Yesterday I attended the Victoria Masters Annual Swim Meet, the only long course meet of our season (unlike in the U.S. Canadian Masters do not have a separate long course season). As I live on the mainland and Victoria’s located on Vancouver Island it means taking the ferry over early in the morning and then getting back late at night which is a hassle – but as I said, it’s the only long course meet we have. I arrived nearly an hour ahead of warm ups because of the ferry schedule but was rewarded by catching the tail end of Island Swimming’s morning workout, where several of the club’s swimmers were preparing for our Olympic Trials in April. While most headed straight into the showers Rick Say hung around and did some stretching for about twenty minutes. Of course at almost twenty nine Rick is the oldest member of our national team and swimming competitively at such an advanced age requires extra work which I well understand. Incidentally the workout was split into several different programs depending on the individual swimmer but most exceeded 7,000 meters, had a lot of speed work, and all relied exclusively on short rests between the reps. In my club our sets are almost always on intervals such as “on 45 seconds” rather than the “10 seconds rest” employed by Island Swimming; probably because our wildly disparate swimming skills require some consolidation at the end of every rep or else chaos would reign.
I was delighted to discover that Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen herself was entered to swim some races at the meet as she was in Victoria to give some clinics. I managed to track her down and asked her if she would be willing to give my blog an email interview about her masters career, her training methods, her swim clinics and, out of pure curiosity, how long she plans to compete seriously as a master. To this request she very graciously agreed so that's something to look forward to. She even spent the time to find me afterwards and hand me a copy of an article she’d written about shoulder rotation for Swimming World Magazine where she’s one of their featured writers. I’ll have to try to attend one of her clinics and see if this technique she's adopted for her own use could work for me. Karlyn also provided the meet’s high point when she broke her own 45-49 100 fly world record.
Emboldened with my first successful approach for an interview I next approached a notably fast swimmer in his twenties by the name of Benji Hutton and inquired whether he was any relation to local legend Ralph Hutton, hoping to garner some way to contact Mr. Hutton and ask if he too would be willing to do an interview. Alas my luck ran out at this point as Benji was not related. In my defense he politely told me I was definitely not the first person to ask him that question. Too bad, Ralph Hutton would have been another great interview.
But the most interesting story belongs to a local woman, Cindy Mabee, whom I previously mentioned back in November when she set some personal masters bests and a new national masters record for the 35-39 100 back. Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen was equally fascinated judging by the time she spent talking to Mabee. Cindy returned for a second shot at masters swimming early last year at thirty eight, after a youth which saw her reach the backstroke finals in several national championships but never the honor of representing Canada internationally. As a mother of five children as young as seven (three being her own) and a professional swimming coach with Island Swimming she has priorities which preclude heavy training. But with a frenetic schedule limiting her to not much more than an hour a week swimming she’s done very well. Extraordinarily well. This past January in Duncan, BC she swam a new world masters record for the 50 back short course in 29.91, a career best time by 0.15 seconds. Later at a non-masters sanctioned meet she swam a 100 back short course in 1:04.7, a time only a tenth of a second slower than her career best and one which would have placed her second only to Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen in the FINA world Masters Top 10 All Time rankings in that age group.
Yet even more amazing Cindy swims a very respectable 200 back as well. Much more than respectable – her recent 2:22.08 short course time from Duncan catapulted her into third place on the FINA All Time list for that event; and all on less than a couple of hours training a week. To my mind that’s absolutely mind-blowing. I asked to what she attributed her phenomenal success and she felt it was being tougher mentally than when she competed as a girl. Certainly many swimmers believe mental toughness is a major reason for their success, yet the rationale rested uncomfortably on me. Perhaps it was only a fragile ego which made it difficult for me to accept this as the entire answer. Perhaps because I felt her 200 backstroke success could not be explained by ‘mental toughness’ alone. As a result of my doubts I went back and asked her a second time why she thinks she’s able to swim so well on such little training. This time she guessed she might also be stronger due to her running and all the lifting and toting a mother does every day. Well cross training definitely does help (and here I am cursing my competitive running past for my anchor-like ankles) and certainly additional strength is a big asset to a swimmer: even if I have not personally observed efforts expended in managing a household to be an effective way to achieve a lean, athletic body. On the other hand other things she mentioned while talking to me, such as how effortless she was finding racing, offered up an alternative explanation. Perhaps her age has brought an increased familiarity with her body and gives her more efficient movement. That would at least present an appearance of increased strength and would go a long way to explaining how she can include a 200 in her repertoire on such little training. Whatever the explanation Cindy Mabee is certainly swimming some marvelous times. While they aren’t at a level which would allow her to seriously compete in open competition who knows what the future may bring? With a proper training schedule we might be seeing some great things from her in the next couple of years.