Adults plunge into competition

Swimming: A masters swim team is attracting members - from triathletes in training to busy mothers in search of exercise.

Howard At Play

February 17, 2002|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The term "masters swimmer" in Howard County encompasses everyone from Ross Kennard, a former Canadian national champion in the sport, to Jill RachBeisel and Dan Beisel, who found themselves on starting blocks for the first time in their 40s.

All three are members of a masters swim team, now in its third year. The team practices at the Howard County and Catonsville YMCAs, drawing people from Baltimore and Howard counties.

Coach Michael Jacobson, 35, of Ellicott City says he has about 35 to 50 active members for a YMCA-sponsored team, which competes against comparable squads in Baltimore and is open to anyone 18 and older.

"We're a fairly young program," Jacobson says, noting that the oldest swimmer is 53. The swim-meet season runs from October to May, and because teams have fewer swimmers - the first meet had 70 swimmers ranging in age from 19 to 71 - competitions are shorter than youth swim meets.

One of the team's newest members is Kennard, a chiropractor with a Columbia clinic. He won a silver medal in the Canadian University Swimming Championships in 1980. At 14, Kennard was rated the world's 25th-fastest swimmer in the backstroke. At 43, the Clarksville resident continues to claim records: He has a number of masters swimming records in the 35-to-40 age bracket. Last year in Niagara Falls, N.Y., he set an age-group record in the 50-meter backstroke.

"Ultimately, I love racing," Kennard said.

Masters swimming competition is organized in five-year age brackets with no upper limits. Jacobson said last year's nationals had a 92-year-old and 93-year-old racing against each other.

Not all masters swimmers competed in their youth.

Ellicott City couple Jill RachBeisel, a doctor, and her husband, Dan Beisel, a medical illustrator, were both in their 40s and wanted to do something together for exercise.

"We showed up one day, and before we knew it, we had team suits, and we were going to swim meets," RachBeisel said. "You have to be able to swim, but you don't have to be able to swim super-fast. It has turned out to be so much fun, not to mention pretty healthy."

As have several other team members, Abby Glassburg, 42, of Columbia's Owen Brown village, has competed in triathlons and done open-water swims.

"I'm not a fast swimmer," said the former lifeguard. "I'm a strong swimmer."

She enjoys the camaraderie, and with a busy schedule as a mother and a commercial real estate broker, she finds the 8:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. practice times fit into her schedule.

"They really make it fun. It's a good group," she said.

Jacobson said that several team members are triathletes who compete to stay in shape for the Columbia Triathlon in April and improve their methods for the swimming component of that sport, which combines swimming, running and cycling.

"A lot of them are in great shape, but they have no strokes," Jacobson said of triathletes who have come out for his masters program.

Jacobson, 33, grew up swimming competitively and competed two years for North Carolina State University. But the software engineer for Northrup Grumman had been swept up in work and family life.

One day, while playing in the pool with his oldest child, he was treading water and swimming and, he says, realized "I was dying after 10 minutes." He was shocked at how out of shape he was.

"I used to work out for hours in college" - 45 to 50 hours a week, he says.

That's when he became involved in the masters swim program.

While competitive experience isn't necessary, Jacobson said, prospective swimmers need to be able to swim 1,000 yards in an hour and swim 200 yards without stopping. Jacobson coaches at the Howard YMCA in Ellicott City on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, while at Catonsville, Ray Toy, 35, of Baltimore County, his assistant, coaches Monday and Wednesday. Team members can swim at either or both pools.

But Jacobson can expect some intra-county competition this year - Matt Goode, operations manager for the Columbia Swim Center, is starting a team sponsored by the Columbia Aquatic Association.

His team practices three times a week, swimming about 3,000 yards. The team, which has about 20 members, is new this year and has yet to try a meet.

"A lot of them are getting their feet wet, so to speak," Goode said. "I had this pool that was basically used during the day, and a lot of the moms were asking me, `Hey, am I doing my flip turns right?' That was sort of the origin of the team."

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