An Interview with Gen Mackwood
by Kerry Smith November 2011
At age 51, Genevieve (Gen) Mackwood of Technosport Ottawa set herself a goal of completing the Ederle (ed-er-lee) Swim, a 17.5 mile (about 27.8 km) salt water swim from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Lower Manhattan, New York City on Sunday, October 2, 2011. She placed eighth overall with a time of six hours, thirty two minutes. I interviewed her to see what ever possessed her to take on such a challenge.
K: Can you provide me with a sketch of your swimming career from your youth?
G: I started competitive swimming in the summer of 1969 with the Nepean summer competitive swim program at General Burns Pool where I also took lessons, and I liked it the best of all the sports I tried. I swam in the summer for three years with my older brothers. Scot, he eldest was a swim instructor and later on a swim coach in spite of the fact that he was legally blind. Even so, he attained the highest award â€œDistinctionâ€ as a swim instructor. My brother Mark was a breaststroker, but enjoyed rugby and team sports more than swimming. My Dad earned his Bronze Medallion and was a good all-round athlete, especially in Track and Field. My Mom is the most amazing person. In her eighties, she can out walk and out garden anyone. The summer I turned 14, I was swimming at Nepean Swim Club with Head Coach Mike Dirkson. I swam breast stroke but I loved the long distance swims, especially the 1500m. But at that time, in the 70’s there was no 1500m at nationals for girls, so I swam the 200m and 100m breast stroke events at nationals and at a few international meets. Mom and Dad were always really involved with swim meets when I was a teenager. They spent a lot of time encouraging me and giving me a lot of positive reinforcement. I stopped swimming at age 19 to go to nursing school. I got married and had my children. At 25, I swam for a few years with the Pembroke Masters Swim Club. Then, I had a third child and stopped swimming again because I had no time. I went back to swimming ten years later and joined up at lunchtime in the public swims with like-minded people to do workouts on our own. My two youngest children swam competitively and I did my share of car-pooling. When the kids were swimming, I napped in the stands and after their practice they would wake me to take them to school. I noticed the older group at the other end of the pool: Technosport Masters Swim Club with coach Duane Jones. He invited me to come on down and swim and the rest is history. I have been swimming ever since. I have swum at Nationals and in other meets, but the distance is what I really wanted to do. 1500m is about as short a race as I like these days. I have been attracted to long distance swimming since my youth. You donâ€™t have to go fast and I love spending time in water. As a kid, I had heard of marathon swims and was fascinated. But, where do you go to start? It is off the radar. Kim Lumsdon followed in her father Cliff’s footsteps and became a well-known marathon swimmer. She has a family background in sport and has known open water swimming from early in life. To me, marathon swimming looked like an unattainable goal, but Kim had experience throughout her life. Paula Stevenson swam all of the Great Lakes. She swims with the Nepean Masters Swim Club. Knowing what they attained made me think that perhaps I could do it too.
K: How did you make the shift from pool to open water?
G: As a teenager, I attended the Ak-o-mak swim camp near Huntsville, and I experienced outdoor swimming for the first time. I was anxious about the leeches and weeds but the other swimmers inspired me. I thought if they can swim in the lake, so can I. I did the swim across the lake; a four- or five-mile swim for kids 14â€“19 yrs. It was a great summer swim camp for teens and I have very fond memories from then. Swimming solo is the last thing I ever dreamed of doing. I was always a pool swimmer and when my family would venture into a lake to swim I had a healthy fear of â€œthings in the waterâ€ (muskellunges, sharks, fish, snakes and weeds) and I would make my husband Jeff swim next to me in case I had to climb on him to escape from the â€œthings.â€ But, in the back of my mind was the dream of swimming a marathon. With practice and lots of patience from Jeff, I learned to control and conquer my fear of the â€œthings in the waterâ€ and to concentrate on stroke technique instead.
K: Can you tell me about your recent accomplishment, swimming the Ederle (ed-er-lee) swim?
