Focus on Fitness: Steamboat swimmers find fun, health and competition with masters | SteamboatToday.com

Focus on Fitness: Steamboat swimmers find fun, health and competition with masters

They come from different athletic backgrounds. Former Division I collegiate athletes, amateur race participants and those just looking to stay in shape. Twice a week they meet to socialize, practice, compete and bond around the sport they love. We're not talking about skiing, mountain biking or trail running. Hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, high in the Rocky Mountains, these individuals are passionate about swimming.

The group, which ranges in age from 18 to 70+, makes up the Steamboat Springs Masters Swim Team and swim for fun, for fitness and, in some cases, quite competitively. Held at Old Town Hot Springs twice per week, the team is led by Coach Noelle Wilhite.

"We have a two pronged approach consisting of fun and fitness. We offer opportunities for all levels of swimmers," Wilhite said. "We can help you meet performance goals and swim competitively at state or national meets or, if you just want to come to get in shape and socialize, that's great too."

Masters athletics refers to organized competition for anyone older than 18. The age groups are 18-24, 25-29 and then so on by five year increments. Meets are organized under Colorado Masters Swimming, so the program falls under that umbrella.

Ron Cummins is a former Princeton swimmer who has been participating in the program for three years. He competed this year at the National Masters Swimming meet in the 55-59 age group taking home two fifth-place finishes.

Cummins emphasizes the camaraderie of the program and the concept of a group practice contrasting typical swimming workouts in a lane by yourself.

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"It's about the whole group. It's really a great place to have an organized practice and have people to swim with," Cummins said. "Everybody fits in at Masters swimming. It's geared for what you want to get out of it."

Masters team member Jonathan Harper echoes Cummins thoughts. Harper took decades off from the sport after high school before finding Masters.

"I set my schedule around it. It's that important. I find that swimming is a difficult activity even for a competitive swimmer. It's just so much easier to swim in a group," Harper said.

Harper explains that many Masters programs are either too hardcore or too social while, here in Steamboat, he's found the perfect mix.

"I think a lot of people come for the social aspect, but having higher level swimmers forces you to go faster. You can only get that in a Masters program."

Coach Wilhite is a former collegiate swimmer for the University of Illinois. She's had assistant coaching stints at the University of Michigan and University of Illinois at Chicago before serving as the head age group coach for Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics, one of the largest club teams in the country.

When Wilhite moved from the Bay Area in search of high peaks and powder, the ability to be part of a swim team played an important role in the decision to land in Steamboat.

"Swimming has been a part of my life forever, so it was a major factor in moving here," Wilhite said. "When you look at Colorado ski towns, many have great pools, but Steamboat and Aspen are the only places with a year-round, organized swim team, and Steamboat is the only one outdoors. It's truly unique. We are up here at 6,000 feet breathing in the beautiful clean mountain air. The quality of the water fed from the natural hot spring is extraordinary. I can't say enough good things about swimming outdoors. We are really really lucky to have this program."

Masters Swimming practices are held Tuesdays and Thursdays at Old Town Hot Springs at 12 pm. The program is free to OTHS members, however guests and visitors are always welcome.

Nick Esares is marketing director at Old Town Hot Springs.

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