What is Masters Swimming, Anyway?

A friend recently asked, “So, to be a Masters swimmer, do you have to be really good, or do you have to be old?”

“Neither,” I told him, although I suppose definitions of old or exceptional can vary.

To become a Masters swimmer, you do need to be at least 18 years of age, and you do need to be able to swim—at least a little.

“Being able to swim 25 yards of freestyle with rotary breathing is a plus,” says Coach Barbara Hummel, “but the primary requirement is enjoyment of swimming.”

Barbara and her colleague, Coach Signe Linville, offer several practices each week for Upper Valley Aquatic Center’s Masters team, the UVRays.

The UVRays, who just celebrated their 15th anniversary, and whose membership includes 65-85 active swimmers at any given time, are part of a much larger organization, United States Masters swimming (USMS). It  was founded in 1970, has nearly 70,000 members, and provides more than 2,000 swimming programs and events across the country. The organization gives adult swimmers the opportunity to be part of a team, to participate in coached workouts, and—if they wish—to compete in meets.

Masters is ideal for former high school, college, and even Olympian swimmers who want to retain the fitness and skills they worked so hard to build. It’s also terrific for people, like me, who took up swimming later in life and crave instruction. In fact, some UVRays first took private lessons at UVAC or completed its Adult Learn-to-Swim program before joining Masters to acquire more advanced aquatic skills.

I started swimming for fitness eleven years ago, at age 30, when I was running marathons and needed a low impact sport to cross-train. I swam laps on my own: a serene but solitary practice, which could get boring after a while. I eventually decided to try Masters. When I first joined, I was overwhelmed to share a lane with other swimmers, and to follow the workout sheets, which, at first glance—with their numbers, parentheses, and abbreviations—resembled algebra homework I’d gladly put aside several years earlier.

But my coaches and lane mates were patient and welcoming. I soon discovered that swimming with a team makes an hour of exercise fly by, as you follow the day’s workout, listen to your coach’s instruction, watch the clock, and check your technique.

A team workout is not about exercising aimlessly, but instead involves swimming different intervals and various strokes. If you don’t know backstroke, butterfly, or breast stroke yet, you can learn them in Masters. You’ll also learn how to use equipment, such as kickboards, paddles, and pull buoys, to hone your technique.

A Masters workout keeps your mind sharp and your body fit. And perhaps the best part of being on a team is that you meet wonderful people: in my experience, only life’s winners arrive punctually, sometimes at unforgiving hours, to jump into brisk waters. They’re a major motivation for showing up.

Interested in giving Masters a try?

Contact Coach Barbara Hummel if you have questions.

Or come in or call UVAC’s Welcome Desk at 802-296-2850 ex 0 to buy a  Masters membership (scroll down mid-page)


By Elizabeth Kelsey


Elizabeth is a UVAC member and U.S. Masters swimmer who writes about health and wellness. She can be reached at elizabethkelsey.com

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