Mary Gentry: UVAC Masters Swimmer

“I Miss Masters!!!”  An interview with the intrepid Mary Gentry

Mary loves the water!

When did you join Masters swimming, and why?

I joined Masters because I’ve always liked swimming but I can’t motivate myself to swim on my own.  I need a set time, with a group of people, and someone to tell me what to do.  Then I enjoy swimming.  Swimming laps on my own, even with a workout written by someone else just doesn’t do it for me.

What is your swimming background?

I’m that Masters swimmer that lap swimmers are worried about and afraid represent all Masters.  I’ve been a competitive swimmer all my life.  My first meet was on my 6th birthday.  I’ve done it all.  Summer rec program, year round age group club, junior high, high school, college (Division III), and Masters.  With all that experience, I’m actually in the minority of Masters swimmers.  Most masters swimmers have some swimming background in their youth; but for every swimmer like me who swam in college, there are probably two who never swam on a team. These are people who were lap swimmers who caught the bug from Masters swimmers in the pool or in the locker room, or who were encouraged by coaches on a pool deck to consider joining the Masters group. We welcome and cherish everyone of all abilities.

One of the joys of finishing the Triple Crown, a tiara cap!

I moved to the Upper Valley in the mid 1980s and happened to learn about the Masters program at Dartmouth College almost immediately.  I swam Masters at Dartmouth and then at the CCBA as the Dartmouth group lost pool time, and then moved to UVAC when it opened.  Heck, I had the opportunity to be on the UVAC deck when the pool was still a hole in the ground with some steel superstructure being built around it.  I’m an original UVAC member when the office was in the trailer on Arboretum Lane.  Knowing lots of other pools in the twin states and New England, I still pinch myself recognizing how lucky we are to be able swim at UVAC.

You have an additional life at UVAC beyond Masters Swimming.  What can you tell us about that?

Mary meet directs and swims at a recent Leaf Peepers meet with the late Dorsi Raynolds.

Masters Swimmer is my primary, forever role, but I’m also UVAC’s volunteer Swim Meet Director.  When I first moved to the Upper Valley I was talked into helping coach the local age group team, North Country Aquatic Club.  I worked with the 8 and unders.  That experience helped confirm that I am NOT a coach.  I’m terrible at coming up with ideas for workouts, how to explain strokes, and forget about working through the mental issues of being a swimmer.  The following year, one of the team parents asked me to help out with data entry for the meet the team was hosting.   One afternoon of data entry led to full weekends of data entry, which led to learning the new meet software, which led to being the meet director, which led to my current role of running all the meets at UVAC.

I do all the pre-meet paperwork with our governing body, all the communications with participating teams before and after the meet, and then spend the full meet at the pool making sure all the equipment is set up before the meet, everything is working during the meet, usually doing most of the computer work during the meet, and then putting away all the equipment after the meet before going home, checking results and sending results to the teams.

Mary creates her version of Stonehenge at a masters vernal equinox practice.

The logistics of running a meet is much more in my blood than the creativity and empathy of being a coach.  When I was a kid, my Dad was the meet announcer and my Mom ran the Bullpen (where swimmers were grouped into their heats and lanes before their event).  My Dad then graduated to writing computer code to score a meet bringing a big suitcase-size “modem” to the meet that had two rubber cups for placing the hand set of the old rotary dial telephone so that the box could then talk to the main frame computer at his work site.  As I said, meet logistics is in my blood.

Mary and Carey Callaghan act as in water coaches when masters coach Barbara does teaching sessions.

One of the most fun meets to run is the Leaf Peepers Masters meet we hold at UVAC every October.  It’s a one session meet with only 70-90 swimmers from around and beyond New England.  One gentleman from central New York comes every year to swim four 25-yard events and a 50.  It’s his favorite meet.  I don’t feel a desire to swim in meets anymore—clocks advance at the same speed while my body slows down. I don’t need a meet to confirm how much slower I am.  But I swim at our meet. I’m also the Meet Director, computer operator, timing system operator, and announcer.  The officials know to wait to make sure I get from the computer table to my lane before starting my heat. Then, after I swim, I head back to the computer table to reset the system for the next heat. People laugh. We all eat chocolate.  We all take home baked goods prepared by our fellow Masters swimmers who are awesome bakers.  It’s a good time to swim or stay dry and just help out.

Just a side comment that very few of our Masters swimmers actually swim in meets.  That’s fine.  It’s definitely NOT a requirement of swimming with Masters.  People swim with our Masters program for all sorts of reasons—social connection, fitness, improving swimming skills, rehab, training for triathlons, training for swim meets, or any combination of things.  I’m the social / fitness swimmer who just happens to have a long history of swimming.

Mary and teammates Kenny Moore and Cheryl Elinsky celebrate finishing their One-Hour Swim.

What do you do professionally?

For my paying job, I work in the Analytics Institute at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.  Surprise!…. I work on a computer all day retrieving and organizing data.  Did I mention that swim meet logistics is in my blood?  Healthcare data and swim meet data may be different data sets but the concepts are the same.  Knowing the data sources, understanding what the computer software is trying to accomplish, confirming that the results are accurate, and communicating well with customers.

Life Without the Pool – What Do You Miss? 

Remember when I said I can’t swim on my own—that’s why I love Masters.  My fitness routine has not been overly fit during the facility closure.  I’ve watched many of Erin and Garrett’s and others’ videos.  I’ve checked out Joe’s Major Minutes. I just can’t get myself to do those exercises for any period of time.  I need my group. I’m doing a lot of walking which is a good thing and doing short bursts of exercises when needing a computer break. Mentally I’m likening this to being out with an injury.  Someday, it will be over and I can get back in the water again, share the locker room, and eat breakfast with all my buddies.

Some of the Masters swimmers are itching to start pond swimming if they can’t be in the pool.  A couple of them have already been in Post Pond.   Brrrr!   That’s not for me.   I like my nice chlorinated water, my lines on the bottom of the pool, and walls for turns.   My logic brain likes keeping track of how far I’ve swum and how fast (or slow) I’ve swum.  I’ll be patient and wait for my beautiful UVAC pool to reopen.

Interview by Masters swimmer, Liz Kelsey

Photo credit: Barbara Hummel

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