G: First, it is not a race, it is a swim. It is not one of the NYC swim groupâ€™s bigger swims. They organize many races each year and they are all well run and the bigger ones have major sponsors. This one was first swum in the 1920s. Gertrude Ederle started it and she was also the first woman to swim the English Channel. I thought that if she could do it back then, I should be able to do it too. I swam the NYC swim group’s Little Red Lighthouse swim a few years earlier. Some swimmers I had previously competed against also did the Ederle, so I compared my previous event results to theirs and figured I should be able to do Ederle too. I swam the Ederle and was close to my estimated times.
K: In your profile on the Ederle Website you noted that you started with the Little Red Lighthouse swim two years ago. How did you progress to the Ederle?
G: I started with Technosport’s 1k, 2k, 4k, Bring on the Bay 3k, Traversee de lac Memphremagog 10k, St. Marys 5k and Brockville 5k. Training for the Ederle was a real labour of love as I swam two to three times a day in different lakes, bays and pools. Training began in earnest in late May when I did my first 59f swim. I stayed in the water for 90 minutes and after getting cramps I retreated to the warmth of the beach. I thought I would never make the three hour qualifying swim. But, I kept at the long swims and still did the grueling workouts with the rest of the team. I soon realized the rest times we have in workouts were pretty long compared to the 15 seconds I would be taking in my long swims and that I wasn’t nearly as tired as I would have been previously. I completed the Kingdom Swim, a 10 mile swim in Vermont about nine weeks before Ederle. This would be my last chance to qualify for the Ederle. It was a choppy, cool swim (67 degrees F) which challenged me physically and mentally. The chop didnâ€™t let up until the last quarter of the race, which taught me to train more, and I learned that distance is best broken down into small chunks of time. Workouts after the Kingdom swim were much longer and more focused. Because of my work schedule, I wasn’t able to swim with my team, so the last two months leading up to the Ederle Swim were done solo. And, it was a good learning experience in preparation for Ederle because it was cold, the water was choppy, and it was hard work. Aside from the Kingdom swim, I also swam a five km swim at Chicago in September, which was a lot of fun.
K: What do you learn from these swims and what are the challenges?
G: The challenges are the weather, the air and water temperatures, and water conditions you have to adapt your stroke to the conditions. If the conditions are cool, you have to work harder to stay warm. If it is sunny, you can enjoy the warmth. I train in lousy conditions as well as good ones, training for the worst conditions and hoping for the best. I also learned how to not work myself too hard; I work in heart rate zone two so I don’t burn out early in the swim. People always say that I must have been tired when I finished the 17.5 mile Ederle swim, but I wasn’t. My spinning class instructor said to save something for the end, and I did. Cross training is important and different instructors have different strategies and insights for training and competing. The mental preparation is probably the hardest part. I trained so that my body never knew when the workout was over.
K: How do you approach preparing a training plan?
G: For Ederle, I did three swims per day to put in the distance, and some days I combined swimming with cross training. I found the Facebook site of United States Masters Swimming very helpful, as it has a menu for open water swimming with marathon swimming tips and tricks. Through that site I connected with Jim Barber, who was extremely helpful. He was preparing to do a double crossing of the Straight of Gibraltar. He shared his training program. He has a family and works and travels and still fits in training and events. He shared his workouts and told me how to taper, which was invaluable. He swims longer distances and is faster than me. I took his advice and extrapolated for my level and it worked. It was so helpful. People on the site do English Channel swims and many other big and small swims. His lessons were invaluable. For example he suggested that I stop every 15 minutes to drink something so as not to become hypothermic in cold water and that made the difference during some of my events.
K: What keeps you going?
G: I set big goals and smaller, in-between goals leading up to the big events. The Chicago swim in September was an interim goal and mostly was just for fun. Even getting to a workout and finishing it is a small goal leading to the big one. They must be reasonable goals.
K: How do you keep focused in the long swims?
