Ian Douglass:

8 Benefits to Becoming a Masters Swimmer

Posted by: Abby Murphy


As a self-defined “okay swimmer” with an “inflated resume,” Ian Douglass has learned quite a bit during the different phases of his swimming career. Before and during his tenure at Southfield High School, Ian won several league and division championships in the Metro Detroit area as a perennial age-group state championship qualifier even though he “regretfully” split his training time between the swimming pool and the marching band practice field.
After a 17-year hiatus from swimming, Ian returned to the sport he loved as a masters swimmer. Although he considers himself “mediocre” when compared to the members of his peer group, Ian has since become a four-time USMS Long Distance Relay National Champion as a member of Michigan Masters Swimming, and he has also won gold medals at the Meijer State Games of Michigan and the Powerade State Games of North Carolina.
Even though he has scaled back the number of swim meets he competes in each year, Ian credits masters swimming with helping him refocus his training mindset, and with helping him keep his weight under control. He is also quick to share the benefits of masters swimming with anyone who has even a remote interest in either returning to the world of swimming, or in competing as a swimmer for the very first time.
1. Swimming Makes You Mentally Strong
By definition, swimming is a tough sport. The entire premise  of swimming is based on fighting your way through the resistance created by the water, and you can’t exactly breathe freely without slowing yourself down. On top of that, success in swimming is gauged solely by performance against other people, and against the clock. In other words, you can beat everyone in the water and still not meet your personal expectations, so the ability to handle personal failure in swimming without making excuses is essential if you ultimately wish to succeed, Ian said, while contrasting swimming with other sports that have judges.
“Marching band taught me how to deal with opinions; it’s a judged competition, and in life you have to learn to accept the judgements of other people whether you agree with them or not,” Ian explained. “On the flipside, swimming deals in facts. If you were slower than you expected or slower than the person you wanted to beat, that shows up on the clock and in the rankings. Based on those facts, you can make changes to your training, diet, stroke rate, stroke form, dive technique, and or any number of other factors that influenced your performance, but first you have to accept that there is a problem, and then you have to work on fixing it.”
2. Masters Swimming Gets Real Respect
To the surprise of many, masters swimming recognizes both national and world championships, with the world championship being held under the auspices of FINA, the international governing body for all water sports. This means masters swimmers of all ages can lay claim to some major bragging rights just by qualifying for these major championship events, and all of these events are held in world-class facilities. However, most of the local masters championship swim meets are also held in elite venues, which Ian identified as something else that separates masters swimming from other adult sports like softball and bowling.
“In the same year, I competed in three State LMSC (local masters swim club) Championship meets that were held in major pools,” Douglass said. “Michigan’s state meet was held at Eastern Michigan University, Ohio’s was at Ohio State University, and North Carolina’s was at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center. In my experience, the standards for masters swimming venues are always very high, and that’s because both the swimmers and the meet officials take the competitions very seriously.”
3. Masters Swimmers Can Train Anywhere
One of the reasons so many adults graduate to distance running is because everyone with a pair of shoes can train to run, even if they only run on a treadmill. Distance running is not a sport that relies on specialized equipment. While Ian concedes competitive swimming isn’t quite as easy to train for as a 5K or a half marathon, he contends the vast number of pools at your disposal eliminates the excuse that you simply can’t find a place to train.
“Any body of water you find can be used to make you a better swimmer, and many major fitness clubs feature 25-yard pools as a standard offering,” Ian said.  “I’ve trained in a 20-yard outdoor apartment complex pool in Durham, North Carolina, and I’ve also trained in a 12-yard indoor hotel pool in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Collectively, they all did their part to keep me in shape.” 

