The 2013 USMS Pan American Masters Championships was an amazing experience. Set in Sarasota, Florida at the YMCA Selby Aquatic Center, swimmers were treated to a perfect competitive experience. The Sarasota Sharks and the United States Masters Swimming staff did an amazing job at thinking of and organizing every single possible detail – right down to assuring that everyone at the meet was able to understand meet announcements (which were in English and Spanish). The venue was absolutely amazing: a crystal clear 50 meter temperature controlled competition pool with seemingly brand new starting blocks made for fast races in a perfect environment. The warm up/ warm down pool was set up as a 25 yard area in which swimmers could spend as much or as little time acclimating to the water temperature (a wonderful and perfect 78 degrees) before a race, and cooling off/ warming down after a race. There was also an indoor pool at the Senior Center in which swimmers could practice, warm up or warm down in a less crowded environment. And, as a final “cool” place to hang out (thanks to the air conditioning) for a respite from the Florida heat, the Teen Center provided a nice, cool place for us swimmers to relax, chat, and get ready for our next race.
The meet started off like any other: distance day was first, and Goby and I had the pleasure of counting for several of my friends who asked us for that service. The beginning of the meet is generally when I introduce Goby to the officials, explain his purpose as a service dog (he sniffs out latex because I have an anaphylactic allergy), and acclimate him to the pool deck. All of the officials had already been briefed on Goby and his medically necessary presence on deck, and thus they were eager to meet the 6lb Chihuahua who is truly a “wonder dog.” Goby received a warm welcome from all of the USMS staff, volunteers, and officials, even though employees from the Sarasota Y were reticent to allow him (and thus, me!) on deck (dogs are generally not allowed on pool decks, but service dogs are the exception to that rule…). I felt genuinely welcome at the meet (despite the Y employees), as I readied myself for competition on the second day of the meet (my 50 free).
Part of readying myself for competition means not only acclimating myself to the pool temperature and getting Goby accustomed to the surroundings in which he was to be working (he sits in his blue kennel with my cell phone and two Epipens), but also making certain that I had the gear necessary to swim as hard and fast as possible (given that I am a sprinter). Given that my luggage had been lost by Delta Airlines, I went into the vendor tent and went to the only booth that was operating at full tilt (everyone else was readying themselves for sales during the second day of competition): the FINIS booth (YAY for my sponsor!)! I bought a new pair of goggles, a fun and crazy animal cap, and a new USMS practice suit. Double YAY! I hit the water and swam 3000 yards in the dive well/ warm up/ warm down pool and was immediately in love with the water temperature, the pool (so clean and beautiful!), and the opportunity to SWIM OUTDOORS! Coming from North Carolina where the pools in which my team (Raleigh Area Masters) practice are all indoors, it was a joy to see birds, clouds, and blue sky when swimming. I love swimming outdoors and take advantage of every opportunity to do so…
Day 2 of the Pan American Championships was marred by Tropical Storm Andrea, which approached Sarasota as a surprise out of the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of thunder and lightening, tornado watches and then warnings, and torrential rains and winds, the lightening alarms went off, and the pool deck was cleared. Initially, there were hundreds of people in each of the two locker rooms, until folks decided that the storm made for the perfect opportunity to socialize and shop in the vendor tent. As Goby and I ventured in there, I saw that the FINIS vendor was hopping! Everyone was milling around trying the Neptune audio player, looking at the SwimSense watches, picking up free latex caps (Goby kept me far away from those!), and trying on new FINIS Hydrospeed Velo performance suits. I approached the FINIS rep from California to ask if I could help, but it seemed that the Team Wares representative and she had everything under control. So, I wandered. There was a lot of looking at swim caps and equipment, but I noticed that people were primarily purchasing goods from FINIS. I learned afterwards that a second urgent order for more goods had to be placed so that there would be FINIS suits and equipment available for purchase during the remaining seven (7) days of the meet. If that’s not testimony itself about the quality of FINIS products, I don’t know what is!
Competition on the second day was delayed from 10 AM until 1:30 PM because of the tropical storm and a tornado warning (meaning that a tornado had been spotted in the area). Because of this, many of us who had already warmed up for the 50 free began to get a bit antsy.., especially because we were getting stiff…. Thankfully, the officials permitted us 30 minutes of warm-up in the competition pool so that we could ready ourselves for racing a second time. Racing began, and the thrill of competition was in the air… despite the reality that we were swimming AGAINST 40 MPH tropical storm winds! Every single person in my heat was disappointed in our performance, but given the conditions under which we were competing, we had to “let it go,” and move forward with our next events. Despite the winds, I loved being in the water and competing… and that made it worthwhile!
Throughout the meet, Goby and I maintained a constant presence on deck. I wore my FINIS t-shirt every day, under which was either my FINIS USMS practice suit (that I loved – more on that later) or my FINIS Hydrospeed Velo Race John. My times weren’t as strong as I would have liked, mostly because there hadn’t been any long course pools in NC in which I could practice prior to going to Pan Ams, so that was a bit disappointing…. But I loved the experience of swimming in my second ever international meet, and of swimming the 50-meter butterfly for the first time ever! Talk about a THRILL!
