DAM! 40 years already

By From page B1 | June 10, 2014

Davis Aquatic Masters is 40 years old this year.

Known as DAM, the group has grown from eight members to 500, the second largest masters swim club in the country. U.S. Masters Swimming named it Club of the Year in 2011. Just last month, DAM finished in third place out of 200 teams in U.S. Masters Swimming nationals in Santa Clara. On Saturday, it hosted the national open water championship for a 1-mile swim at Lake Berryessa.

So, there is much to celebrate on Aug. 9 when members convene at what we are calling DAM Ranch near Dixon, there to dine on Buckhorn savories, sweets and memories.

You may have seen the splashing through the fence at the Civic Center where DAM conducts 47 workouts, six days a week. Four years ago, I did, and I thought: I’m not good enough.

Indeed, I have not progressed beyond the slowest lane in that time, while others have leapt to the fast lanes in astonishingly short times. Still, I’m good enough.

The coaching is given out to the young, the old, the fast, the slow, in equal measure without favor or forced smiles. At a senior rate of $42 a month ($47 for those under 65), you get world-class coaching that has shaved seconds — if not minutes — off my times in four years. Head coach Stu Kahn was named Coach of the Year by U.S. Masters Swimming in 2012. His wife, assistant coach Mary Kahn, shared the spotlight.

Coach Stu thinks of DAM as a community institution: “We are the only club in the country that has all of its workouts in one pool. Twenty-five swimmers get out of the pool at the end of an hour and chat with 25 more getting in for the next workout. Contrast that with Baltimore, 900 members who swim at 11 different pools.

“I find it fulfilling,” says Kahn, “to coach adults, who are also our friends and social circle.” He formerly taught younger folks.

Kahn is exacting, sometimes using underwater video to drive home fine points on swimming technique. What those 50 swimmers are likely chatting about between practices is how tough the workout was. (Slower swimmers only do as much as they can.)

The Kahns followed a distinguished line of DAM coaches, beginning with Dave Scott, six-time winner of the Iron Man triathlon competition. Perhaps the highlight of the Kahns’ tenure has been coming in third in USMS nationals last month in Santa Clara.

DAM was behind only The Olympic Club and Walnut Creek Masters. The Olympic Club featured Olympians Nathan Adrian (2008, 2012) and Anthony Ervin (2000, 2012).

And the vast majority of the points came from team members who did not win their races. DAM only won one relay event and just six individual events.

Robert Norris, 75, who is in my age group, contributed more points to the DAM victory than any other male swimmer. I swam next to him in the 500-yard freestyle. By finishing last by about two laps, I got the cheers and applause that should have gone to Bob. Swim meet crowds love an elderly loser. The longer they wait for him to finish, the louder the cheers. But would you believe that I contributed six of our team’s 1,000 points?

Almost as well-established as DAM is the Davis Water Polo Club, which trains hundreds of youngsters at the huge Schaal Aquatic Center on the UC Davis campus. But until two years ago, the club had no masters group for swimmers 20 and over.

I can take some credit for this. Since Jamey Wright, the head coach of UCD women’s water polo, swims at DAM, I was able to pester him for a year about the need for a masters water polo program in Davis. The masters usually play twice a week at about 7:30 p.m. until, say, 9 p.m. The days and time jump around because there is a huge demand for pool time and the masters are vastly outnumbered by the participants in the youth and UCD programs.

However, our coach, Kandace Waldthaler, assistant coach of the UCD women’s team, somehow gets the word out. We have a Facebook page and a network that works fairly well. We have had as many as three teams in play at once, but two teams is the average and we manage to play with even fewer than that. Currently, we are playing on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. Do, however, join the Facebook page to keep up with the rapid changes.

The summer session started May 19 and will run through Wednesday, July 30. The fee for 22 sessions is $50, plus the required membership in U.S. Water Polo Association, the American organizing group for Olympic water polo.

I like the Davis masters water polo club because I suspect it is the only one that would put up with a 78-year-old player who never played before. My occasional goals are a cause for celebration all around.

And I must tell you this: In March, UCD hosted a tournament of masters and college water polo clubs. Davis won only one game, against the UC Irvine men’s water polo club (club, not varsity). In the traditional after-game huddle for cheering the other team, these young men gave a special cheer for me. Of all the patronizing encouragement I have received, this was the best.

— Mark Braly usually can be found in an area pool. For more information on DAM or water polo, visit www.damfast.org and https://www.facebook.com/groups/221363147990681.

Mark Braly

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