MASTERS SWIMMING for HEALTH and VIGOR
by Joseph Schultz, Director Westmont Park District
Park Districts and/or agencies across the country are rapidly discovering a new recreational activity which can be offered to that difficult-to-program age group: men and women 25 years and older. Although many people may visualize a competitive swimmer as a sleek and muscular teen-ager, more and more people are beginning to see the sport of competitive swimming as a healthful and enjoyable activity for persons past the tender years of adolescence. The A.A.U. has coined the term "Masters Swimming" as the name for the A.A.U. endorsed age-group swimming program for adults. Park districts with swimming facilities would do well to consider including a Masters swimming team in their aquatic programs for many good reasons.
First, the program has proven to be very enjoyable for the participants; a factor which is obviously a prerequisite for the success of any activity or sport. Because the Masters are usually combined into a team (which may be quite small) there quickly develops a camaraderie which many swimmers relish as much as the swimming itself. Also, teams compete among themselves at practice sessions and against other teams at regularly scheduled Masters swimming meets, which add greatly to the enthusiasm of the participants. Trophies, medals and ribbons enhance the personal satisfaction derived from individual hard work and team effort.
In addition to the pleasurable aspects of competitive swimming, the health benefits of a regulated swimming program have been proven and are indisputable. Obviously, swimming is vigorous physical exercise, but it is more than just that. Swimming is the ideal form of exercise because it involves all of the muscles of the body. Swimmers are not subject to the injuries and numerous ailments which plague participants in other sports, such as running, tennis, gymnastics, or football.
More importantly, swimming has been proven to be a serious deterent to the great killer of the middle-aged, coronary disease! Evidence has been documented which demonstrates that competitive swimming, among adults, actually delays the aging process. All of the criterion which doctors use to measure the physiological age of the body demonstrated that the typical 49 year old Masters swimmer was significantly younger health-wise than the typical non-swimmer of the same age. So, besides keeping the body trim and firm, this activity can actually lengthen your life.
Setting up a Masters swim program can really be as simple or as involved as you care to make it. The number of swimmers need not be large, and if no regular coach is available, perhaps a knowledgeable member of the group could serve as a combination coach/swimmer. If your group is very large then of course, you would want to make the entire pool available to them regularly. For a small team (about fifteen or less), simply roping off two lanes of the pool for Masters swimmers will probably suffice. Work out times should be left up to the swimmers as much as possible. Usually they opt for early morning or noon work-out times, or some other arrangement which doesn't interfere with normal working hours. Masters competition is open to anyone possessing a regular or Masters A.A.U. card, which are available from the A.A.U. district registration chairman. Age groups for competition are divided into five year categories beginning with 25 and continuing to 80 years and older. Men and women always compete separately.
The enthusiasm of starting a training program must be buffered with caution however. Progress in both distance and speed should always be achieved gradually. The swimmer starts at his own endurance level and should never press himself to exhaustion. For most people, however, progress occurs at a pleasingly rapid rate. Swimmers should be encouraged to secure a physician's consent before embarking upon the competitive swimming course, just as should be done by anyone considering starting any strenuous physical exercise.
The Masters swim team can be a great asset for any aquatic program. Adults are actively involved in swimming, instead of being spectators or merely parents of young swimmers. This can be an asset to the park district in many ways. Support for bond issues, citizens action groups, plus increased revenues from swimming meets, are just a few of the ways that come to mind. Physical exercise is vital to good health, and Masters swimming insures that exercise doesn't stop after high school or college. For a successful, enjoyable, and healthful form of adult recreation, you can't beat Masters Swimming.
Illinois Parks and Recreation 16 January/February, 1976