Masters of our destiny

Barnet Copthall Masters swimmer Rachael Coleman at Sheffield for the Nationals last weekend

Last week Masters swimmer Joe Twyman wrote a great piece for The Guardian about Masters Swimming. But is it all about ‘managing decline’ and trying to relive former glories? Here we get a different opinion from fellow Barnet Copthall masters swimmer, Rachael Coleman.

It’s a cold, rainy Friday morning and I find myself in the school playground nervously saying ‘goodbye’ and  ‘see you next week’ to my daughters. Only this time it’s not them off on a school trip. It’s me, about to head up to Sheffield with a mixture of nerves and excitement to participate in one of the highlights of the Masters Swimming calendar, the Nationals.

So apart from the opportunity to get a weekend away, why, you may ask, would I want to spend a weekend in Sheffield hanging around a rather hot and humid swimming pool? The answer is for the sheer fun of it. Yes really.
Before you stop reading thinking ‘ahh another person who has always swum’ I came late in life to club swimming, and even later to competing. I’ve always enjoyed swimming but never at club level so I can hopefully dispel the myth that all masters swimmers have come up through clubs and have been swimming like fish at all strokes since the age of 0. It’s a standing joke with my coach, and virtually everyone else who knows me at swimming, that I really can’t swim anything other than front crawl.

Rachael, looking seriously focused, ahead of one of her Masters’ races

I joined Barnet Copthall Swimming Club in North London six years ago and started competing with them four years ago. I still remember my first ever race with them so well. It was the 400 metres freestyle. I could barely dive, my goggles came off and I swam too many lengths. I got out of the water hooked on the buzz of the race and the thrill of a Personal Best – or PB in swimming speak.

And so, I find myself along with 15 other ‘Copthallites’ up in Sheffield for a weekend of fun. Because that’s exactly what it is. Fun. For some of the team it’s about making a comeback after years out of the sport, or chasing British records. We all secretly hope for PBs and dare to dream of winning medals. For me, it’s a combination of reasons. It’s about catching up with people from all over the country I’ve met at other meets and only get to see on the side of various pools, meeting new people, feeling inspired by watching 80 year olds who can hardly walk dive in and race, and of course competing myself. It’s the opportunity to push myself to the max and see what I can achieve.

So, how did it go? Well I had a lot of fun with my team mates. It’s always good to get opportunity to chat properly to some great people who mostly only ever have time to say ‘how many lengths have we got left’. I met some people I’d last met swimming in Holland (that’s another thing that makes masters swimming great… always an opportunity to travel!). Oh, and there were some swimming races too! In total four races over two days.

Rachael Coleman competing for Barnet Copthall in one of her four Freestyle events

I’d be lying if I said I was happy with all my swims, but then that’s what drives me to keep going. The day I’m completely satisfied is the day I hang up my cap and googles! However without doubt competing in my first ever relay and that team winning bronze was the highlight of the weekend.

I headed back to London tired but very happy after what felt like a successful weekend. And after a weekend like that, what’s the first thing to do when you get home? Sign up for the next meet of course.

PS I’d hate you to read this and think that if you want to be a Masters Swimmer you have to compete…it’s absolutely not the case. I think the thing that makes masters swimming so special is the total mix of ages, abilities and reasons people have for swimming. At the end of the day, we all swim for one reason and one reason only. It’s FUN.