Different strokes, different folks

Different strokes, different folks

Gina Hieser grew up swimming and she loves the relaxing feeling of gliding through the water.

She wasn’t a competitive swimmer as a child. As an adult, though, the Champaign triathlete began swimming with a masters team about 10 years ago, inspired both by her grandmother, who swam into her 90s, and her daughter, who swims for the Y’s HEAT and the Central High School swim teams.

In the past three years, Hieser has started competing in masters swim meets. She’ll be swimming at the Stephens Family YMCA Masters Winter Meet on Feb. 19.

This is the second year the Stephens Family YMCA has hosted a masters swim meet.

“We wanted to host it when we built the new facility. With the logistics of getting everything else started, it took a few years to get it organized,” said Will Barker, director of competitive aquatics at the Y.

Blog PhotoLast year, the meet attracted 49 swimmers from all over Illinois. Tina Johnson, the coach for the Y’s masters swim team, is hoping for 60 to 65 swimmers at this year’s meet.

The meet is open to swimmers age 18 and over. They must be members of U.S. Masters Swimming ($50/year), but they do not have to be affiliated with a team. The events range from 50-meter races to the mile, with a variety of strokes, individual medley events and relays.

The swimmers on the Y’s masters swim team have a wide range of previous swimming experience, but Johnson has convinced them all to give competition a try.

“There are some people who learned how to swim later in life. I have some former competitive swimmers, I have some triathletes, and I have some people who do it for fitness,” Johnson said. “It’s been my experience they all like new challenges.”

Hieser said the competition isn’t really about the other swimmers she’s racing against, though.

Blog Photo“You’re competing with yourself. You’re comparing your times to the last time,” she said. “I’m not at a level, nor will I ever be, to expect to go to a meet and be in contention to place or be the one to beat.”

Instead, she asks herself: “Did I do better than the last time? Is my technique better?”

Hieser likes swimming the 500-meter freestyle event, the 100-meter and 200-meter individual medleys, and the relays.

“It’s a team bonding experience. Someone is always at the end of your lane cheering for you,” she said. “The relays are fun. It’s all the adrenaline and working hard for your teammates and coming together. With this team, there’s so much positive feedback.

“I think it’s really cool that all of us are confident enough to parade around the pool in our bathing suits at the ages we are,” Hieser said. “There’s no judgement. Here we are, and we’re all trying our best. In our minds, we’re Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.”

 

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.

 

Area masters swim meets:

Feb. 12: PAWW Valentine Classic, Peoria, early entry deadline Feb. 10, deck entries allowed

Feb. 19: Stephens Family YMCA Masters Winter Meet, Champaign, entry deadline Feb. 15

March 5: Central Illinois Masters Spring Classic, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, early entry deadline March 3, deck entries allowed

For more information about upcoming masters swim meets, go to http://www.ilmsa.com/competition/upcoming.

For more information about masters swimming, go to http://www.usms.org/.

 

Photos: Top, members of the Stephens Family YMCA's masters swim team pose before the 2016 masters meet, which was the first of its kind that the Stephens Family Y had hosted. Bottom: Gina Hieser poses with her children, Cameron, left, and Maddie Lou before a masters swim meet.

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