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UMass coaches put masters swimmers through their paces

  • Denise Spence, of Amherst, swims using hand paddles during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Denise Spence, of Amherst, swims using hand paddles during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bob Newcomb, the women's swim coach for the University of Massachusetts talks to his group during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Bob Newcomb, the women's swim coach for the University of Massachusetts talks to his group during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Roz Ellis, left, of Hadley, and Susan Chinman, of Amherst, swap tips during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Roz Ellis, left, of Hadley, and Susan Chinman, of Amherst, swap tips during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Carol Wallace, front, of Shutesbury, swims the butterfly during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Carol Wallace, front, of Shutesbury, swims the butterfly during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Josie DeAngelis of Amherst, is getting back into rigorous swimming after two decades away from the sport.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Josie DeAngelis of Amherst, is getting back into rigorous swimming after two decades away from the sport.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Roz Ellis, of Hadley, front, during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Roz Ellis, of Hadley, front, during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Roz Ellis, of Hadley, front, trains using a kick board during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Roz Ellis, of Hadley, front, trains using a kick board during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS

    Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Carol Wallace, of Shutesbury, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS

    Carol Wallace, of Shutesbury, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts women's swim coach Bob Newcomb talks to his group during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    University of Massachusetts women's swim coach Bob Newcomb talks to his group during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Carol Wallace, of Shutesbury, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS

    Carol Wallace, of Shutesbury, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Judy Dickson, of Amherst, trains during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Judy Dickson, of Amherst, trains during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, swims the butterfly during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, swims the butterfly during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • From top, Judy Dickson, of Amherst, Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, Susan Chinman, of Amherst, and Denise Spence, of Amherst, swim during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    From top, Judy Dickson, of Amherst, Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, Susan Chinman, of Amherst, and Denise Spence, of Amherst, swim during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Class members take a one-minute break during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS

    Class members take a one-minute break during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Denise Spence, of Amherst, swims using hand paddles during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Bob Newcomb, the women's swim coach for the University of Massachusetts talks to his group during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Roz Ellis, left, of Hadley, and Susan Chinman, of Amherst, swap tips during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Carol Wallace, front, of Shutesbury, swims the butterfly during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Josie DeAngelis of Amherst, is getting back into rigorous swimming after two decades away from the sport.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Roz Ellis, of Hadley, front, during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Roz Ellis, of Hadley, front, trains using a kick board during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS
  • Carol Wallace, of Shutesbury, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS
  • University of Massachusetts women's swim coach Bob Newcomb talks to his group during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Carol Wallace, of Shutesbury, swims during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS
  • Judy Dickson, of Amherst, trains during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, swims the butterfly during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • From top, Judy Dickson, of Amherst, Daniel Peterson, of Northampton, Susan Chinman, of Amherst, and Denise Spence, of Amherst, swim during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Class members take a one-minute break during a meeting of the UMass Aquatic Masters Thursday at Boyden Gym.JERREY ROBERTS

“I’m holding up, but I’m tired,” says DeAngelis, who is participating in a water-based workout for just the second time in more than two decades.

“Tired’s OK,” responds Bob Newcomb, the head coach of the University of Massachusetts women’s swimming team, as he stands on the edge of the pool guiding DeAngelis and 10 other adults.

Newcomb is sympathetic to the challenge DeAngelis faces.

“Swimming is a very hard sport to pick up after not doing it for 20 years,” he says.

When she exits the pool, though, DeAngelis, 46, is thrilled she has made it through another grueling evening, bringing back good memories of her time swimming competitively in high school.

“Hey, the best exercise in the world is swimming,” she says.

DeAngelis is the newest members of the UMass Aquatics Masters swim class, otherwise known as UMAMA, a decade-old program that offers a chance for adults to get rigorous exercise three times a week under the supervision and training of professionals.

The swimmers come to Boyden Pool on the UMass campus two weeknights and one Sunday morning during the spring, fall and winter, and at other times during the summer, where Newcomb and Russ Yarworth, the UMass men’s swimming coach, take turns as instructors for the group.

The program is part of the U.S. Masters Swimming that allows adults to continue swimming competitively by entering events sanctioned by the organization. But for most UMAMA members — like 75 percent of the other 60,000 masters swimmers nationwide — the exercise alone is incentive to join.

The local chapter, which celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this month, was started by the UMass coaches who figured there would be local interest in adult swimming classes that focused on advanced skills. It has 25 active members whose ages range from college graduates to people in their 60s.

“It’s not age-defined, it’s ability-defined,” Newcomb said.

While the numbers fluctuate, Newcomb says there have always been more women than men participating.

“One of the joys is never any pressure. People come and go as it fits their schedule,” he said.

