, tell me how old is your son?”

“Twelve.”

“Twelve,” my friend repeated. We managed to keep straight faces. If it was a child of say five or six, there might be a reason for a mom to panic. Well, not a real reason to panic, but the anxiety would be more understandable.

“Do you know where he is supposed to be?” my friend, who is also a psychologist, asked. Her calm approach led me to believe she faces many hyped-up parents in her practice. The frantic mom said he was swimming the 200 fly and she couldn’t find him with her coach or warming up. She asked us to have him paged to report to the admin tent.

“Do you want to give him a little time? If we announce for him to come to the admin tent to meet his mother, he’s going to be embarrassed,” she told her.

“Really? Why would he be embarrassed?” the mom asked.

We didn’t have an answer to that. We had a deck marshal assist the mom walking around the pool deck and into the men’s bathroom to help find her son. I never heard a word after that, so I’m assuming her son made it to his event and back to her side.

Another thing I noticed this past weekend was that the space behind the blocks can get really hectic. That sign that says “Swimmers Only” means just that. It doesn’t mean “Swimmers Only and Me the Swimmer’s Parent Because I’m an Exception to the Rule.” It’s amazing how many parents ignore the sign, have to be told to leave the “Swimmers Only” area and a few want to argue about it. Once again, it’s interesting to look at this from a distance, when a few years ago, I was the one trying to stand behind the blocks with a water bottle and towel for my kids.

I’m reminded of advice I received from Ref Paul on more than one occasion, “Relax, have fun. It’s just a swim meet.”

 

 

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The pool deck during a meet with the “Swimmers Only” area behind the blocks.

 

Why do you think we get so worked up over our children’s athletic performances?

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy it while it lasts!

 

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Afternoon walk with Waffles in Salt Lake City.

Today while packing up after a fun weekend in Salt Lake City, where we went to two meets to watch my daughter swim and hang out with friends, I realized this part of my life is almost over. I checked the swim schedule to see what meets she has left and we’re down to only a few.

This weekend, I reconnected with a swim mom dear friend who has a son starting his freshman year. It was like no time has passed since we last sat together at a meet — rather than six or seven years. We also visited my husband’s best childhood friend, Pastor Scott McKinney and his wife Sara, who have made this area their home and founded a church, Centerpoint Church in Orem. After his powerful service, we sat together at lunch laughing so hard we cried as well as solemnly discussing the world’s problems. It’s been a highlight to reconnect with these friends, visit our daughter — and enjoy this part of the country.

I felt more than a little sentimental this morning. I like it here. I like the hotel we stay in, the Little America, like it’s a second home. I like their coffee shop because it brings back memories of my childhood with their comfort food of open-faced turkey and roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy and their weekend prime rib specials. I like the cool crisp weather, the spectacular views and changing fall colors of the leaves. I like the tall buildings downtown, where you’ll find the City Creek Center with its glass ceilings. I like the friendliness of the people and the clean bright city, which has a small town feel.

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Beautiful views from City Creek Center.

 

It seems like we just moved our daughter in for her freshman year. She got a notice Friday that she’s been accepted to study abroad for her last bit of school, so we’re already thinking about moving her stuff out and driving her car home. How weird is that? Especially when I say we just moved her up here! At least it feels like that.

When my kids were toddlers, older women would stop me at the mall or on the street and say, “Enjoy it while you can, because the time flies by.” Knee deep in the daily grind of bottles, baby food, diapers, laundry, endless picking up toys and chasing little ones, I couldn’t relate. Now I believe it and understand. Enjoy the swim team or whatever activities your child is in like it’s their last meet. Enjoy the visits to their college town. It’s over in a blink of an eye. And will you really go back without them there?

It’s not like I thought it would last forever, I just thought four years would take a bigger chunk of time.

How have you noticed time flying by?

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My daughter at the blocks at the HPER Natatorium.

 

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.