10 Life Lessons from US Masters National Swimming Championships

Many of you know that before The Tummy Team was ever a dream, I was a competitive swimmer. I swam in high school and in college for UNM for 4 years. Swimming was my life and a huge part of my identity as a young adult. Then I went to grad school to become a PT, then I got married, then I had kids, then I suffered from a severe DR, then, then, then….. You know the story, life happens, kids happen, your body starts to fall apart and you think those days are over.Image may contain: 1 person

Well at age 38 I started a journey to heal my body and reclaim my elusive core strength despite being diagnosed with a 6 finger wide diastasis recti. I totally changed the direction of my career as a PT and started helping others heal their core as I learned what I myself needed. (See the Story of the Tummy Team video here).

I was told that swimming was not an option if I was going to heal my core. But something felt wrong in that advice. My core has never been as strong as it was when I was a college swimmer. So about 15 months into my core rehabilitation process when my diastasis was still lingering at a 2 finger separation at the navel, I started to swim again. Yes, I was a few months shy of 40 years old and had not swum competitively for 18 years and I joined my local Masters Swim Team. Not only did swimming help me heal the lingering separation in my core, but it also gave me back a huge part of my life. (Want to know more about swimming and diastasis recti? Check out this vlog.)

Fast forward 7 years and I just finished competing at my 3rd National Championships. I have spent the past 4 days in Mesa, Arizona with nearly 2000 swimmers age 18 to 98 who still love the sport, swim weekly and compete at swim meets. It was amazing! This swimming journey has paralleled my Tummy Team journey in so many ways that I thought I would share a few things I learned at Nationals.

 

1. I AM NEVER TOO OLD TO BE A BETTER VERSION OF MYSELF.

It is so easy for me to make excuses and to focus on all the things I am not and will likely not be again. But as I look around the pool deck at men and women of all ages and all athletic abilities I realize that is the cheap way out. While it is true, I will likely never swim my college times again but that should not keep me from looking at today and focus on being my best self now.Image may contain: 4 people, including Kelly Dean, people smiling, people standing

I am never too old to be the best swimmer I can be at age 47. I am never too old to have a good attitude, to be a good sport, to have a strong work ethic or to be determined. I met so many amazing people who were simply happy to be at this meet, swimming with friends and trying to do their personal best.

On the first day of the meet, I had the opportunity to swim on a mixed 4 x 50 freestyle relay where I was the youngest on the team at 47 and the oldest on the team at 96 years old. Yes, you read that correctly, Willard is 96 years old and he still swims daily. He swam 2 individual events each day AND relays! He still dives off the starting block (with a little help to climb up). He has the best attitude and sense of humor and is genuinely thrilled to be here. This relay was a true privilege.  Regardless of my circumstances and hang-ups, I will always remember the determination and tenacity to continue to do what I love (whether it is swimming or something else) because of my time swimming with this man. I will never be too old to be a better version of myself.

2. IT IS IMPORTANT FOR ME TO SET GOALS AND MAKE A PLAN TO MEET THOSE GOALS.

This year, I set some specific goals to swim a strong 100 butterfly. Backstroke has always been my best event but I love butterfly even though it is brutal and hard and you think might die in the pool at the end of a race. I still love it. I made a goal to swim a smart race where my first and second half of the race were within about 4 seconds difference.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Kelly Dean, people smiling, people standingThen I made a plan to make it happen. I spent the last 6 months training more butterfly than I ever have. Really focusing on my stroke, my endurance and my mental block that I had for that second 50. I did not even work on my other events, I just had tunnel vision for my 100 butterfly. I worked hard, I felt strong and I was confident.

Despite all my training and preparation… My 100 fly kinda sucked ☹️

I did not meet my goal and I actually swam worse than I did when I was not even focusing on my butterfly. Instead of 4 seconds between my first and second 50’s, it was more like 9 seconds! I was disappointed for about 5 min. The reality is my training was not wasted. I am still stronger. All of my other events got faster even though I did not train for them. So my 100 fly did not turn out how I had hoped… But I am still 47 and swimming 100 fly!  It is a really hard event and there are not many swimmers that chose to do it. As a result, despite not meeting “my goal” I actually placed 10th and got a medal for that race (A very hard earned medal by the way).

Setting goals and working toward them, even if I fail to meet them, is important. I am far stronger for trying than not. I will keep setting high goals and keep trying hard things because the journey is worth it and something is always better because of it.

3. SOME THINGS ARE OUT OF MY CONTROL, THEN WHAT?

Well as much as I want to control everything in my life, that really has not worked out that well. Motherhood has taught me that lesson about a million times over. Sometimes things just happen that we cannot control.

