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2019 USMS Convention: One Person's View

Under the ArchSt.nLouis, Missouri, Gateway to the West, was the location of the 2019 USMS Annual Convention. Under the shadow of the amazing Gateway Arch from September 11 to 15, committee meetings were conducted, rules were clarified and elections were held as swimmers of all backgrounds and abilities were celebrated. Delegates and representatives of Local Masters Swimming Committees (LMSC) had a great time meeting old and new friends, while learning about the hard work that goes into keeping USMS such a vibrant organization.

This was the last annual meeting of the first half century of Masters Swimming! Established in 1970, 2020 will be our 50th year. 2020 is also an Olympic year, so expect to see “50 years of USMS” branding prominently displayed throughout the year!

One of the most notable moments of the convention was when our own Pacific Masters’ Peter Guadagni accepted the position of President of USMS for a 2-year term. He began his speech with, “Shoulder blade, upper arm or calf…” Since branding is so important, he asked the House of Delegates to vote on where he should put his tattoo! I do believe calf won, but there was too much laughter in the room to really know.

There was a lot of discussion, again this year about what to do about our falling numbers. Membership is down from 60,000 last year to 57,000 this year. However, our new College Club program is paying off with 5,500 new members recruited through our efforts to reach out to newly graduated college swimmers.

The USMS Swimming Saves Lives Foundation (SSLF) is front and center of our attention. Since 2012, SSLF has awarded more than $550,000 in grants to adult learn-to-swim providers and programs, benefiting thousands, thanks to generous contributions from USMS members and other supporters. This foundation was much discussed during our meetings. Pat Mathison, who learned to swim at age 53, provided an equally compelling story following Olympian Josh Davis on Friday.

2019 Pacific Convention DelegatesI attended a luncheon hosted by USA Swimming Foundation. Spokesperson Rowdy Gaines sat informally with Elizabeth Beisel and Chase Kalisz discussing their amazing Olympic careers and dreams while we had a beautiful lunch. USA Swimming Foundation serves as the philanthropic arm of USA Swimming. The Foundation works to strengthen the sport by saving lives and building champions-in the pool and in life. By equipping our children with the life-saving skill of learn-to-swim and providing financial support to our heroes on the U.S. National Team, the USA Swimming Foundation aims to provide the wonderful experience of swimming to kids at all levels across the country.

At that luncheon, I learned that if the parents in a family don’t swim, only 14% of those children will ever learn to swim. Some staggering statistics were brought forth about drowning in this country every day, mostly adults. Drowning is the fifth common cause of death in this country. And this is preventable!

Rowdy Gaines was friendly, taking pictures and giving autographs. He graciously accepted a copy of my book, The Water Beckons, about how I returned to competitive swimming after a 40-year hiatus! Later that evening, I attended the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The nine inductees, including Rowdy Gaines, were impressive, inspiring and humble. Rowdy said he was in a room filled with his idols. “Rick Colella is here!” And then he added, “Wow! There’s Laura Val!” Everyone laughed.

During the meet and greet, he remembered me, “Hi there! I have your book!” I was impressed. Apparently we’re pals now. What a night! The complete list of inductees can be found here.

Back to the business of the convention, some of the issues that were discussed on the floor of the House of Delegates:

  • A proposal to reduce the 60-day waiting period to change club affiliation to 30 (and then to 35) days. The pros argued that if someone moves, why penalize them by making them wait to compete with their new team? The cons rebutted: This change could lead to people jumping around, trying to build “power relays”, in other words, “funny stuff.” The motion failed.
  • Relay lead-off-swimmer’s splits: A contentious argument about lead-off swimmers on a relay being able to use their splits for records if the relay does not successfully finish. Mostly, USMS rules mirror USA Swimming rules. USA recently changed their rule to allow the lead-off swimmer’s split to count for records even if the relay is disqualified because of an action by the second, third or fourth swimmer. 

USMS voted to retain our rules which state that the lead-off swimmer’s splits only count if the relay is legitimate, i.e. if any part of the relay is disqualified, the relay is not legitimate. Therefore the lead-off split cannot count for records. This motion carried and is one of the few times that the USMS rules differ from USA Swimming rules.

