Swimmer of the Week:
Coach Maria Veen
I’ve been a swimmer my whole life. Even as a baby, I loved being in the water and swimming and going under. I could play all day in the water. When my parents put me into swim lessons in 4th grade, the instructor in the very first entry level class told them that paying for classes wasn’t going to be challenging enough for me and suggested that they sign me up on a swim team. So, Mom & Dad dragged me to the Birmingham YMCA to try out for the Blue Dolphins swim team. I had to demonstrate that I could swim a 200 free without stopping to be on the team. It was a struggle, but I got on. Woot! 3 months later, we had a Swim-a-thon, and people could pledge by the length, up to 100 lengths. We had 1 hour to swim as many as we could. People in my family were pledging large amounts per length, because they expected me to do like 25-30. To everyone’s surprise, even my own, I completed the full 100 in just under the 60 minute mark. I collected a LOT of money that year.
Being a Blue Dolphin became a part of me. It was given that I would swim with them every year and the coaches there pushed me far out of my comfort zone. In 7th grade, my mom convinced the boys swim head coach at Athens High School to let me into his summer program, even though I wasn’t a boy and I wasn’t yet in high school. I got up everyday, Monday through Friday, to get to 6:00am practices, which I would ride my bike to. We swam and lifted weights in the gym at the high school The 2nd year, they opened the program to girls, but it took a couple of years until other girls started swimming with us.
I also went each summer to Tanuga Swim Camp in Manistee, MI. The pool was built into the lake, by using docks, wooden boards and lane lines. We swam 2 practices a day, plus a 45 minute strength & conditioning workout in the gym. We also swam open water, although we didn’t call it that. There was a 0.75 mile, 1.25 mile or 6.0mile course. You had to be invited to swim the 6-miler, and the coach would just show up at your bedside at 5:00am and inform you that you were swimming it, so get up and get ready. You had 10 minutes to get down to the boat dock to start your swim. The goal was to finish during morning reveille, when everyone was there to watch the flag raising. My last time swimming it, I finally broke 2:00. That had been a huge goal for me.
My Dad kept this log of every single event I swam as a kid. I found it several months ago, when cleaning out a closet. He would circle the times that were PR’s, and he put notes on how the race went. I remember swimming my first 500 free at age 11. I had to swim up in the 13-14 age group, because the 500 wasn’t swum in the 11-12 age group. I think I got lapped twice in that race. But I loved it, and spent the rest of my age group years swimming the 200, 500 and 1000, as well as butterfly in relays. I also swam for Bishop Foley High School and lettered all 4 years.
I didn’t swim in college, because I got pretty burned out my junior and senior years of high school. Plus, I got a full academic scholarship to a college that didn’t have any sports. I wish I’d known about USMS back then. Maybe it would have kept me in touch with the sport. As it was, I would swim here and there at Vic Tanny (Google it, it was a fitness club), but never very seriously. I was out of the sport for 18 years.
In 2006, a colleague of mine was diagnosed with Leukemia. In support, I signed up with Team in Training to do the Disney Triathlon. And I loved the sport immediately. It also brought me to open water, as well as MAC. I was looking for better swim training than I was doing on my own, and I looked up USMS and found MAC. I loved the practices. It felt so good to have the structure, to work on technique, and to have a coach that pushed us so hard. Suzanne (Coach Gunnie) will always be in my heart for the impact she’s had on my life. Although the strokes are taught a bit differently than when I was a kid, the challenge was there for me to reach for. MAC has brought me so many memories, especially all the crazy night practices, jokes and pranks, State Meets, Nationals, and more. MAC also supported my training for Ironman Cozumel, Ironman Zurich, the 10-mile Kingdom Swim (twice), Michigan Titanium, and the Mighty Mac Swim.
The first two State Meets that I swam with MAC, we swam as part of FAST. So, it’s great to see how this team has grown and how we’ve become our own & dominated States. It was believed for so long that no one could beat FAST, but we proved them wrong. And now, we are the ones to beat. It’s a great feeling!
When Gunnie moved in 2013, she asked me to help take over some of the coaching. It’s great to see how Kris and Dianne have led this team, and kept it strong. The spirit on this team is amazing, and Gunnie’s legacy lives on. The way that everyone supports each other, welcomes new swimmers, and pushes yourselves out of your comfort zone…. All of that is the vision that Gunnie had when she started this team.
I can’t tell you how much joy I get every time one of the MAC team mates hits a goal, accomplishes something momentous for them, puts themselves out there and conquers….To be part of that, to watch you all succeed is the best thing in the world. Let’s keep that spirit, let’s keep that drive, let’s keep being awesome together! #BAN
MAC Swimmers are the greatest advertisements of all! We love how you share your stories on social media, with friends, etc. We would like to share your stories as well. Each week we will highlight a MAC Swimmer so we can learn more about the team.