Tag Archives: Swimming


‘I Needed a Reason to Get Out of Bed’

After losing her husband, Marjorie Vowels found solace – and so much more – in swimming at her local YMCA.

By Steve Kaufman  | Photo By James Moses of Bisig Impact Group

MARJORIE VOWELS goes to the Southwestern Family YMCA on Fordhaven Road near Iroqouis Park in Louisville three times a week for the water aerobics class.

It’s a 50-minute workout, during which she does maybe 20 jumping jacks in the water, sprints from one side of the pool to the other and works with buoyancy weights that, in the water, are the equivalent of 60 or 75 pounds.

“I used to do 125-pound weights, but I’ve had to cut back,” she admits.

In the 20 years she has been attending the Y class, Vowels, 84, has worked through painful tendonitis in her knee, lost some weight and says she’s not as tired as she used to be.

In fact, after finishing her water routine, she gets on the treadmill for a half-mile walk. (On the days she doesn’t participate in the water classes, she walks a mile.)

One of the major practical benefits of her exercise regimen is being able to shop regularly at the new Kroger supermarket in her area. “It’s about a half-mile long,” she laughed. “I’m not at all certain I could have navigated that entire store if I hadn’t been in the program.”

Vowels was not a lifelong swimming enthusiast who kept at it into her senior years. She grew up in Valley Station and went to the neighborhood pool in the summer, but mostly to hang out and socialize, getting into the water only to cool off.

As a young mother, she took her six children to the pool, but mostly to paddle around with them.

She retired at age 59 from her job as records clerk at Butler High School, and she and her husband did a lot of traveling together. Then, 20 years ago, he died “and I found I needed a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

“We had talked about joining the Y,” she said. “We had relatives in the water classes. But we never did. After he passed away, I thought, ‘Now’s the time. And once you do, you’re hooked!”

If she misses a class, she feels that part of her life is missing, that she didn’t do everything right that day.

Not only is it important physically to her, it’s also important mentally. Vowels said it makes her feel good to exercise, provides a sense of accomplishment. And it provides a social circle for her, too. Most geriatricians say that seniors need social interaction, that isolation and loneliness are especially harmful to them.

Vowels’ class, anywhere from 20 to 30 in attendance – mostly women – has become a support group.

“We go out to lunch together every once in a while,” she said. “We get to know each other’s families, problems, joys. It’s something to share with other people, which is important. You don’t ever feel you’re alone; if you have a problem, you can share it with your friends. They become your friends.”

Such is the closeness that coming to class becomes a social obligation. “If I miss a class,” she said, “they all call. ‘Are you all right today? Is anything wrong?’ It’s like a family affair.”

Of course, the benefits are far more than simply social.

“I felt better right away,” Vowels explained. “I felt like I was doing something for my body. And I lost about 10 or 15 pounds, which I’ve kept off. Once you get in the water, you can’t give it up.

“I know I’m getting a good workout and it’s not taxing my muscles or joints. It’s a whole lot easier than anything I could do on land, and just as good a workout.”

Two years ago, she had tendonitis in her knee and her doctor advised her of certain things she shouldn’t do in the water. “He said, ‘you can’t kick out.’ He said he’d never had a breast stroke swimmer in his office who didn’t have tendonitis in the knee. So, any activity that resembles the way a breast stroke swimmer kicks, I shouldn’t do that.

“I can still walk, and can still do some of the other things. But now I know what I can and can’t do.”

The instructors are accommodating. “They’ll all say, ‘If it hurts, don’t do it.’ They’ll show us ways to modify the exercise without hurting ourselves.” (Vowels’ instructor is Dr. Donna Roberts, a family physician at University of Louisville Physicians.)

The program includes a little free swimming – “We call it the froggy kick” – and exercises where they hold onto a board and kick. There are weights in the water. Plus, jumping jacks and sprints.

“(We do) practically anything you’d do on land. I think I can still do what I did 20 years ago and feel just as good. My tendonitis has not returned, and I’ve had no problems since then.”

Vowels is an early-morning starter who travels a short distance to the Y in time for the 8 a.m. class. “I like the morning class. If I go to one of the later classes, I feel as if it’s taken up my entire day. This way, I’m done at 9 and can go on with the rest of my day.”

