When Lisa Worthington urges someone to join her Master Swim Program, people often look apprehensive. Perhaps they envision a dozen clones of Michael Phelps blazing past them in the water, while they sputter toward the finish under the scornful gaze of the instructor.
But that’s not the case on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at the Gold Creek Tennis and Sports Club.
“Masters just means anybody over 18,” Worthington said. “Different Masters programs are run differently. Some are more focused on swim meets. Our group is more of a mix of competitors and people in it for fitness...We do a lot of drills, and my coaching style focuses on technique.”
On a recent Tuesday evening, the participants filed into the humid indoor pool area, with an age range of 18 to 71. The mood was mellow as everyone smiled and greeted each other before lowering themselves into the water for the workout to come.
For the first 15 minutes they warmed up, before launching into drills as Worthington walked back and forth, shouting encouragement and instruction. At the end of the class, some fun activities concluded the night and the members responded by clowning around and having fun.
“This is a great way to end your night,” Worthington said. “And there’s a hot tub afterwards, so they can soak for a few minutes.”
The 40-something Worthington has been teaching swimming lessons since she was 16 years old. She swam for Central Washington University, and has been involved as a teacher and participant in biking and swimming groups for years. About five years ago she began coaching triathletes with her group called Elevation Multi Sport.
Worthington arrived at Gold Creek about a year ago and clearly thrives as a coach.
“You have two different styles of swimmers here,” she said with enthusiasm. “You have your basic swimmers who are swimmers, and then you have your triathletes. Your triathletes don’t want to do anything other than freestyle. Because they don’t have to [in their events]. So they don’t want to do anything else, and you get some grumbling from those people when you throw in the butterfly and breast stroke. But then you have the swimmers who want that. I try to offer a bit of everything.”
As the evening concluded, the participants began emerging from the pool.
Forty-four-year old Bob Horn has been an endurance athlete in cycling and running for several years. He once did a coast-to-coast bike trip and a couple marathons. When friends urged him to enter a triathlon, he scoffed.
“I wasn’t a swimmer and I would joke that I would sink, and made all these excuses,” Horn said. “But a seed was planted. I’ve always been fascinated with the Iron Man. So I started thinking what I needed to do to do a triathlon. I decided if I was going to learn a new skill, I needed a coach.
“I had a long conversation with Lisa on the phone,” he said. “I liked what I heard. In 2013 I finally said it was time, and I was doing two lessons with her a month. And then she said I should come to the Masters Class twice a week. Swimming has been hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The first few weeks were excruciating. It’s foreign to me to be in water because breathing is a whole new thing. When I’m biking or running you can just breathe whenever. But in the water you have to relearn how to breathe.
“But then I had a breakthrough,” he said. “Lisa had me do a 500 [meters}, which is 20 lengths of the pool. And I thought there is no way I can do that. It was almost comical, as here I was, a grown man, looking at her [with a pleading voice] ‘I can’t do this!’ But then she said ‘YOU’RE NOT GETTING OUT OF THIS POOL UNTIL YOU DO A 500!’
“It wasn’t pretty, and it took me 13 minutes, but I did it!” he said.
That experience allowed Horn to enter his first triathlon earlier this year knowing he could go the distance. He swam the swimming portion in 10.5 minutes. Then a couple of weeks ago, he entered his third event of the year, the Lake Tye Triathlon. He cut two minutes off his swim time, down to 8.5 minutes.
“It was her believing in me that I could do it,” Horn said. “She is encouraging, occasionally drifting into [tough].”
Also emerging from the pool was 49-year-old Jessie Lipe. Unlike Horn and some of the others, she came to the class harboring no aspirations of competing.
“I swam as a kid but never on a team,” Lipe said. “I spent many years as a runner in high school and college. I got into the workforce and had a kid when I was 38. A couple years ago I realized I was really out of shape and wasn’t happy with myself or my body. I found this gym and started working out and feeling stronger. And then a friend here suggested I go to the Masters Class. He told me it was really mellow.
“I joined this class about six months ago. Lisa corrected my stroke and it has gotten better. I had never done butterfly before, and now I can make it.
“It’s night and day in terms of how I feel,” she said. “I’ve lost about 18 pounds, my body fat is way down. My whole life has changed. Everything about exercising makes my world better. I eat better, I feel better. It’s all cyclical.”
Worthington’s group also includes someone who is going to Kona and Iron Man, a 71-year- old man who has done three Iron Mans, and college kids on their summer breaks.
“Typically once a month we will do time trials to time people to see their progress,” Worthington said. “It’s so fascinating to see these beginning swimmers because they drop their times significantly.
“That’s exciting for them, and it’s exciting for me — because I’m helping them to get there.”