Going to Swim Camp: Two New England Masters at the US Olympic Training Center’s High Altitude Training Camp

by Barbara Handler and Tracy Grilli

Wow, what an experience! Thank you, USMS, USA Swimming, the US Olympic Training Center, The Victor, and camp directors Nancy Ridout and Leslie Cooper, for offering such an outstanding program to Masters swimmers. This camp is an unbelievable adventure and a great opportunity for us to experience the professional expertise and facilities that our US Olympians do.

The objective of the USOTC Camp is to educate us in the areas of nutrition, biomechanics, physiology, strength training, flexibility and sports psychology by teaching, testing, and providing feedback. Now that we are back to the real world, our goal is to apply this information to our daily routines and hopefully get faster! Both Barbara and I learned that there is a whole lot more to swimming then just diving in the water and going as fast and/or as far you can!


We arrived at the OTC around lunchtime and got a chance to meet fellow campers. We were roommates and it was nice to be with someone we knew. Everyone was great and it was exciting being with a group of serious Masters swimmers and coaches for a few days. Of course we spent some quality time at the OTC store and got all kinds of stuff that said Olympic Training Center on it so we would look cool when we got home. Camp did not start until Sunday but we were fortunate to have rooms on Saturday night at the OTC. We spent Saturday evening getting to know each other over a casual dinner in the excellent dining hall (with unlimited desserts, which was a big hit with both of us) and where a number of our Olympians were also dining. We had a brief meeting on what to expect and were given a really great swim bag from The Victor that was filled with all sorts of goodies.


Camp started with a vengeance and we hardly had time to think for the next three days. We were able to get into the pool twice, first in the morning for a quick warm up and acclimation to the altitude and then again in the afternoon for a workout. Workouts averaged 2000-4000 meters, centered on drills and technique, and had a different coach lead each workout. Our coaches for this camp were USMS Masters coaches Scott Rabalais, Kerry O’Brien, Bill Volckening and Janet Renner. Each workout was followed by a half hour of flexibility/stretching led by Mark Stoker. Our flexibility was tested; we had a tour of the OTC and of course posed for pictures in front of the Olympic Rings.

After dinner we were honored to have Byron Davis give us a lecture on motivation. (At the ‘92 Olympics trials Byron came in 32 out of 33. He qualified first in ‘96 and then had a piano fall [literally] on him. He will be at the ‘00 trials. Check him out; he’s awesome!) We were very interested in finding out about his training routine and the fact that the butterfly is a "piston" action, not a "wave" motion (we spent a lot of time the rest of the camp trying to move our pelvises the way Byron did but with little success). Byron is a wonderful speaker and we all wish him the best of luck at the Olympic Trials!


It began at 6 a.m. with blood being drawn for blood testing and then it was off to the flume. (The flume is a tank in which the water is set to flow at whatever speed is wanted. It has side windows and ways to hook up the one (or two) occupant(s) to monitoring devices. It’s the only "flume" of its kind in the world. The first time in we had our strokes videotaped, (one was digitized for analysis. They set the flow to our 100 pace and shot us for 30 seconds. The second time in was for heart rate/lactate threshold testing. It is something like a treadmill test; It goes faster over time until all but four of us lost.

The coaches provided lectures on each of the four strokes and on IM transitions. Later in the day we were back in the pool for a workout and were videotaped swimming the 200 IM by the tracking camera. Our day ended with a presentation by the USOTC nutritionist.


We were in the pool for a workout at 6:30 a.m. During the day at presentations on biomechanics, sports psychology and physiology, we learned "what" the tests were for, "why" we were taking them, and "how" the results would be used to help us improve. After so much sitting we needed a little exercise so it was off to the USOTC weight room and a session on weight training. We were shown a number of abdominal and trunk strengthening exercises using medicine balls and large "physio balls." This was followed by another workout in the pool and videotaping starts and turns.


The day we were all looking forward to—the test results! We went from station to station throughout the day to receive this valuable feedback. Physiology—It was determined from the heart rate/lactate threshold testing in the flume that Barbara is a sprinter and Tracy is a distance swimmer (We were relieved to hear that we were swimming the right distances). But it was interesting to find out that our tests showed that we will both gain the most improvement by adding sets that train the middle energy system. The physiologist recommended sets of anaerobic 25’s, 50’s and 75’s. Psychology—Both of us were strong when it came to our "performance strategies" for competition but lacking when it came to workouts. We learned that we must set goals for each workout and practice "swimming fast." Biomechanics—We reviewed the videos of our swims in the flume and our strokes were critiqued. (Yes, we both have flaws.) The stroke that was digitized, or as they call it, "AccuMotion Swimming Effectiveness Analysis" is on paper and very detailed. It shows the right side and the left side separately and breaks down the stroke showing the hand/arm positions and where the force is being applied and in what direction. It is amazing to see that in some "frames" the force is not being applied in the right direction. Hmmm….

Range of Motion/Flexibility — Overall, we were both in the "good" category but not "excellent." By incorporating 15-20 minutes of stretching after our workout we will develop increased flexibility, experience a rapid and more complete muscle recovery, increase strength gains, and help prevent muscle soreness and injury.

Video Tape Review — We reviewed the 200 IM and our turns taped by the tracking camera. No need to go into detail here. Believe us, we have a lot to work on! Following the data feedback we had one more session in the pool. It was very motivating to be in the water, concentrating on trying to correct the many "flaws" that were found. We performed one last "test" which was a float test where our centers of gravity and body densities were measured. We lay on the bottom of the pool (flat with our face down and arms at our side) and they observed how our body rose and how fast. We were give a number from 1-6 (1 being distance and 6 being sprinter). Tracy was a 2 and Barbara was a 4 (again confirming we are swimming the right events). We also experienced swimming "fast" when we were hooked up to the zip line that pulled us down the pool! Camp ended on a happy note with a general wrap-up and presentations by the coaches. We all then headed out for a fun evening at a local microbrewery in down town Colorado Springs. Morning came early with the first shuttle leaving for the airport at 5:15 a.m. We continue to communicate by e-mail and look forward to our first reunion at Short Course Nationals in Indianapolis in May.

Our Masters campers ranged in age from 29 to 60+. We were selected from 60 men and 50 women applicants. The time was fun, intense, informative, and worth every penny ($1,500 plus airfare). We would be happy to talk with any of you who are interested in knowing more about the camp and possibly applying for the next one slated for February, 2001. We highly recommend it!

We can be reached at: barbara_handler@hotmail.com and tracyswims@mindspring.com.

(Reprinted with permission from the NEM News)

Tracy Grilli has been a member of New England Masters/USMS since 1981, currently competes in the 40-44 age group and is primarily a distance swimmer who also likes to swim the IM and backstroke.

Barbara Brumet Handler grew up in Bethesda and currently lives on Cape Cod. She swam at RMSC and the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA in the 70s. Today she swims in the 40-44 age group and trains about 3-5 times a week, sometimes with Masters and other times with age group swimmers



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