And the rest of her day is as energetic and vigorous as she chooses it to be. “feel like my whole body is better, more fit,” she said. “I’m convinced I haven’t aged as fast as (she would have) if I hadn’t joined the Y.”

And if you talked to her you’d be convinced of that, as well. “My legs have benefited; I can walk better,” she said. “I don’t think I could have done the treadmill if I hadn’t been doing the water.”

“My doctor tells me I’m doing good, to keep participating in the program,” she said. “In fact, one of the doctors told me he wished his bloodwork looked as good as mine does.”


After Shocking the Swimming World, Mallory Comerford Wants More

By Howie Lindsey

Mallory Comerford can go faster – and she knows it.

But we’ll get back to that. First, the race.

University of Louisville sophomore Mallory Comerford brought the swimming world to its feet during the 2017 NCAA Championships when she crashed the podium, turning in a blazing-fast final lap to tie five-time Olympic Gold medalist Katie Ledecky for the NCAA Championship in the 200-yard freestyle.

It was the greatest race of Mallory’s life, the fastest time she had ever swam. After jamming her hand into the wall to finish as quickly as she possibly could, she turned to check the scoreboard and saw her name.

Her mouth dropped open and her hand raised to cover her shocked expression. She just out-swam two Olympic stars, Ledecky and Simone Manuel, two of the best swimmers in the world, in the final lap at the national championships.

“When I saw the one next to my name, it was just unreal,” Comerford said. “I knew I swam a good race, but I didn’t expect to see the one next to my name. I looked over at my teammates and they were all going crazy.”

Her Louisville teammates erupted on the pool deck, screaming with tears in their eyes for their teammate’s breakthrough moment. Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich and his wife, Terrilynn, were in Indianapolis for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and made sure to be there for the finals of the race.

“I’ve been to a lot of athletic events, bowl games, the national championship in basketball … That was one of the best moments of my career,” Jurich said. “The entire team was crying, my wife was crying.”

Swimming insiders all billed the race as a showdown between Ledecky and Manuel, but Comerford would be standing at the top of the podium. She beat Manuel and tied Ledecky down to the one-hundredth of a second, 1:40.36.

“Mallory tied Katie Ledecky in the 200,” those in the swimming community say, with significant reverence, emphasizing Ledecky’s name like the legend she already is.  Ledecky, a Stanford freshman, has already been to two Olympics, has five Gold medals and nine World titles. Just 20 years old, she has broken 13 world records.

“She never loses,” Olympian Maya DiRado said. “Her off days are winning by a lot but not setting the world record. It’s a totally different standard than everybody else is working on.”

Ledecky didn’t lose the 200-free, but Comerford out-raced her on the final lap for the tie.

Louisville coach Arthur Albiero was among those who believed Comerford could win.

“We never put a limit on what Mallory can do,” Albiero said. “Yes, I believed Mallory Comerford could swim a 1:40.3 200-free because I know all the hard work she has put in to get here. There was nothing surprising about her race to be honest with you.”

What made Comerford’s race so incredible was her final lap. She was down nearly a half-second to Manuel and was behind by more than a tenth to Ledecky before her comeback.

“I’m watching the coaches get her splits and hearing, ‘She’s going faster than she ever has before,’ and it’s setting in,” UofL teammate and Olympic gold medalist Kelsi Worrell said. “I can’t control myself. I’m shaking and crying and trying not to pee myself. Just so incredible.”

howie2It was Comerford’s personal best by 1.34 seconds, a massive amount of time for an elite level swimmer in a middle-distance event. Albiero noted that dropping new personal bests is nothing new for Comerford.

Comerford has dropped more than seven seconds from her 200-free and more than four seconds from her 100. She was a high-school phenom in Kalamazoo, Mich., but has become a superstar at Louisville.

“Since I got to college, I have learned so much,” Comerford said. “I got so much stronger. I am still continuing to learn so much. The past two years have been a learning process. Plus, my teammates have pushed me to my limits and our coaches push us so hard. We also have so many incredible resources for us to get better.”

Part of that is the training of Albiero and assistant coach Stephanie Juncker.

