By Evan Caldwell
Steve Fogg hadn’t swam competitively for 50 years.
That changed in November when the 68-year-old Camano Island, Washington resident joined a handful of local aquanauts in the Stanwood Camano YMCA’s Masters Swim group to compete at a meet in November in Federal Way.
“People might say ‘I’m not ready’ or ‘I’m not fast’ but everyone is so supportive,” Fogg said. “It’s competitive. It’s inspiring. Everyone in the pool — fast or slow — got a standing ovation when they finished the race.”
That’s because the Masters Swim groups — both in Stanwood and nationwide — are geared more toward having a good, fun workout.
“I love the sense of community,” said Brad Hering, the local Master Swim group’s coach. “They’re here for the fun and to challenge themselves.”
Since the YMCA opened in September, the Masters Swim in Stanwood — called “SWYM,” which stands for Stanwood Washington YMCA Masters — has grown to 21.
“Swimming is a lifetime sport,” Hering said. “It gets you in shape, it works on flexibility and it improves your range of motion.”
But overall, it’s the group’s camaraderie that stands out.
“Sports can become dull and without joy,” Hering said. “This gets the joy back into sport. It gets the play part of exercise back in.”
YMCA members can join at any time for $40.
“Being a part of the group is good because they support you in setting and achieving your personal goals,” Fogg said.
Fogg is one of nearly 60,000 Masters Swimmers in 1,500 groups across the country.
While the structure and organization of individual US Masters Swimming (USMS) programs vary, the overall goals remain the same: getting adults to swim to stay in shape.
Swimming competitively is not required. Only about 25 percent of USMS swimmers enter pool or open water competitions.
The SWYM group holds workouts at 5:30 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and at 8 a.m. Saturdays.
In addition to the obvious health benefits — weight loss, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol — the swimmers say the growing sense of self-worth and feeling of accomplishment helps reduce stress.
It also brings together a diverse bunch for a unique workout. At one moment, the group — ranging from ages 19 to 93 — will be pushing each other to improve kick-flips, the next moment they will be singing Christmas carols as they cruise down their lane.
“This is a totally different workout atmosphere than I was expecting,” said Sarah Bailey, 29, who joined the group on a whim. “I just expected a good workout. But the camaraderie and passion for swimming is so strong here.”
Bailey, who swam for Stanwood in high school but not competitively since, didn’t join to compete, but decided at the last-minute to try her hand at the Federal Way meet.
“It was exciting,” the Camano Island resident said. “Totally differing from high school. … And I was surprised at how much I missed it.”
Joining Bailey, Fogg, and Hering at the meet in Federal Way were Paul Van Sant, Renee Barrie and Laura Laures. Now they’re preparing for a Feb. 4 meet in Anacortes.
“I never was a swimmer. I was more of a floater,” said Laures, 48.
But the first Tuesday after the YMCA opened, she jumped into the pool as a member of the Masters Swim group.
“I joined on a whim,” Laures said. “At the end of the first month, we swam our first mile. (Coach Hering) was great. He took us from not being swimmers to this, all while having fun along the way.”
Follow Evan Caldwell on Twitter @Evan_SCN