The History of Masters without a Masters of History:
from the beginning to 1997

by Greg Wortman
Kathleen “some Yardage” Costello, Greg “some more Yardage” Wortman, Alan “more and more Yardage” Pollin, Nick “most Yardage” Olmos-Lau.  What do these Ancient Mariners have in common?  Besides the “Yardage”, they have gone the distance, so to speak.  They are the four remaining fishes from day one, numero uno of Masters at the MAC.  When the Masters program began at the MAC, they were there.

Why have they stuck with it so long?  They love to swim, especially for distance.  Greg swam many mile swims in the pool, Kathleen swam the 5 mile Lake Minnetonka swim in Minnesota, Alan the 11 mile Chester River swim, and Nick the 12 ½ mile Key West Ocean swim.   Well, enough about these distance fiends.  Let’s review the history of Masters swimming in Montgomery County, specifically at the MAC.

First of all, before the MAC, there was MLK.  Masters swimming at MLK, Silver Spring YMCA, and at the Rockville Municipal Pool has been going on well before the MAC Masters program.  The MAC Masters program began in the fall of 1989.  Some years later the Olney Pool was built and a Masters program started there.  Montgomery County has a contract with Premier Swim, Inc, Clay Britt’s company, to provide coaches for the Masters program at MLK, MAC and Olney.  But it wasn’t always that way.  The county use to hire the coaches on a part-time basis.

Who was the first coach at the MAC?  Joe Rodgers was his name.  Joe was the guy who started the Masters program at the MAC.  Joe was the swim coach at American University.  He was a genuinely good coach in every way.  His coaching technique was similar to Stan Tinkham’s (the Olney coach for those of you who don’t know).  If you want to find out what this technique is like, then you should try a workout with Stan in Olney.  I’ll just say that these guys like to do sprints at the end of a workout (need I say more?).

Joe would also yell at you in a polite way in order to motivate you to swim faster.  And you know what, it worked!  It felt like boot camp.  My favorite workouts from Joe were Sunday mornings.  He would spend the first hour on improving one’s swimming technique.  So we mainly did drills for an hour.  The second hour was the regular workout.   Joe coached for a year.  I still have fond memories of the guy.  He had a good sense of humor.  When I was tired and worn out we would tell jokes and watch everyone else do sprints.

The second Masters coach was Chuck Gatton.  Chuck usually came prepared with a planned workout and he didn’t deviate from the script.  He liked to mix sprint work with distance stuff.  For example, we would do five sets of 100s hard than a 500 easy.  Chuck lasted for 2 years and then Heidi Hoth took over.  She gave more distance workouts.   In fact, I don’t recall her giving us a set of 100s, mainly 200s, 300s, and up.  And she lasted for 2 years.   I was beginning to think that the coaches burned-out after 2 years.  But then along came Clay Britt.

Clay has coached for 4 years and he’s still coming back for more.  He reminds me of the Energizer Bunny that just keeps going and going.  Clay’s been the stable force that has maintained the Masters program in Montgomery County.  However, there’s another Energizer Bunny among us.  That’s Tom Denes.

Tom Denes is one unique dude.  Without him, we would not have the Ancient Mariners and all the parties that go with it, no Albatross Open, and certainly no newsletter to read about ourselves.   Tom has been the backbone for our social club and he devotes a lot of his free time to keep it going and going.

So over the years, what were the swim accomplishments?  Well, I’m really not the one to write about that.  I swim to stay in shape and not to shave-off my body hairs to swim a second faster.  However, I do admire the distance swimmers.  We had the first Israeli citizen (Eitan Freedman) to swim the English Channel.  Many of us have done the Bay swim not once but two or three times or more.  Alan, Nick, and Steve Jolles swam the
8 ½ mile Potomac River swim.

I’ll never forget one time in the locker room when I was talking about triathlons to a fellow Masters swimmer.  He told me how he was bored of participating in triathlons and how he was preparing for a 100 mile cross-country ski race.  Wow, I was a bit surprise by this and so I asked him if he ever did the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon.  He said, “Oh, only seven times.”  He was a true Ironman or just a nut case.

The most amazing individual accomplishment over the years has to go to Margot Pettijohn.   She started swimming in my slow lane and chit and chatted with the rest of us.  She's now swimming a couple of lanes up from us.  She has improved every year and is now competing at the national level.  I tip my goggles to her.

Thanks to Tom the Masters group has become a social club.  Now we know swimmers in other lanes.  It’s amazing how many friendships and relationships have begun because of our swim activities, like the parties after swim meets.  And many of the relationships have led to marriages and with future swimmers being born.   Oh, I should mention that Kathleen and I are lane mates.  We met while swimming in the same lane.  So to all of those single swimmers, don’t forget to have fun and talk to your lane buddies and attend the swim social activities.  You never know that maybe Mr. or Mrs. right may be a swimmer, too.   Hey, a swim mate for life, eh?

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