“I think Arthur has created the atmosphere of leaders wanting to get better every day, wanting to work hard,” Comerford said. “It gets hard, but the atmosphere we created is that everyone is going to work hard and everyone wants to get better.” On a recent Thursday morning, the Louisville swimmers warmed-up by swimming nearly two miles.

And then they started into their actual workouts.

The sprinters tacked on another four miles worth of grueling sets. The distance swimmers recorded a total of 10,850 meters.

And then they all came back in the afternoon to do it again. Workouts like that are part of the reason Louisville has had a NCAA champion in each of the last six seasons.

But Comerford isn’t satisfied with tying Ledecky for the NCAA title. She wants more.


“Steph (Juncker), she and I have worked on stroke counts, watching and learning from the best,” Comerford said, noting that she has already analyzed her 200-free from the most-recent NCAA meet, trying to get better.

“It wasn’t necessarily perfect, but the way I went out with easy speed helped,” Comerford said.

“I didn’t overdo it in the first 100, so that allowed me to kick it in during the second 100. That was the plan: stay as close as possible and then let it go.”

Comerford can go faster – and she knows it.

“I mean, I was happy with the finish, but we think maybe I took an extra stroke at the end,” Comerford said. “It obviously worked out great, but there are just some little things that I see that can improve.

“I think it was an awesome race, but there are still things that need to be better. There’s always a next race. It wasn’t necessary a perfect race so there are some good things to learn from it. That is exciting.”

It’s clear Comerford believes she can go faster.

“Yeah, I think so,” Comerford said.

How much faster?

“I don’t know,” she said with a smile.

Can she break 1:40?

“That’s definitely the goal,” Comerford said. “I just want to keep working hard and having fun with it. If you aren’t having fun, it doesn’t work.”

The good news for Louisville is Comerford still has two more years of college left. She and fellow sophomore Lamar Jackson were recently honored as the Adidas High Performance Athletes of the Year.

The sophomore pair have a lot of similarities. Most notably, each burst onto the scene in their respective sports this past season, and both haven’t yet peaked with their enormous potential.

“To be honored with that award is very cool and to have Lamar Jackson win it, too? I mean, he just won the Heisman Trophy,” Comerford said.

Yeah, and Mallory Comerford just won an NCAA championship.


Splish Splash

Home of the Innocent’s public diaper dip makes a splash with kids, parents 

Story by Mandy Wolf Detwiler | Photos by David Harrison

Baby swim classes have changed quite a bit since I was featured on a section cover of the daily newspaper in my birthday suit some 40 years ago jumping into a YMCA pool and swimming to the side at just six months old.

There are a number of public and private swim classes for babies through adults in Kentuckiana, but Home of the Innocents’ Baby Splash classes may come as a surprise offering to some parents. In fact, the Home offers a number of public service events and classes, making the center much more than a facility for at-risk and convalescent children.

The Baby Splash classes began in 2013 as a way to help maintain the Home of the Innocents’ indoor swimming pool. Benjamin Snyder, who serves as the director of the Kay and Jim Morrissey Advanced Therapy Center, initially found himself heading up the swim classes, working days and weekends. He eventually talked his mother, B.J. Snyder, who has 40 years in aquatics, into diving in and helping teach the classes. Today, it serves nearly 100 students, with kids enrolled through the end of the year.


“This program is very particular,” Snyder said, watching a group of tiny tots cling to the side of the indoor swimming pool, each flanked by a parent. “It’s a mixture of ISR, which is a survival swimming program, but we also teach them how to swim. Those are incorporated. With ISR, there are typically no parents in the pool, just the little one and the instructor, and they work on life or death skills. It can be kind of jarring at times. We really focus on happy, healthy kind of learning. There’s a little bit of play mixed in, but we do focus on the skills, primarily.”

The first level is split into two groups by age, and there are just “12 students per class because it allows our instructor to move around more freely,” said Snyder. Classes start for children as early as five months old.

“Level two is less age-dependent and more skill-dependent,” Snyder explained. “As they really start to grasp the skills from level one and two and so on and so forth, they’ll move up to the next level.”

By the time the children advance to level four, their parents are no longer needed. With just four children in the pool, they have more one-on-one time with the instructor. “They’ll work on things like stroke development, stamina and it’s almost like junior swim-team prep. They start to develop their ability to swim the length of the pool.”

