Swimming different strokes

By J_Howard

The pool in the University of Illinois at Chicago Physical Education building, 901 W. Roosevelt Road, is quiet but not still on Tuesday evenings. The splash of the swimmers as they glide across the clear, blue water is the only sound echoing across the natatorium until they reach the end of their lane and pause for a second before continuing their workout. Practice with the Chicago Blue Dolphins U.S. Masters swimming has begun.

The Chicago Blue Dolphins is a program that focuses on the training and fitness of athletes who want to become better swimmers and get into shape. There are 12 scheduled practices per week.  According to owner and head coach John Fitzpatrick, more than 200 swimmers participate in the various programming offered year-round.

“I feel like pools and lakes are some of the least utilized things,” Fitzpatrick said. “So my goal is to provide people with as many opportunities [available] to really enjoy

the water.”

Programs vary by participant. The masters swimming program is for those who want to swim either competitively or for fitness. U.S. Masters Swimming is a national organization that unites swimmers aged 18 and older who are looking to  improve their skills and fitness level.

“To swim for fitness you have to first learn how to move through the water and how to get your body to cooperate with it,” Fitzpatrick said.

Swim coach Lauren Hammond said swimming for fitness has many benefits, and people in her Tuesday evening class participate for that benefit.

“It has so much less impact than say running. It is a great total body workout,” Hammond said. “I think people sometimes misunderstand being in really good running shape is different than being in good swimming shape. It’s a totally different type of endurance you have to build.”

Anthony Marzano, 16, who swims competitively at Notre Dame College Prep, takes extra training with the Blue Dolphins. He said once he warms up in the water, he loves to swim for fitness.

“My favorite thing is the fitness aspect and how good it makes your body feel once you are done working out,” Marzano said.

His mother,  June Marzano, watched from the sideline and said swimming has benefited him more than just overall fitness.

“I think it affects his determination to finish a task,” she said. “I have seen his desire and will to do better get stronger.”

The Blue Dolphin’s U.S. Masters club has different types of swim practices twice a day, either on the campus of UIC or at Moody Bible Institute, 820 N. LaSalle Blvd. Fitzgerald said trainees participate in competitions locally and nationally no matter how fast they are.

“The nice thing about masters meets is you don’t have to hit a particular speed to be able to do it,” Fitzgerald said. “If I can teach a person how to start and to turn around at the wall, you can basically go to a swim meet this week.”

According to Hammond, one of the biggest challenges to swimming competitively or for fitness is outside of the water.

“Swimming is a sport you kind of have to commit to,” Hammond said. “You have to be willing to have patience, work hard and commit to coming frequently. When I see the same people coming every Tuesday, they are very committed to improvingtheir stroke.”

The benefits of swimming can be more than physical fitness.  After moving to Chicago 2 1/2 years ago,  Jim Miller, 50, began swimming with the Blue Dolphins. Finding this group he could share his hobby with was something that helped him get accustomed to the city. It has become an escape from the workday.

“It is a great mind release after working all day and thinking about nothing but your job,” Miller said. “It’s pretty freeing; being in the water is just pretty smooth.”

Hammond said there is a lot of camaraderie between everyone who comes out for swim practice, whatever the reason may be.

“A lot of them maybe only have relationships through swimming, but they see each other once a week and sometimes compete together,” Hammond said.

Even if swimmers have little to no experience, they are welcome to join the Blue Dolphins. There are programs designed to take swimmers of all ages who do not know how to swim and get them adjusted to the water. Fitzgerald said they do a learn-to-swim training in a warm water pool so participants can focus on learning to swim without the distraction and pains of cold water.

“We need to get out there and teach them really basic skills so they can get out into the water and be able to enjoy that feeling of weightlessness and flow,”

Fitzgerald said.

For those looking to jump in the water for the first time, Fitzgerald gave some advice.

“Everybody can swim, you just have to get yourself in a Speedo and up on those blocks,” he said.