Swimnetwork.com Special: We Don’t Retire

By Dr. Chris Colburn

I had the good fortune of attending a USA Swimming Foundation event this week in Chicago. The evening featured the opportunity to meet and chat with twelve Olympians (eleven of them swimmers) while learning more about the mission of the Foundation and the work it does, both for our swimmers and for swimming throughout the country. Many members of the Chicago-area swimming community attended and took the opportunity to get to know these champions. Part of the program included videos about the USA Swimming Foundation and their Make a Splash initiative. The videos demonstrated how our swimming heroes give back to the sport, and how the USA Swimming Foundation helps to support our athletes until they retire.

You might be asking yourself how or why this event has anything to do with Masters swimming, and based on the main message, maybe it doesn't. On meeting the athletes, though, another story emerges. Eight years ago, I watched Megan Quann make her first Olympic Team at the 2000 Trials. Her storied career, from two gold medals in Sydney, to the disappointment of not making the team in 2004, to her amazing comeback in qualifying for Beijing, is well documented elsewhere. Nine years later, I had the privilege of meeting Megan (now Megan Jendrick) at the aforementioned event, and talked to her a little about her past and future career. Being a Masters coach, I couldn't help but ask the obvious question: "When your days on the National Team have come to a close, what's next? Have you ever considered swimming Masters?"

Megan's response was quick, but thoughtful: "I'm already a registered Masters swimmer. I was giving some thought to going to Masters Nationals this Spring, but broke my leg in March. After not qualifying for World Championships, I considered coming back to Indy in August for Long Course Nationals, but I missed the entry deadline." I thanked Megan for chatting with me, and encouraged her to check out a Nationals at some point in the future.

I have to admit that I was pretty psyched to meet Megan, and my wife was even nice enough to snap a picture of us. While brief, our conversation got me thinking. How many other elite swimmers look at Masters swimming the way Megan Jendrick does? Swimming is a part of their lives, and many of these athletes don't really retire: they continue swimming for fitness or competition well past their Olympic years. Rowdy Gaines is a perfect example. While he'll probably get on my case for writing that he recently turned 50, Rowdy still swims regularly within the bounds allowed by work, family, and a heavy travel schedule... and he still manages to set an age-group world record or two along the way.

The important message here, though, is not that champion swimmers continue with swimming well past their elite swimming days. What's important is that our swimming heroes embody many of the tenets of Masters swimming as they move on to the next chapters in their lives: swimming continues to afford them opportunities for lifelong fun, fitness, and friendship.

It is my hope that in the future, more elite swimmers like Megan and Rowdy can take the time to tell the story of Masters swimming in their travels. You see, we swimmers, like many other athletes, look up to our heroes. If those swimmers continue their careers in Masters swimming, it is my hope that more athletes will be drawn to Masters as well. Who knows... many of these elite athletes are more than happy to snap a photo or sign an autograph at a meet, at Convention, or in the NBC Sports booth, so you may run into one of your heroes when you least expect it. At the very least, I hope they tell the story that many elite swimmers may retire from Olympic competition, the drug testing, the double workouts, and the media spotlight, but they never retire from their love for swimming.

Chris Colburn (aka DrCoachChris) is the head coach of Academy Bullets Masters in Aurora, Ill., and the Chair of the U.S. Masters Swimming Coaches Committee. He believes that a break between seasons is a good thing. Break time is a great opportunity to set goals and make positive changes for the coming year.

For more of Chris’ work and for more swimming, go to Swimnetwork.com.

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