The last five minutes of the Baby Splash class is devoted to playtime because “the littlest ones, they usually only remember the last five minutes,” Snyder said. “If you make it playtime, they’re going to want to come back.”

B.J. Snyder says drown-proofing skills are among the most critical for babies and children. According to the CDC, accidental drowning accounts for one in five deaths in children ages 14 and younger. “The younger they are when they start, the easier it is to teach them,” she said. “I’ve been teaching for 42 years, and I’m a big proponent of starting as young as you can. We are teaching the babies that when they fall into the water, to turn around and go back.”


Also important is teaching the children how to jump into a body of water and swim to the side without the aid of the parents. It’s as much teaching the parents how to deal with such situations as it is conditioning the babies to float and return to the side of the pool unaided.

“Usually within two sessions, they’ve picked up the drowning skills,” B.J. Snyder said. By their second sign-up, the children are working on “doggy paddling.”

After the age of five, children have the opportunity to sign up for private swim lessons.

“The most common calls I get are ‘We live next to X body of water. Either a pool or a pond or there’s a lake nearby and they’re starting to run. We want to be able to know that they have at least some skill,” Benjamin Snyder explained.

The younger children start in the water being held by their parents and participating in circle time. “They go under water for the first time, and we give them a nice, loud verbal ‘One, two, three!’ We blow in the center of the face, and they have an instinct to then hold their breath. It’s really pretty adorable,” he said. “Then you dip them down and bring them right back up. You’re not letting go, they’re not going all the way down to the bottom – it’s just a quick dip and it gets them used to the feeling.

“Since it’s a 92-degree saltwater therapy pool, it’s an easier transition for them. They’re used to a sink or a tub for their baths, but the open water can be very intimidating for them. When it’s open (and) when you’re there with a parent, all those things bring a certain level of comfort.”

The Kay and Jim Morrissey Advanced Therapy Center was added to the Home of the Innocents in 2010 to aid medically fragile children and those at the pediatric convalescence center. Those children had been visiting another pool in the area, but transportation and the difficulty of dressing made a local pool a luxury addition.

“The concept was deemed for this facility and it was built within a relatively short amount of time, and it’s beautiful,” Snyder said. The water temperature is kept at 92 degrees, “and it’s all catered to children with special consideration,” Snyder added. “We have a wheelchair ramp that goes all the way down into the water. We have aquatic wheelchairs here that you can transfer into. (A chair lift) was actually custom built for us … and we have one floating ventilator here, and it’s one of the only ones that we know of. We have swim time at least once a week for kids on trachs and vents. During that time, we clear out the facility from everyone else. We can’t really have them splashing or the turbulence. It’s really fulfilling to see kids who would normally never be near water with a little floating ventilator near them moving around.”

The public Baby Splash swim classes help pay for the upkeep of the pool and the instructors, but they also give kids the confidence to eventually swim on their own. The majority of Baby Splash class participants learn about the program through word of mouth, like Cara Mutka and her daughter, four-year-old Eleanor, who joined the class with fellow swimmers Allison and Maura Bryant, who had already taken one session at Home of the Innocents. The two friends hopped around on the tiled sidelines waiting for their turn with B.J. Snyder, and the allure of the water proved just a little too great as the two girls dipped their toes in and giggled.

“I like kicking!” exclaimed Eleanor (Maura was dancing at the time). Mutka says the lessons have helped give her daughter confidence on family vacations to the beach.swim3

“I think this one just likes wearing her bathing suit,” Bryant laughed, keeping a close eye on Maura nearby. “I think (it’s important) for just basic survival skills. I think we both do quite a bit of swimming either at the beach or at the pools during summertime. The teacher is phenomenal. She’s patient.”

“I think the most exposure they have to water the better off they are and will be down the line so they’re not scared,” Mutka added.

Maura, having already taken a full session of classes, was more confident last summer around water. “Even going under the water, which I was a little nervous about at first,” Bryant said. “She has them blow on their face and dunk them under, and she’s fine with it.”

Baby Splash classes are held year-round and have been filled consistently beginning early in the program.