Mesa in April is supposed to be in the mid-80s but this weekend the temperature ranged from 97-11 and it was HOT!! I live in the wet and chilly Pacific Northwest so this weather was a bit of a shock to the system. But I am here and I will swim anyway. I drank a lot of water and I had to have some extra grace when my races were a bit harder than I expected.

Then there’s the wardrobe/equipment malfunction issues…In my 50 backstroke, they had a new backstroke start wedge that was very difficult to maneuver and distracted me at the beginning of that race. Then on my absolute favorite race of the meet, the 50 fly, my goggles feel off! UGH! Seriously I don’t think my goggles have come off in a race since high school and it is such a setback.  But in both races, I relied on my training, went off of muscle memory, and somehow did personal best times in both races.

So sometimes things just happen. I am not going to quit, I am not going to shut down and allow frustration or defeat win. I am just going to do what I can and trust that it will be the best I can do under the circumstances. Sometimes in life, it is exactly as Dory says… “Just keep swimming”.

4. SWIM MY OWN RACE

Boy is it easy to be distracted by all the other swimmers.  There are some really fast swimmers out there! I used to be that really fast swimmer and it is really hard to not feel like I should be that swimmer now. But, I don’t know their story. I don’t have their story. I have my own story and my own race to swim. I feel constantly inundated with the need to compare and judge myself. It is self-sabotaging. Only I can swim the race ahead of me. I can use the people around me to motivate me and to pace me but in the end, this is my race.

I have my own story. I have 3 kids. I had 5 miscarriages. I had a ton of disconnect to my core and a huge diastasis that took me over 18 months to heal. I spent 18 years away from competitive swimming. I own a business. I am lucky to get in the pool 3-4 days a week. I have other demands on my time. We all have our own story.  There are factors that influence me differently than they influence others. At the end of the day, all I can do is swim my own race and that race looks different every single day.

5. I AM ALWAYS BETTER WITH A TEAM

We are not intended to be on this journey alone. Community is important. The relays at Nationals are so fun. Swimming is not really much of a team sport like soccer or football but there are still benefits to being on a team.Image may contain: 4 people, including Kelly Dean, people smiling, people standing, shoes, bridge and outdoor

I had the chance to be on 3 relays.  One with Willard, which was totally inspiring and one with 3 other super fun swimmers who just wanted to swim fast and do their best. And my last relay was super fast. I was the slowest swimmer by 2 seconds, but I swam my best time and as a result, we placed 3rd on that relay. All 3 relays were amazing for different reasons.

Being a part of something that is more than just me is really good for me. I love to cheer on others. I love to know their goals and film their swims and scream loud and follow their stories. I am a better swimmer when it is not all about me.

My team makes me better. They cheer for me, support me, laugh with/at me and remind me that we are in this together. The Tummy Team is intended to do that for clients. I know what it is like to go it alone and it is too hard. Knowing that others are with you and for you can make all the difference. Do you have a team? People to cheer for and people who cheer for you?

6. I CAN’T TAKE MYSELF TOO SERIOUSLY

Within the first hour of the swim meet, I noticed how upset some swimmers were when they did not do their best.  My sister flew inImage may contain: 2 people, hat and outdoor from Florida just to cheer for me and I immediately realized that I did not want to waste this experience by allowing myself to dwell on disappointment. It is a swim meet for “older” people, not the Olympics. What would be the point if I trained this hard, committed this much time, and left my family to dwell in disappointment? I am doing something I love (with my sister) for 4 days in the beautiful sunshine with a ton of other people doing something they love…Let’s pay attention and enjoy the moment. Life is short. There are times to be serious and there are times to be in the moment. I already swam for years where everything was on the line for a few tenths of a second.  That was then, this is now.

To remind me of this focus, my friend made me and my sister TEAM DEAN spirit t-shirts for every day of the meet. Sometimes committing to having fun beforehand helps me to remember to have fun when I get where I am going.

7. IT IS NOT ABOUT HOW I LOOK IN A SWIMSUIT

Amen, Sista!! You would think that nothing would make a body-conscious woman more insecure than an environment where 2000 people are walking around in swimsuits all day but actually, I had the opposite experience. It was refreshing to see normal looking bodies, wrinkles and cellulite, muscles and stretch marks and all, completely comfortable walking around in swimsuits. Of course, there are still some people who are rocking that youthful swimmer body but the majority of people are parents and grandparents and people who simply look normal. Fit and strong does not always look like the cover of Fit Magazine. And never judge how fast someone can swim based on how they look in their speedo…Fast is fast no matter what size hips you have.

