What exactly is “masters swimming”?

As a Bluffton Sun columnist and a regular at the Bluffton Pool, I get this question occasionally, and I hope my answer will encourage more swimmers to consider participation.

“Masters swimming” is a euphemism, not meaning a mastery of the sport, but simply a national organization for swimmers over the age of 18. The U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) organization is composed of state and local clubs throughout the country. Established in 1970, it now numbers more than 70,000 swimmers in 1,500-plus clubs.

Masters swimming is primarily for fitness and recreation. However, about 25 percent of members overall participate in local, state, zone and national competition.

Membership in USMS is beneficial beyond just fitness or competition in pools, open water or triathlons. There is great social value in shared participation. Former high school and college swimmers have found renewed motivation, but many more masters have never previously competed.

USMS membership includes a newsletter and magazine with a variety of stroke tips and other pertinent help. The USMS website, www.usms.com, is a fantastic resource for background and instruction information. It also includes meet locations, competition records for members, and current rankings.

One local club is the Lowcountry Masters Swim Team, more familiarly known as LoCo Masters. It comprises swimmers from Beaufort, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and surrounding areas.

Another very active local club is the Sun City Masters.

There are organized workouts, but many LOCOs swim on their own or with friends at a variety of times of day. LOCOs range in age from their early 20s (some even younger) to several in their 80s. There is truly room for everyone.

Competitions are both athletic and social. South Carolina Championships are held in pools at 25 yards, 25 meters and 50 meters, as well as at a variety of open water venues such as the annual Beaufort River Swim.

Although competition is scored in five-year age groups, races are organized by stroke and seeded by time, regardless of age or sex. Competition is thus kept at all swimmers’ ability levels, with only rare, accidental mismatches.

To learn more, email Lowcountry Swimming@gmail.com, find the group on Facebook, or visit www.usms.org for the bigger picture.

Dr. Bob Colyer of Bluffton is an actively retired college professor, coach and author of “Swim Better: A Guide to Greater Efficiency for Swimmers & Instructors.” bobcolyer@ yahoo.com