Grouped by proficiency

Newcomb says swimmers practice drills and techniques that use the four primary strokes: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, led by either of the two coaches. Given the men’s distinctly different coaching styles, each 90-minute swim is dubbed either a “Bob workout” or a “Russ workout.”

The sessions all begin with an initial warm-up routine. “That gives them time to come in and talk to each other,” Newcomb said. “They have about 10 minutes to get together before their workout and drills.”

The swimmers are divided into four groups depending on their proficiency. This allows those like DeAngelis, for whom swimming skills are just returning, to do their swims at slower intervals.

“Ideally everyone should be working at what’s the best level for them,” Newcomb said.

Each swimmer is given a sheet of information about that night’s workout. Most tape it to the end of their lanes so they can follow it. Newcomb explains the main sets, pointing out that it takes creative thinking to ensure there is a variety of strokes and distances.

One is the so-called Minutemen Drill. It is a set he uses with his UMass team, in which the swimmers are encouraged to keep one arm forward and one arm back each time they make a stroke. “The idea is sort of getting a stroke that feels good to start the workout,” Newcomb said.

Another is 10 minutes of alternate free and individual medley, doing all four basic strokes, in which the swimmers are expected to go at 70 to 80 percent exertion.

The variety also includes the use of equipment, such as kickboards that force the swimmers to use only their legs to power themselves, fins for their feet to help them better think about the strokes, and pull buoys between the legs, which restrict them and place the burden on the upper body.

“It’s very individualized to what people need or what people want while they’re here,” Newcomb said. “We’re just providing them with the techniques.”

Town/gown

For many, joining the class is a way to stay in shape. For others, it’s part of a training regimen for swimming competitions or for triathlons.

“For me, it completely changed my life,” said Sydne Didier, one of those who has been a member since the group started.

Didier, 42, has used the lessons for completing outdoor swimming challenges, including one last summer in which she swam the Connecticut River from the Sunderland Bridge to the Coolidge Bridge.

During each session the more experienced swimmers will complete about 5,000 yards, or the equivalent of going from one end of the 25 yard pool to the other 200 times.

Though she has her own indoor swimming pool at home, Didier said being part of the group has been important to her well being. “It engenders positive feelings and is an incredibly diverse group of people of all ages,” Didier said. “This is a nice sort of town and citizens and university collaboration.”

Newcomb said the work he and Yarworth have done with these swimmers has improved their college coaching.

On the flip side, Newcomb said the masters also support the university by being spectators at its meets and, they boost the swimming community in general by being advocates for it.

For example, he said, members became vocal a few years ago in helping to ensure access to public swimming pools when some were at risk of being closed down by a federal law that mandated changes to drains.

Persistence pays

DeAngelis says she was inspired to join by her own daughters, Samantha, 12 and Danielle, 10, who are on the Amherst Tritons swim team, a parent-run group that practices and has competitions at Totman Pool, also on the UMass campus. She learned about UMAMA while at one of their meets.

Observing those around her swimming faster and taking on more rigorous workouts, she notes that her goal is modest.

“This is survival swimming at the moment,” she quips. “Making it to the other end of the pool is my short-term goal. My long-term goal is to be more physically fit and to keep up with my whippersnapper children.”

DeAngelis says that taking ibuprofen before the exercise helps ward off pain.

“You remember everything, your body remembers everything,” she says.

Carol Wallace, 63, of Shutesbury, another member who has been with the group since the beginning, is sharing a lane with DeAngelis, helping the newcomer along.

Wallace says she never had swimming lessons before joining UMAMA. Her children had gone off to college, and she started working out and swimming laps on her own before trying the program. “Bob said I look liked a brick in the water.”

But she persisted. “Now I’m hooked and it’s changed my life,” Wallace says.

Her cholesterol levels had been borderline; now her physician tells her at her annual physical she has the body of a competitive athlete.

Susan Chinman, 60, assistant dean of the graduate school at UMass, will be competing at New England Masters at Harvard this weekend.

She began eight years ago as a way to do regular exercise when she became bored with gym workouts and land-based exercise such as running and jogging. A colleague referred her to the master’s swim team.

“It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Slowly I started to get into shape and the workouts were a great stress-reducing antidote,” Chinman says.

Anyone can join the group but they are required to register with U.S. Masters Swimmers, which provides insurance. With registration, members also get a subscription to SWIMMERS magazine, can join email discussions with swimming tips and techniques and can compete in events. The cost of enrolling in the program is $60 per month for full time and $30 per month for half time, which means coming to six or fewer sessions each month.

“They are very proactive, very faithful to swimming at the university as a whole,” Newcomb said. “It’s a good group and it adds to aquatics around here and at the university.”

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