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With the Aquadome cloaked in darkness, Katherine Peters finishes a breaststroke lap during early morning practice with Aquatics Club Masters. Peters is a former All American swimmer at The University of Alabama.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
With the Aquadome cloaked in darkness, Katherine Peters finishes a breaststroke lap during early morning practice with Aquatics Club Masters. Peters is a former All American swimmer at The University of Alabama.

Master strokes
Veteran swimmers get jump on sun — and competition

By Paul Huggins
phuggins@decaturdaily.com · 340-2395

Early morning darkness hangs over every practice when a group of Decatur swimmers begin their daily workout.

Sure, you’ve heard it before. Dedicated athletes rising before dawn. But these are not high-schoolers hoping to earn a college scholarship or collegians aiming for the pros.

These swimmers are housewives, accountants, mothers and grandfathers, ages 26 to 87. They are the Decatur Aquatics Club Masters, and they practice six days a week — starting at 5 a.m. on weekdays — for love of the sport, exercise and, maybe, occasional ribbons.

Katherine Peters, 34, a mother of three, joined the team last fall, though reluctantly because of the early practice.

“I don’t love it when the alarm goes off (at 4:30 a.m.), and I kind of moan and groan to myself,” Peters said. “But the team aspect of it has really been a lot of fun.”

Gail Reinecke, coach and swimmer, said the pre-sunrise practice makes it hard to add members. Since forming six years ago, the team has a core group of five or six swimmers and tends to pull in six or seven short-timers.

The team fields about 12 swimmers, but Reinecke thinks it can attract more if she can build more awareness. Decatur took second among small teams at a regional event in Auburn two weeks ago.

“They’re not all people who compete,” Reinecke said, noting only five of the team’s 12 members traveled to Auburn. “We have some swimmers that just want to better their stroke and swim for health or be able to swim all four strokes and swim laps.”

A former All-American swimmer at The University of Alabama, Peters did not intend to compete when she joined the team. She wanted to get in shape. Reinecke persuaded her to enter the Auburn meet.

Peters doubted her decision and not just because of the butterflies in her stomach. She worried she would compare herself to her collegiate days and would leave the meet disappointed.

“More than anything, my goal was not to embarrass myself,” Peters said.

She finished first in seven events in her age group (30-34) and was a high-point trophy winner. After the meet, she learned she was close to making the national top 10 for her age group. She is practicing even harder to improve her time at the next meet in April.

U.S. bankruptcy Judge Jack Caddell, 62, won the 200-yard freestyle at Auburn and placed second or third in four other events. He agreed the competition aspect motivates him. It’s not about beating others, he said, but about getting stronger and finding ways to swim faster.

“Swimming — I’m sure every sport is like this — is 99 percent efficiency,” he said.

Reinecke helps by giving personal instruction and arranging workout sessions that keep the training interesting and purposeful. The number of laps depends on skill level.

A practice last week had one group swimming a 1,000-yard warm-up intermixed with kicking or pulling only, then 400 yards focusing on proper breathing, followed by a double dose of 3-by-75-yard individual medley, 2-by-50-yard stroke of choice and 25 yards of butterfly. They finished with a 200-yard cool-down.

Peters said she was surprised the team had instruction and complimented Reinecke for keeping practice fun and important.

Jack Caddell and Katherine Peters listen for instructions from their coach, Gail Reinecke, during swim team practice. Caddell, a U.S. bankruptcy judge, says the competition is not so much about beating others but about getting stronger and finding ways to swim faster.
Jack Caddell and Katherine Peters listen for instructions from their coach, Gail Reinecke, during swim team practice. Caddell, a U.S. bankruptcy judge, says the competition is not so much about beating others but about getting stronger and finding ways to swim faster.
“She’ll (Reinecke) call you on it if you’re not there,” Peters said. “That accountability means so much, knowing that people are there, and they care if you show up or not.”

Reinecke said she doesn’t pressure anyone into competing, but she encourages them to have that mindset so they will push themselves.

“A lot of people get there to swim a mile and that’s all they do,” she said. “They don’t know if they’re getting better. If you don’t time yourself, or see if you’re getting stronger, it kind of gets boring after a while.”

Phil Curry, the group’s eldest member at 87, usually competes with himself because there are so few swimmers in his age group. Because he had no competition at Auburn, he took first in four events and was a high- point trophy winner.

Curry, a former collegiate swimmer for Cambridge, broke his neck two years ago body surfing in the Gulf of Mexico, and he had to take a break from hard exercise.

Even though he rarely gets to race anyone his age, he said working out with the team is helping him get back in shape so he can compete again in triathlons.

“But mostly, I’m exercising for enjoyment now,” he said.

Peters thinks it amusing that she gets up earlier now than when she swam at Alabama. Even after six months, she said, it’s hard to get up for the early practice.

“If you sit and dwell on it, you can psyche yourself out of it, but to me I’m much more likely to make an excuse not to go, if I don’t just go and get it over with in the morning,” she said.

The heated pool helps.

Caddell said he likes to think getting in the water is like getting back under the covers, as well as how good he feels when he’s finished.

“It’s a real refreshing way to start the day,” Caddell said, “and I just love the feeling of water.”

Are you interested?

Master swimming applies to any competitive swimmer 19 or older. It started in California 37 years ago to give ex-competitors and beginners a goal for keeping fit. U.S. Masters Swimmers has more than 42,000 members on more than 450 teams.

They have swim meets throughout the year. The meets track the best times, so swimmers can check to see how they compare with others nationally. The Decatur group meets at 5 a.m. at the aquadome.

The cost to join is $85 per quarter, plus $32 per year to join U.S. Masters Swimming for insurance coverage.

For more information, call Aquadome Recreation Center at 351-7793 or Gail Reinecke at 353-7540.

Paul Huggins

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