“People know about the Home of the Innocents, but they don’t know about all the services we offer,” Benjamin Snyder said. “And they certainly don’t know that we have a pool that’s open to the public.

“We are completely non-profit. The proceeds for this program go to the instructor and generally to keep the equipment, to keep providing programming for our residents here – not only our medically fragile residents but we have residents from abandoned, abused and neglected homes. There are kids that might not have any mental or physical considerations but they are here, so we provide this space to them, we have a gymnasium – anything that comes to us gets rolled right back into other programming.”

Baby Splash Classes

For more information about the Home of the Innocents’ Baby Splash classes, visit www.homeoftheinnocents.org or call 502. 596.1143. Cost is $55 for 5 classes and begins at 5 months of age.


Everybody into the Pool

It’s summer. If you want to do more than splash around, here are some water workout tips for you.

By Steve Kaufman | Illustration by Adam Kleinert

To the fitness instruction world, you’re a “health seeker.”

If you’re anywhere from your late 30s through your 50s, and you’re seeking to get back in the gym or the pool, you’re categorized. (Clearly, that age category is bendable – from the 20-something who’s rehabbing a sports injury to the senior looking to stay active.)

You’re anxious, enthusiastic, unboundingly willing – and, left to your own devices, you’ll probably overdo it. Or you’ll run out of steam, get discouraged and quit.

Give yourself an A for intentions, but probably a D+ for results.

Swimming has become perhaps the most popular form of fitness workout. After all, you already know how to swim, don’t you? Most people do.

“Actually, a lot of people come in and think they know how to swim, but they really don’t,” said Adam Johnson, senior aquatics director at the Northeast Family YMCA in Lyndon in Louisville. “People get in the water, and if they don’t know what they’re doing, they’ll spend about 10 minutes in there and get tired, get discouraged and never come back.”

So, if you’re thinking of starting a swimming-for-health program this summer, start by acknowledging you might not be that strong a swimmer.

The problem, said Johnson, is breathing. “The cardiovascular effort in swimming is different than that of running or cycling, because you have to hold your breath for certain lengths of time. So you do one length of the pool and you’re out of breath. We get that a lot.”

It’s not uncommon for triathletes – runners and cyclists in good condition – to come into the water and be blown away by how quickly they become out of breath.

exsp_5_illustration_swimmer“People of a certain age who get into a pool and get tired after a lap blame it on age or weight or condition or some joint issue, when often it’s simply that they’re swimming wrong,” Johnson said. “Their technique or breathing or something is wrong, and always has been.”

There’s swim instruction, of course. But there are also other pool activities that produce some of the same benefits.

Aquafit classes, which may include weights, cycling, running or just aerobic exercises, provide a lot of the same benefits as swimming, without the need for technique. Classes are also aligned for age, strength, conditioning or personal goals.

“Aquafit classes range from beginner to some pretty tough advanced classes,” Johnson said.

The secrets of all water exercise are buoyancy and resistance. “Water is 900 times more dense than air, so moving your body through water takes that much more energy,” he explained.

Water weights are lighter, easier to manage and buoyant. But instead of a regular weight resisting being lifted, the flotation weight resists being pushed down into the water. But they work the arms and shoulders, all the same muscle groups as “land” weights.

Buoyant “noodles” are amazing devices in the pool, said Johnson. “You can float around on a noodle, and when you suspend your body in the pool, you can more easily engage your legs in the workout.”

Even doing a vigorous standing or running-in-place activity in the water takes the weight and pressure off your joints.

Also, aquafit workouts are generally in group situations, which promotes social interaction, especially important for the elderly.

“So you see, water exercise doesn’t have to be swimming laps, like a lot of people think,” Johnson said.


“It’s tough to ask for help,” said Adam Johnson, senior aquatics director at the Northeast Family YMCA in Lyndon in Louisville. “At the (YMCA), we try to foster that nurturing environment.”

Johnson suggests a frank conversation with a fitness instructor, during which you ask questions and spend 15 minutes having your swimming stroke and technique evaluated.

“People come in all the time taking tours of the gym and asking details about how to use the equipment,” he said, “but rarely do they take us up on the pool side.”

It’s worthwhile, said Johnson, “because the benefits of swimming are awesome.”


