Why I love masters’ swimming…

You’ll often find me here: a scruffy, nondescript swimming pool, housed in a uninspiring tin shed — the worst kind of functional municipal architecture. The pool itself is only 25 metres long and the water is often overheated. It’s badly ventilated too. There is sand on the bottom of the pool although we are nowhere near a beach. I would never choose to swim in a pool like this. And yet here I am. I’ve been swimming — day in, day out — in this pool for almost twenty years. Because this pool has something that makes me keep on coming back. This pool is the home to my masters’ swimming club.

As masters’ swimming clubs go, we proudly consider ourselves the friendliest swimming club in town. You don’t have to be an ‘athlete’ to join our club. There is no minimum standard or high bar to achieve: apart from an ability to swim non stop for a few lengths we only ask enthusiasm and commitment. The rest can come later. All are welcome in our swimming club. Our oldest swimmer has just turned 80, the youngest is in their early twenties. And many, many of us have been swimming here, together, for between 10 and 20 years.

But what’s so special about swimming in a club? Why do we keep doing it?

Some will tell you that that the peer pressure to swim when you are not motivated is the most important thing about club swimming. Last week I decided to skip a Saturday morning club session because of a lingering infection. Three people texted me afterwards, in a good humoured way, to ask where I was and where my ‘sick note’ was.

Some will tell you that swimming with others in a club makes you work that bit harder. Nothing makes you swim outside of your comfort zone more than the idea of chasing someone down — or even worse having someone behind you tickling your toes.

In a club, your swimming buddies will push you hard when you need them to, encourage and motivate you gently when you are deflated, and will know when to leave you alone when you need them to.

And in a club, of course, you will benefit from the experience of a coach setting you structured sessions with sprints and drills, and technique work — a scientific approach to getting fitter and faster — which will make you get more out of your workout and will stop you from being bored.

Many will say that hanging out with like minded people is just an added bonus.

But more than anything I think that most will say this. When swimming you are often in a solitary bubble, but swimming in a club is the best of all worlds. It’s a quiet solitude, but also the opportunity to collectively work towards a common goal: knowing you are all feeling the same dread, the same pain, and the same euphoria of a job well done.

In my masters’ club I’ve met my best friends. As well as swimming together and seeing one another semi naked and bedraggled, week in, week out, for years, we’ve been through highs and lows. Some have gotten faster and some have slowed down. And while we’ve worked quietly through the years towards our own swimming goals, some swimming friends have married and had children, and some of them even have their grown up children now swimming with us. Some swimmers have moved away to the ends of the earth, but still stay in touch with the club. We’ve had our share of births, and, sadly, deaths as well. We’ve laughed together, and we’ve cried as well. And we’ve supported one another, quietly, through our love of our swimming.

If you are a swimmer and you don’t swim with a masters’ club, you should. If there isn’t one near you, then form one.

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