The work I do at The Tummy Team is focused on how strong, connected, stable and healthy your core is. But our culture constantly wants to make it about how your belly looks in a bikini. It is not about that. It was never about that. I will never let it be about that. Some people have a flat tummy in a bikini and some people do not. The real and important question is how strong are you? What can you do? What can’t you do? How can we help you do what you love again?

8. IT IS IMPORTANT TO ALLOW MYSELF TO BE INSPIRED BY OTHERS

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This is my friend Larry (who is 70 by the way) swimming butterfly!

This is part 2 of the swim my own race lesson. Instead of comparing myself to someone else who is doing awesome and feeling bad about where I am at, maybe it is a better use of my energy to allow myself to be inspired by them. When I recognize everyone has a story and everyone has their own set of challenges and obstacles to overcome, then I can allow myself to really embrace the power in their victory without letting it cast a shadow on my own performance.

My sister and I found ourselves looking for inspiring stories and being caught up in the fun of watching others be amazing. There were a few past Olympians at the meet, there were national records broken and there were special personal achievements all over the place. We got to watch a 98-year-old woman do the 100 breaststroke and come out smiling. We cheered for a man we have never met because he was swimming the 200 fly and was 3 laps behind the rest of the field but determined to finish strong. We watched our friend Willard (97) miscount his 200 backstroke, swim an extra length and get out at the wrong side of the pool and just laugh it off. There are ladies in the age group above me that were swimming in their first Nationals since fighting breast cancer and an entire family at the meet cheering on their grandpa wearing matching superman t-shirts. There were moms holding their toddlers behind the blocks, handing them off to their husbands so they could race and coming back to kiss them when they were done.

We all have our own race to swim and it is far more fun to embrace each other’s stories than to try to live someone else’s story.

9. I AM MY OWN BEST CHEERLEADER

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Me with my sister (my other cheerleader)

I have realized there are a lot of miserable people in the world. There is sadness, bitterness, discontent, and constant self-condemnation everywhere and I want none of it. There are plenty of critics out there. I don’t need to be another critic of myself. Only I know what I have done to get where I am. Only I know what it really means to me. And only I can win or lose. So I am going to cheer myself on. I am going to set hard goals and believe in myself and have grace when everything goes sideways.

I am so lucky to have a very supportive family and an amazing group of friends who encourage me and cheer for me but if I don’t cheer myself on no one else really can. Find ways to honor the hard work you put into the things you believe in. It is not arrogance to cheer for yourself, it is kind and loving.

If I am going to do hard things, then I am determined to be nice to myself while I am trying to do it.

10. WHEN THINGS GET ROUGH, REMEMBER WHY I STARTED IN THE FIRST PLACE

This comes back to that miserable 100 fly! The last 10 yards of that race were truly miserable. My arms were very low in the water.  My hips were even lower.  My tempo was dramatically decreased and I seriously was telling myself NEVER AGAIN as I took thoseImage may contain: 1 person, swimming last few strokes. The reality is that this is Masters Swimming. You choose what you want to swim. No one will ever make me swim a 100 fly again except me, if I want to.

So when it gets hard and I really want to give up, I can and it is ok to change my goals and make 50 fly my new event. Or I can remember why I chose to work on my 100 fly in the first place. It wasn’t because it was easy or fun or because everyone was doing it. I chose to work on that event because it was hard and I wanted to see if I could do it. Well it was hard, AND I was able to do it!

One of the things I remember when growing up is my coach saying to me, “This is not about swimming, this is about life. Everything that will ever mean anything to you will be hard work and difficult and absolutely worth it in the end.”

Even when I think I want things to just be easy, I know that the easy things are nice but the things I have fought for are the things that have meant the most in my life.

 

Many of you may be wondering, Why is this super long blog about a swim meet on The Tummy Team blog page? Well, The Tummy Team is not really just about healing your tummy, it is about pulling yourself back together so you can have your life back. This swimming journey is part of that for me. The Tummy Team is not just a business for me, I live out what I teach. I believe in what we do because this is how I have gone from broken and hopeless to strong and confident. We share these stories so you can maybe get a little taste of that hope and know we have been there and are fighting hard for the things that mean the most. We would love to hear your stories too. How are you reclaiming the life you were meant to live? How could we help you?

Want to learn more about The Tummy Team?  We are a Physical Therapy Clinic specializing in functional core strength in Camas WA and for those of you who are not local, we have 7 international online core rehab programs. Check us out!

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