G: I find that there is no time to be bored. There is always something different to see when you are swimming; the scenery is changing. Also, I am busy placing my hands properly, focusing on every stroke, getting my breath when the waves wash over me, and staying in sync with my guide kayak. I break each swim down to 15 minute intervals punctuated with drinks, like Boost, at the top of the hour and other drinks in between. I thought I can do anything for 7 minutes, and in the water I found that 15 minutes is a good interval. Each drink is a treat for completing each 15 minutes of swimming. I sometimes sing while swimming, or talk to myself when tired or strained, and I make an effort to change from negative to positive thoughts. During Ederle, I swam past a very large ship and it scared me by its size, so I focused on my guide kayak. Ederle took a lot of mental effort. I was warned about and prepared to encounter the wood and flotsam from Hurricane Irene. The wildlife in water freaks me out – fish, sharks, jelly fish and stuff like that, so I have to control my thoughts.
Â K: I read that you plan to swim around Manhattan?
G: Yes, it is a 28 mile swim counterclockwise around Manhattan in June 2012. I will be doing a lot more training to prepare for it than I did for Ederle. I will do a lot of long-course swims, and regular cross training: spinning and some weight training for strength. I also have to lose some body fat.
K: Who do you look up to?
G: Everyone I swim with is an inspiration. Everyone has different reasons for swimming. All swimmers are amazing when you stop to think that some people don’t want to get their faces wet or be seen in swim suits. Some people ask me why I do this, get up at 4:30 a.m. to train. There are older, retired swimmers who are doing ironman races, and it’s a way of life for them. They taught me a lot. They have suffered injuries and have bounced back; it’s amazing. I want to mention Brent Hobbs, who I was introduced to at the Nanaimo MSC nationals in 2010. He gave me his card and told me to contact him at any time and he would help me prepare for the English Channel. It blew me away having him say that as if it was no problem. He was so positive and supportive. I’ve learned that if you think you can do it then try. It doesn’t matter if you can’t finish it; it matters that you trained and tried.
K: Do you have any tips for those thinking about open water swimming; especially rank beginners?
G: If you are comfortable swimming outside, look for outdoor swim events on the Internet and sign up and just do it. You will be amazed at how much fun you will have and how well organized these events are. I see people at events who I wouldn’t judge capable to do a long swim and they do it, no problem. And if you don’t feel comfortable in open water, swim with a kayaker or another swimmer until it becomes natural.
K: Any last messages you want to share with readers? G: Yes. I think swimming is the best sport. I always liked that in swimming, you get to lie down! As you age, you become more patient with yourself, and I have done things I never thought possible.
K: Thank you Gen.
Web Sites Gen uses: NYCswim.org (Ederle and other swim events) openwatersource.com
USMS OWS Marathon swimming tips and tricks. (On Facebook)
Oannes Swim Camps: www.npconsultants.com/oannesswims/owstc/index.html
Camp Akomak: www.campakomak.com/
Kerry Smith swims with Technosport in Ottawa. He is a corporate communications consultant and life coach. He is a former figure skating champion and coach, whitewater kayaker and instructor, and now does occasional workshops on butterfly stoke. He can be reached at email@example.com.
International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame
Interview by Kerry Smith of Technosport Ottawa – August 22, 2011
Lynn Marshall is one of seven inductees to be honoured by the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame (IMSHOF) annual ceremony on Friday evening, September 16, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, Jacksonville, Florida, in conjunction with the United States Aquatic Sports Convention. Lynn becomes the second Canadian Masters swimmer to be inducted into the IMSHOF, and is already a member of the Masters Swimming Canada Hall of Excellence.
Since 1986 Lynn Marshall, of Canada, has been among the world’s Top 10 Masters swimmers every year and has set five long course and 23 short course FINA Masters World Records. She has done all this while being a full-time professor at Carleton University. I sat down with Lynn in Ottawa on August 10, 2011 to discuss her life and athletic career.