  • Budget: This was a difficult one; changing the rule about approval of the budget. One of the core functions of the House of Delegates has been approval of the USMS budget. This has led to some problems:

a.    Delegates approve fees. If the HOD changes any fee, the finance committee must scramble to re-balance the budget in time for a vote before the end of the Convention.

b.    September is early to finalize a budget for the following year. Better forecasting is available later in the year.

c.     Preparing the budget in advance of Convention was challenging since the finance committee could not know what rules were going to be in effect and what would be on the table for the following fiscal year. 

A proposal was put forth to change the rule allowing our Board to approve the budget after the Convention (with HOD maintaining fee approval). The finance committee works diligently, in good faith, to maintain the integrity of the operation and the committee is made up of members. The fact is, the House of Delegates rarely are solidly informed and most often vote with the recommendations of the finance committee anyway. This motion passed.

  • Unified Fee: This was a bit complicated. Each LMSC adds an annual fee of their choosing on top of the USMS one. That leads to different prices to join USMS all around the country. This prevents USMS from offering multi-year memberships or entering into joint membership arrangements with organizations such as USA Triathlon. The proposal is to charge the same fee everywhere in the country (with a fixed % going to fund LMSC budgets). This proposal will be brought to a vote next year.

Some LMSC’s chose to be leaders and join the program this year. Since we don’t have a Unified Fee yet, they will set their LMSC portion to $15 and give $3 to USMS, thus keeping $12 which is how much they will keep in the future. Pacific Masters signed an early agreement, showing the rest of the country that the largest LMSC is on board. 

On a personal note, I made two (2!) early morning workouts this time!! “The bus leaves promptly at 5:30!” On Thursday morning, I woke and along with 60 other crazy people were chauffeured, in two elegant coaches to Maplewood Swim Center. Practice from 6-7 AM. The outside air was warm and the pool water even warmer. The pool seemed long. Maybe my stroke count was off. But no, it wasn’t me. The pool is 57 yards long!!! They apparently ran out of money for a bulkhead.

The outside lanes were coached, but the middle of the pool had no lane lines. There was a mass of confusion, or so it appeared to me, but made complete sense to the open water swimmers who were churning the water.

Saturday, I woke again, snuck out of the room in the dark (as to not awaken my roommate) to attend another practice. This time it was different. There were no buses waiting. A few minutes late, two older school busses pulled up. We climbed in and headed out. I noticed, and wasn’t the only one, that we did not pass by the impressive and well-lit Busch Stadium like we had on Thursday morning, and we appeared to be going in a different direction. After much a-twitter amongst the swimmers, someone spoke up to the driver who was indeed taking us to a different pool. When she realized her mistake, she turned around and tried to make up time. I didn’t know that a school bus could go that fast! No seat belts, mind you! She got us there only 5 minutes late. We all thanked her for “kicking ass!”

Bagels were provided after the practices. This is so appreciated and has indeed become expected!

After all the business was finished, the convention ended with a grand banquet Saturday night featuring video presentations and awards for all five US Aquatic Sports affiliates: USA Water Polo, USA Diving, US Masters Swimming, USA Synchronized Swimming (now called Artistic Swimming) and USA Swimming. 

There was some time for sight-seeing. Many folks went to the Busch Stadium Friday night to watch the Cardinals trounce the Brewers 10-0. Sunday morning, a group of us Pacific Masters went over to the Arch. The underground museum told us about the history of St. Louis including that St. Louis was the third largest port in the United States in the mid-19th century and how the Arch was built. We got in little pods and climbed 630 feet in the air for a magnificent view of the area. Great finish to an exciting week!

The whole convention was a wonderful experience. I spent time with so many involved, enthusiastic, like-minded people and really got a sense of how our USMS and Pacific Masters groups are organized, and how we volunteers all work together. It’s not easy putting on the many open water, competitive and championship events. We even have a committee, History and Archives whose job it is to collect and preserve documents, stories, photos, exhibits, oral histories and other memorabilia to ensure that our achievements will be maintained for posterity! So much is taken into account. Safety is the first concern as well as insuring the rules are upheld to make the competitions fair.

The 2020 “50th Anniversary of USMS” Convention will be held in Jacksonville, Florida. See you there!

Written by Linda Hepworth, competitive swimmer, Update editor, and author of The Water Becons, with contributions from Bob Anderson. Arch photo by Diana Triana.

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