On its website, www.usm.org, the U.S. Masters Swimming organization called swimming “the magic pill.”

“Swimming might be the single best thing you can do to avoid the diseases that plague our sedentary society and to vastly improve the function of both your body and mind. . . . The health benefits of swimming – at any speed and any age – are enormous.”

Among a long list of benefits the article lists are:


• Lowers blood pressure

• Reduces bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol

• Aids in weight loss and weight maintenance

• Benefits your immune system

• Makes your heart a better and more efficient pump

• Slows down the aging process

• Reduces your risk for heart disease and diabetes

• Reduces chronic pain, particularly from arthritis

• Develops lung capacity and helps COPD and asthma

• Exercises nearly every muscle in the body, especially if you swim all four strokes


• Improves problem solving skills and memory

• Reduces stress

• Reduces depression and anxiety

• Offers relaxation through the repetitive nature of movement

• Improves self-esteem and mental toughness

“The concentration required of swimming – synchronizing arm or leg movements with breathing, making sure your hands are in the right position, produces neurotransmitters,” said Johnson. “Any time we’re challenging our brain mentally, we’ll reduce stress and anxiety, reduce mental fatigue and improve our confidence, which carries over out of the pool.

“The total self: physical, mental and spiritual.”


The beauty of swimming is that all you pretty much need is a bathing suit and a towel. But here are some other considerations:


For men, Johnson discourages anything that goes past the knees. “You want general flexibility around the knee.”

A generic swimsuit is fine. Johnson’s has a 12-inch inseam and is cut three or four inches above the knee. “Believe me, you don’t need tight jammers or bikini-cut Speedos. That’s a tough thing to wear if you’re not real fit.”

He also recommends something that ties and can be adjusted or tightened, “so you won’t lose your shorts.”

For women, he recommends a one-piece over a two-piece. “You want comfort and support. It’s not the beach, you’re not tanning.”

Johnson’s suit is 100-percent polyester, which he says will last longer. He said he’s had nylon shorts that faded quickly. But mostly, “wear whatever feels comfortable. Not everyone likes the way rayon or nylon feels.”


Johnson said he doesn’t necessarily recommend them, but he knows some people’s eyes burn in the pool, or they want to be able to see where they’re going – or they might wear contact lenses.

If you’re going to use goggles, though, Johnson recommended investing in a good, large, well-fitting pair.

“The most important thing in swimming is to reduce the barriers that ruin your experience. And if you don’t have a good pair of goggles and spend a lot of time fidgeting with them trying to get water out, that’s a barrier.

“The goggles didn’t work.

I hate swimming!” So spending $15 or more on a pair of goggles is probably a good idea.


“We don’t require them in our pool, but if you have long hair, it’s probably a good idea.” And if you do, he said, the best caps are silicone.

“The latex ones are really tight, rip out your hair and often cause headaches.”


“I discourage them, I want people to be able to breathe out of all their orafices. But if you don’t like water in your nose, spend $2 to remove that barrier. They make comfortable, adjustable ones now.”


“We see more of those than of nose plugs. Keeping water out of your ear reduces the risk of infection. And certain people get uncomfortable when their ears clog up. Another barrier that’s easy to avoid.”

Also, another basic $2 investment.


Johnson recommends considering a waterproof in-water MP3 player. “It’s a great way to enjoy your workout. Load it up with your favorite music. It’s a way to take the exeprience from the land into the water.”


All six Louisville-area YMCAs and the two in Southern Indiana (Clark and Floyd counties) have pools and thorough swim instruction. (The Southwest YMCA on Fordhaven Road even has a bubble pool that converts to outdoors in the summer.)

And if you’re a member of one Y branch in Louisville, you can use all the Louisville Y branches plus any in Kentucky and about 90 percent of the YMCAs around the country.

Family rates are $89 a month; couple rates are $84 a month; individual rates are about $53 a month; and then there are senior rates, as well. Plus, some of the Ys participate in the Senior Sneakers program, an insurance-coordinated benefit that makes membership free on senior policyholders.

“The main thing about the membership rates,” said Johnson, “is that the YMCA’s mission statement is ‘we’re for all.’ So if you can’t fit the membership fee into your budget, we’ll find a price that fits your budget.”