Q1. Congratulations on your induction into the ISHOF. How did you first find out and how do you feel about the induction? Are family members planning to be there?
I was about to have cataract surgery, and I got an e-card from Bonnie Pronk congratulating me on my induction into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame. I hadn’t even been notified. The Hall of Fame contacted me the next day. My parents are planning to be there; they live in Victoria B.C.
Q2. What influence has your family had on your athletic career, and how have they influenced your attitude and way of thinking about training and competition?
My parents are very supportive of whatever I want to do. As kids, they wanted us to be able to swim so that we had confidence at the cottage and learning to sail. My parents are still active; mom at 75 and dad at 80; they still go hiking. All our family members are activeâ€”sailing, curling, tennis, cricket, figure skating, etc. I was born in England and came to Canada with my parents as British subjects who could live and vote in Canada back then. When the law changed, my sister my parents and I became Canadians. My parents are supportive. My parents became involved in swimming because they didn’t just want to be spectators. They became meet officials. They were never competitive swimmers.
Q3. You have been a masters swimmer since 1986. What changes and/or improvements have you seen in the sport? What do you see as the sport’s strengths and weaknesses? What improvements would you like to see?
I turned 25 in 1986 when I lived in Manchester, and a friend encouraged me to become a masters swimmer. What has changed is that there are many more teams and swimmers. In Manchester, I trained with an age group team and competed as a masters swimmer under a team based in London. Now there are teams in almost every major community. Strengths inclusiveness. You meet people from every walk of life. What is very interesting is seeing people in their life outside of swimming. It is a supportive atmosphere with no pressure to compete unless you want to. The social aspect is important as is the health aspect of regular exercise. As for weaknesses, the size of competitions can get out of hand, making it hard to stay on schedule. That in turn can lead to making it difficult to swim really well, for instance, when you share lanes and can’t use the starting block in longer events. Sometimes you swim late into the evening. Those things can make it difficult to swim your best and perhaps set records. It seems that the sport has grown bigger and faster than facilities and organizations can accommodate. Improvements: One thing that I think would be nice is to have all swimmers have three timers, not just the people who are trying for a record setting swim. Either it is an official swim or it isn’t. Having officials calling for a third timer and having people asking what time you are going for, just before you swim, is distracting and causes unnecessary stress.
Q4. In your profile, you list the accomplishment of a 1st Dan Black Belt in Judo. Tell me about that? How has it influenced your swimming?
When I went to Manchester for grad work, the swim team was kind of Mickey Mouse. If I wanted to train seriously, I needed to swim with an age group team. Socially, I needed some activity with adults, so I joined the Judo group and in about two and a half years, I attained the black belt. I had the advantage that there were fewer women in judo and I was bigger than most and my weight was an advantage, particularly once I got them down on the floor. I broke my neck in 1993 and I donâ€™t do judo now. I broke it during a triathlon. I was leading the race at the beginning of the cycling leg and following a police car when an elderly man drove out between me and the police car and he slammed on the brakes when he saw the police car. I braked, but not in time to avoid slamming into his car.
Q5. You also list flying trapeze in your profile. How does that figure into your life?
I went to the Dominican Republic with a group of Carleton Masters women, where it was an activity at the resort. When we got back, I traveled to Montreal to do it but it was difficult to keep up the schedule, so I dropped it.
Q6. Aside from your academic pursuits, you list reading is important to you. What role does it have in your life and athletic pursuits?
I don’t have a TV, so I read for entertainment, to relax and to get ready to sleep. Reading about swimming is helpful. I subscribe to a couple of swimming magazines, and I try some of the techniques myself and sometimes I get the swimmers I coach to try them.
Q7. In swimming, what was your proudest moment so far? What was your most discouraging moment?
