Staying in shape with the Georgetown’s Masters swim team
“You don’t get hurt with swimming like you might with a more high-impact sport,” says Linda Callaway, a 62-year-old swimmer who practices daily with the Aquatics of Georgetown Masters (AGM) Swim Team. “If you crash on your bicycle at an older age, chances are you’re going to break something. But if you make a mistake swimming, most likely you won’t have any injuries.”
Because swimming is a “lifelong” sport that provides a full-body aerobic workout at low impact, many adults, seniors, and rehabbers gravitate toward it, says Ben Francois, AGM’s head coach since 2009.
Unlike kids’ age group swimming where “it’s much more one workout fits all,” adult “masters swimming is a very individual sport,” says Ben. “We have swimmers at all levels, each with their own goals and potential. My job is to help them achieve those goals—whether it’s dropping time, competing, improving their stroke, or getting in shape. . . . Really, if they can make it across the pool and are comfortable in the water, we’ll teach ’em how to swim [on a team].”
David Houck, AGM’s evening coach, echoes Coach Ben’s sentiment: “I urge new swimmers not be intimidated by any perceived lack of swimming ability,” he says. “We adjust the workouts according to what you can do, so it’s always manageable, but we’re always pushing you forward.”
Testaments to their passion for coaching, many of Ben and David’s proudest moments have been during practices, when they helped their swimmers to reach personal landmarks, like swimming 1,000 yards during a practice or swimming a 200 butterfly for the first time.
It should be noted that while the team continues to grow in size, competition is by no means mandatory. A handful of AGM swimmers compete at almost every meet, while others attend practices purely for exercise.
“It’s unusual to live in a small town like Georgetown and have the wonderful facilities and the great coaching that we do,” says Linda. “In the wintertime, we swim in the beautiful Rec Center heated pool; in the summertime we have the Williams Drive long-course pool; and then we have Lake Georgetown, which is another beautiful, clean place to swim. We’re really lucky.”
MEET A FEW OF THE AGM ALL-STAR SWIMMERS
“I want to age gracefully.”
Linda Callaway may be 62 years old, but according to her doctors, she has the heart of someone half her age.
“I guess I have pretty good cardio conditioning because of swimming,” says Linda, downplaying the achievement.
While Linda isn’t one to brag about her own accomplishments, the goals she’s set for herself are anything but modest. Since she returned to the pool at age 48—after a 30-year hiatus between high school swimming and masters—the retired engineer has competed worldwide, swimming in Sweden, Montreal, Brazil, and across the United States. Now she’s made it her mission to compete in open water races in all 50 states.
“You know those tacky little maps of the United States that you see as stickers on people’s campers? Well, my plan is to do that, but with open water swimming,” says Linda, chuckling.
So far, she’s checked off 20 out of 50 states, and she has several more swims lined up for the remainder of the year.
“I probably swim about 12 hours a week,” Linda estimates. “Because I’m older and it takes me a little longer, I’m usually the last one out of the pool . . . . But I have friends in their seventies and eighties, and they’re still swimming and going strong,” she says, smiling.
As for Linda?
“I plan to swim as long as I can,” she says, with a hint of pride in her voice.
Favorite events: Mile swim; 200 butterfly; 400 IM; 5K; 10K
“I want to be around for my kids.”
If an oracle had told Shirley Bibles 10 years ago that competitive swimming would have a profound impact on her life and well-being, she probably would have given him a quizzical look and thought that the oracle was surely mistaken. Perhaps he had missed the mark by a generation?
Shirley had never swum competitively in her life, and rather than filling the role of competitive swimmer, she was busy filling the role of “swim mom,” driving her children to early morning practices and supporting them from the sidelines.
But that all changed when Dale Huggins—head coach of the Aquadillos youth summer league and founder of the Aquatics of Georgetown adult masters team—invited several swim parents to jump in and swim laps while they waited for their children to finish practice.
Shirley, along with two or three other swim parents, took Dale up on his offer and began arriving at practice, ready to work on their strokes. Shirley didn’t realize it at the time, but Dale’s simple, heartfelt offer provided the spark she needed to change the course of her life.
“About five years ago, I had gotten up to 250 pounds,” Shirley says. “I was tired all the time and definitely wasn’t about to start something like running, jumping up and down, or Jazzercise; that was never going to be me.”
However, in swimming Shirley found a low-impact sport that boosted her energy, burned away fat, and instilled in her an inner strength she never knew she could have. Today, the 53-year-old swims competitively with AG, racing in the USMS 5K and 10K Postal swims each year.
“Swimming has changed my life, literally,” says Shirley. Not only has she lost 30 pounds since she began swimming, but she’s also been able to keep the weight off. “My cholesterol went down, my blood pressure went down, and I feel so much better.”
Favorite events: 200 butterfly; 400 IM; 200 back; Mile swim
“I want to have a support system while I’m working out.”
When Shawn Feather began swimming masters at the age of 40, she struggled to make it across the length of the pool. Each stroke took tremendous focus, and by the end of practice she’d find herself exhausted, both mentally and physically.
Now, 13 years later, most of her personal goals involve swimming: besting her personal times, improving her vitals at yearly physicals, and keeping excess weight off.
But while the health benefits initially drew her to swimming, Georgetown’s welcoming, tight-knit community has kept her coming back.
“My best friends are on the swim team,” explains Shawn, who wakes up before 5 a.m. each morning to attend 5:30 a.m. practices. “We look out for each other, hold each other accountable, and support each other, like a family. Not too long ago I was sick and missed a day of swimming,” she continues. “That day, several people from the swim team called to make sure I was all right.”
Quite often, the team will go out for breakfast after Saturday practices, throw holiday parties and birthday celebrations for each other, cook breakfast at the pool, and hold picnics at Lake Georgetown, she says.
“I wouldn’t be as successful if I didn’t have people to push me to keep going. But masters swimming has done that.”
Favorite events: 200 freestyle, 200 breaststroke
For more information on the Georgetown Masters swim team, including news and practice schedules, visit www.swimgeorgetown.com.
Don’t know how to swim? The Georgetown Parks and Recreation Center offers private swim lessons to kids and adults. Find information here.