Let me spend a bit of time on the 50-meter butterfly for a moment, before returning to more details about the meet. Prior to Pan Ams, I spent a lot of time reading about appropriate butterfly technique and practicing with my FINIS monofin. The monofins helped me tremendously with mastering the undulating motion associated with the butterfly, and I found that after practicing 1500 yards with just the butterfly kick (with my arms extended underwater) really made a huge difference in my technique. I am thrilled with how my butterfly is progressing, and am especially excited about the fact that I actually LOVE swimming butterfly now (it used to scare me!). In practice on my own, I also used my Agility Paddles to get my arms into the appropriate rhythm for the butterfly pull. Once I put the Paddles and Monofin together in practice, I felt a strength in the butterfly that I have never felt before. It was amazing, and I was excited to swim this stroke in competition at the Pan Am meet.
On butterfly day (the third day of competition for me), I was nervous and literally had “butterflies” in my stomach. I had never swum the stroke in competition before, and wow… I was excited and all fluttery before my race. I made the decision to go slowly but methodically (so that I wouldn’t get disqualified!), as any time that I registered would be a lifetime best in the butterfly. One of the officials (who was a huge fan of Goby) encouraged me, telling me to go long, stretch out my underwater butterfly kicks, and to have fun… and I did all of that and had the time of my life! At the end of my race, the official told me that my form was perfect, and now I should work on speed. PERFECT?! I was thrilled and excited! Who would have ever thought that my first try at competing in the butterfly would go so well? Amazing! I credit my training equipment, and look forward to working on speed now that I have the technique down. This also means that I am officially retiring from swimming the one stroke that I just dislike swimming: breaststroke! My plan is sprint in the freestyle and butterfly events at as many swim meets as possible. To that end, I am looking forward to the 2013 Powerade North Carolina State Games next weekend, at which I will be swimming the 50, 100, and 200-meter freestyle and the 100 meter butterfly. I am registered to swim the 100 and 200-meter breaststroke, so I will likely swim those two events as my “farewell tour of the breaststroke.”
But, I digress. The 2013 USMS Pan American Masters Championships were tons of fun, and I got to witness, first-hand, how popular the FINIS brand really is among both US citizens and international swimmers. I saw this initially in the Vendor Tent when I saw the FINIS products literally flying off of the racks…, but I got to FEEL the popularity first-hand on the last day of competition. What happened? I was wearing my black FINIS t-shirt and was walking over by the water coolers and Pan Am Sam (see below) when a swimmer from the Colombian team approached me. While I speak five languages, Spanish is not one of them, unfortunately, and thus I didn’t understand what this swimmer was asking me. Before I knew what was happening, the Colombian swimmer was taking my FINIS t-shirt off of my body and handed me a Colombian National Team t-shirt before running off to rejoin his team members. I was laughing so hard, and was so thankful that I was wearing a colorful running bra under my shirt… as the last thing that I needed was to be found in violation of the USMS modesty rule! I realized that the Colombian swimmer wanted to trade shirts halfway through the “transaction,” but I continue to laugh at both my own naïveté during the incident and at the fact that I literally “had my FINIS shirt taken right off my back!”
Yes, FINIS products are POPULAR! I got a cool shirt out of the deal, but I really wasn’t planning on stripping on deck or giving away my FINIS t-shirt… but what does one do when someone starts taking your shirt off and is handing you another shirt in return? I was laughing so hard… and so thrilled to represent FINIS in this way. Somewhere in Colombia, a swimmer is proudly wearing my FINIS t-shirt! Too funny!
Because it was really hot on the final day of competition, I was concerned about keeping Goby out in the 90 degree heat (with really intense humidity), and thus I went back to where my belongings were to pack up and head for air conditioning. At that point, I noticed that my swim bag was open, and sitting on top of it was a bright blue Mexican sombrero. OK… that was odd. I left my bag closed… but I thought someone had mistakenly opened my FINIS backpack and had forgotten to close it back up. As I started organizing my things, I noticed that my FINIS USMS practice suit was missing from my bag! Initially, I was wondering who would steal someone else’s used swim suit, but then I realized that not only was the suit a FINIS product (which is highly coveted in the international community, apparently), but it also said United States Masters Swimming on it. Apparently, I was the recipient of another trade, also unbeknownst to me! I was laughing hysterically at this one… and knew that one of the first things that I would do when I returned home would be to contact FINIS to see about getting a new FINIS USMS suit. I really hope one is available, as I loved my suit and enjoyed representing FINIS in the practice suit! I know have a beautiful blue sombrero that I would gladly trade for a new FINIS USMS suit in my size!
I was thrilled to be a FINIS Ambassador at the 2013 USMS Pan American Masters Championships in Sarasota, Florida, and to see, first-hand, how popular and in demand FINIS products are! I know that there aren’t any other brands that I want to wear for competition and practice, or any other brands of equipment with which I want to train. I have noted, in previous blog entries, that “my dog did it,” and that statement still rings true. Goby led me to FINIS, as the one company whose products are safe for me to use. I am in love with FINIS, and look forward to continuing to promote the brand, and to train and race (and continue to improve my times!) wearing only FINIS products!