The highest point for me so far was the five kilometre open water swim that I won in the 1992 Worlds in Indianapolis. As a woman, I was not allowed to be seeded in the first two waves. I came in first overall by eight seconds, beating all the men and women. It was interesting because I became an instant celebrity for the rest of the week with people coming up to me asking for my autograph. It was a relief, though, to go home and back to life as usual. The lowest point was in July 1993 after I broke my neck in the triathlon. I went home after the triathlon in Kingston, Ontario, and the hospital visit not knowing that I had a broken neck. They misread the X-ray. I got a call from the Kingston hospital the next day saying that I had to get to a hospital immediately. Then, I was lying in my hospital bed and overheard the interns in the hallway say, Yeah, she used to be a really good swimmer.â€ My heart sank. My freestyle has never been the same as I don’t have as much neck mobility, but it worked out in the end.
Q8. Would you summarize for me your philosophy of life and sport? As far as sports goes, even if you swim for fitness, you need to have goals. At Carleton, where I coach, I try to reward people for their goals whatever they may be. If getting your name in the newsletter as having perfect attendance is your goal, I encourage it. The goals don’t have to be super lofty; the main thing is to have goals that help you be active. It has to be something convenient and that you enjoy. As for life in general, you have to figure out your focus and, as life changes, figure out your priorities and set your goals.
Q9. Who are your swimming and sports idols?
It was great to hear last year that Bonnie Pronk would be the first Canadian inducted into the International Masters Hall of Fame In 1980, Vladimir Salnikov broke the 1500 meter long course freestyle barrier of 15 minutes. He missed the 1984 games due to the Russian boycott, but in 1988, when he was 28 years old, everyone said he was too old to compete at the Olympics. The USSR officials said that if he wanted to compete, they would send him. He didn’t break his own record that year, but he won again. When he walked into the athletes village cafeteria late that evening, everyone stood up and applauded him. It was so poignant that it brought me to tears, and to this day thinking about it still does. Tom Watson, at over 60 years of age won the Masters Golf tournament. Anyone who is older and accomplishes something tremendous impresses me. June Krauser, an American masters swimmer, inspires me. In her 70s and 80s, she tried to beat her times in at least one event each year. Not only did she swim all strokes, she swam the toughest events including the 400 metre individual medley, and the 800 and 1500 metre freestyle events.
Q10. What’s the next challenge for you?
I got the news of the induction on the day of my cataract surgery, which took me away from swimming for three weeks. I have only been back in the pool for two and a half weeks, so I have to get back into shape. I missed the 1500 metre short course at provincials by 1.9 seconds, so I have to get ready to try again. Part of the challenge is to find a meet that has optimal circumstances, that is, it allows a start from the block, assigns one swimmer per lane and has cool water. It is surprisingly rare.
Thank you, Lynn, for taking time for this interview and again, congratulations on your induction.
Summary of Lynn’s Masters Records as of August 1st, 2011
Since 1986, Lynn has set many World, National, and Provincial records in a variety of events in age groups 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, and 50-54. 2011 (50-54 Age Group): This year Lynn has set 13 new World Records in 11 different events. One (SCM 100bk) has already been broken, so she currently holds 10: SCM: 400fs, 800fs, 200bk, 200fl, 400IM; and LCM: 400fs, 800fs, 1500fs, 200bk, 400IM. She has also set 34 new National Records in 19 different events: 200fs, 400fs, 800fs, 1500fs, 200bk, 100fl, 200fl, 200IM, and 400IM, both SCM and LCM; plus SCM 100bk. And, she has set 59 new Provincial Records in 31 of the 35 different events (all except for 50br and 100br, both SCM and LCM).
Pre-2011 (25-29 through 45-49 Age Groups):While many of her old records have been broken, Lynn currently holds one 45-49 World Record: SCM 1500fs. She also holds 46 Nationals records and 76 Provincial records set in 2010 and before.
Kerry Smith swims with Technosport in Ottawa. He is a corporate communications consultant and life coach. He is a former figure skating champion and coach, whitewater kayaker and instructor, and now does occasional workshops on butterfly stoke.