BAR HARBOR — Whether you’ve got a competitive spirit, want to improve your breast stroke or just want a body like Olympian Ryan Lochte, the Mount Desert Island YMCA is offering a new Maine Masters swim program to help reach those goals.
U.S. Masters Swimming is an organized program for adults, with a governing body that holds races throughout the country. There are 30 Masters Swimming sites in the state of Maine.
“Masters” may seem like an intimidating descriptor, but it simply means over 18. Swimmers of all levels are welcome to join the program, although a basic knowledge of the sport is necessary.
The Down East Family YMCA in Ellsworth has offered the program for several years, and many swimmers who live on the island have traveled to attend the training sessions.
The MDI YMCA started its Masters program last month, and it is already gaining speed.
“I am pretty excited about this,” said Aquatics Director Mark Schoon. “I’ve been trying to get something like this going for a few years now.”
Swimmers can attend a weekly training session coached by assistant aquatics director and Masters coach Christine Longstreeth on Wednesdays from 7:30-8:30 a.m.
The session is free for YMCA members and requires a day pass for nonmembers.
Longstreeth puts swimmers through a series of drills that improve speed and strength. She also publishes workouts on the YMCA website so swimmers can recreate a difficult workout themselves.
“We have a lot of fun every week,” said Longstreeth. “Swimming is so important to a lot of people in community, all of us have a chance to get together with a group of people who are like-minded and enjoy swimming and improving.”
Schoon said swimming in a group can be more beneficial than swimming alone.
“It’s a really neat community,” he said. “Like any other group exercise, you can feed off energy from the other swimmers.”
Masters swimmer Rob Benson of Bar Harbor said the weekly training session is a fun, social activity.
“The philosophy of Masters swimming is that for whatever reason you are interested, whether it is for the physical, social or for fitness, [the program] is a fun way for everyone to get together and improve their ability,” said Benson.
If competing in a swim meet is not a goal, swimmers still reap the benefits from weekly training.
“I try to have a really good workout for advanced swimmers, and I also have other ones for people who are just beginning to learn new skills as well,” Longstreeth said.
Those interested in taking up swimming should consider the sport’s benefits.
Competitive swimmers also have a place in Masters swimming.
The MDI YMCA will host the first meet in the Maine Masters series on Thursday, Jan. 29, at 11 a.m.
Swimmers can compete in races as short as a 50-meter sprint and as long as a 1,650-meter free swim.
Schoon said competition is a motivating milestone.
For some swimmers, meets are about improving times. For others, swimming in a meet is a success in and of itself.
“Masters swimming offers opportunity for competition, but it’s not pushing everyone towards that,” said Benson. “Meets are about trying to do your best, beat your time. It’s really about personal enjoyment and challenge … not necessarily for the glory.”
According to the Harvard Medical Center’s health guide, swimming improves lung function, lowers cholesterol and takes pressure off of joints and muscles.
Swimming is a full-body workout that not only works arms and legs, but also strengthens the core.
Schoon offers private swimming lessons for those needing to learn for the first time or to brush up on skills. The cost is $125 for five private classes.