4. Being A Masters Swimmer Makes You A Real Athlete Again
In many cases, athletes are finished competing in their most enjoyable sports of choice after high school and college are over. You won’t be finding many competitive contact football leagues for adults, let alone for adults 80 years old or older. However, masters swimming can provide a seamless transition for high school and college swimmers to continue to train and compete in their favorite sport for as long as they live. This also means swimmers like Ian can keep building on the skills they worked so hard to develop in their youth.
“Competing in other sports is fun; I enjoy both softball and Concept2 rowing, but swimming is a sport I put a lot of effort into being competitive in from the time I was seven years old,” Ian said. “Swimmers don’t have to bury those skills and join a local softball league or a church basketball league. Masters swimming gives swimmers the opportunity for continued application of those skills in a serious competitive environment for as long as they want to swim.”
5. Being An Athlete Can Get Your Diet In Gear
Maintaining a peak level of conditioning is an inherent part of swimming, but when a swimming career reaches its conclusion, many athletes lose their motivation to audit their food consumption, and they can also become reluctant to do the work necessary to stay conditioned. As a result, many “swammers” put on lots of weight, even if they continue with some form of strength training. Ian certainly fell into the latter category, but a return to the water was all it took to motivate Ian to be more judicious about choosing his food. As a result, he got his swimmer body back, and he says it was really just a side effect to wanting to be fast.
“I lifted weights and did light cardio nearly every day for 17 years just trying to be muscular, and my weight was fluctuating between 230 and 240 pounds,” Ian said. “The moment I decided I was swimming again, it seemed like I dropped to 215 pounds overnight, and now I’m down around 200 pounds. There was something very different about the way I approached food and exercise after I told myself ‘I’m an athlete’ and ‘I need to get fast.’ Frankly, I think I look a lot better swimming and staying lean than I ever did when I was going out of my way to gain muscle.”
6. Everyone Counts In Masters Swimming
Because masters swimming holds national and world championship events, it provides incentives for some of the best and most talented swimmers in the world to compete in masters events as they age. This means former Olympians and collegiate All-Americans continue to occupy the top ranking positions both domestically and internationally, but Ian insists every masters swimmer can enjoy both individual successes in terms of achieving personal goals, and team successes as they join teams and score points for them in significant meets.
“My friends Lance and Trevor Asti were NCAA Division 1 swimmers for Tennessee and Michigan State respectively, and both have been US Masters Swimming All Americans,” Ian explained. “But, I also watched a woman compete in a state championship meet while she was several months pregnant. I’m sure that woman still scored points for her team, she potentially contributed to an overall team state championship, and she can say her child competed in his or her first meet while it was still in the womb. All of those achievements are worth bragging about as far as I’m concerned.”
7. Your Swimming Goals Are Entirely Your Own
If you were a reluctant high school swimmer, you may have dreaded being picked to swim the 500 freestyle. If you were on a club team, it got even worse; the 200 butterfly and the 400 individual medley always loomed ominously as the coach informed you of what events you were going to be competing in before crafting your training program accordingly. Thankfully, if distance isn’t your thing, most masters swim meets offer swims as brief as 50 yards for every stroke. So, if getting good at extreme sprinting is your objective, you can build your entire training regimen around that goal, and you can make your practice as brief as you like. 
In Ian’s case, he says he still hears Coach Bob Harding in his head when he’s pushing himself during training sets, but fortunately, the real Coach Harding isn’t there with coffee in hand and toothpick in mouth to tell him what he has to swim, how much time he has to swim it in, or when practice is over with.
“If I want to get in and swim only butterfly or only breaststroke for an entire practice, no one is going to tell me I can’t,” Ian said. “If I want to start training for a brand new event or distance, no one is going to tell me I’m hurting the team by not focusing on my traditional events. Also, since I’m in total control of my practices, I can just hop in the water and do 15 minutes of sprints at the gym after I lift weights, and no one is there to tell me I have to stay in the water for another hour and a half. It’s great.”

8. Masters Swimming Provides The Opportunity For New Successes
US Masters Swimming crowns champions in long course meters and short course yards, and they also recognize All-Americans in short course meters events. In addition, they also recognize individual and relay national champions in long distance swimming events, in both open-water and ePostal venues. 
Because Ian wanted to try something new, he signed up for an ePostal swimming event without realizing his time would be grouped in with two other Michigan Masters team members who were also competing in the event. Imagine Ian’s surprise when he received the results from his first ePostal competition and he had been declared a USMS Long Distance Relay National Champion!
“Officially, I’m a four-time USMS National Champion and All-American based on the long distance ePostal swimming competitions I’ve entered,” Ian shrugged. “Do I feel a little silly claiming those titles? Absolutely… but they came as a result of trying out new things within the realm of swimming and having talented teammates who carried me. The bottom line is I took a chance on something I thought would be fun. It was very physically challenging and rewarding, and I received an unexpected reward for my efforts. Those are titles I never had a shot at achieving when I was younger, but US Masters Swimming gave me the chance to achieve more than I ever imagined.”


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