Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 6, 2013

Master swimmers meet to train, exercise

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Many of Traverse City’s medical professionals are taking their own advice and working more physical activity into their busy schedules.

Some start the day well before the sun rises to join two local doctors and a physician assistant in an early-morning swim at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center’s Easling Pool, where the three are preparing for a national swimming competition.

“It’s not unusual to see a line of pagers and cell phones along the pool deck during the early session,” said Kathy Coffin-Sheard, coach of the Grand Traverse Masters Swim Team.

Among those dedicated to their early morning workouts are physicians Nancy Reye and Paula Colombo, and physician assistant Sean Cabbage, who regularly hit the water by 5 a.m. to hone their skills before they head to the 2013 United States Masters Spring National Championship from May 9-12 in Indianapolis.

The early practice time may seem grueling, but Coffin-Sheard said the masters swim group is anything but.

“Masters swimmers come in all sizes and shapes. The classification ‘masters swimmer’ only means that you’re over 18,” she said. “Some people belong because they’re into fitness training, they’re triathletes, former or current competitive swimmers, but the group encompasses everybody. There’s no ‘I’m not good enough’ in masters swimming.”

The masters swim group began about 20 years ago and received little attention until about a year and a half ago when it experienced a surge of interest. Coffin-Sheard said the group has about 60 members, with a new person joining every two weeks or so.

"It’s not unusual to see 22 swimmers in the 5 a.m. group. I typically see about 35 in both the morning and noon swim sessions,” she said.

Coffin-Sheard, who currently coaches the Traverse City Breakers along with the masters group, was a competitive swimmer in college, was a member of the U.S. National Swim Team for two years, coached swimming at the University of Georgia and trained Olympians.

“I enjoy coaching masters swimmers. There’s something about being around a group of people who want to be there,” she said. “There are 1,640 entries in this year’s meet. Getting to that venue becomes a personal goal. Paula has not stopped swimming since she was 7 years old. Sean is a marathoner and an Ironman competitor. Nancy is getting back to swimming after a six-year hiatus.”

“I swam from age 5 up through high school in Birmingham and also swam while I attended Kalamazoo College, and used swimming as exercise after that,” said Reye, who joined other open water swimmers in mile-long swims of Grand Traverse Bay starting from Bryant Park before joining the masters team.

Reye said she returned to swimming while recovering from a broken collarbone.

“I was still having some pain after completing physical therapy, and I knew I needed to push it a little harder,” she said. “I’ve got kind of a competitive spirit. But in masters swimming I don’t have to do as well as high school. I have to do my own, personal best.”

“I feel like I’m 10 years younger and a lot stronger than I did a year ago. It’s a gradual process, but it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s my fountain of youth.”