On the same Sunday as the OMS Championships a friend of mine was running the Corvallis Half Marathon. Karen Matson also happens to be a USMS member and is the only person I know who has run a full marathon and swum a 10K in the same year. You’ll find her name in the Awards Social book for this year.
What is significant, however, is that we had 242 swimmers at our state championships, and the half marathon drew 1307 runners. I have to ask. Why the wide disparity in numbers?
It was noticed at the meet that almost all team numbers there, were down from previous years. We finished Saturday’s heats before 4, and I was on the road back to Coos Bay Sunday before 2 PM. Why aren’t people coming to the biggest and best pool meet of the year?
It was pointed out to me that OMS membership is still high, but most people are choosing not to attend meets. OMS is providing a great service, but competition is a minor part of it. Why? I ask, because I do not have a ready answer for the question.
I know in my neighborhood the same situation occurs. We have lots of lap swimmers on the southern Oregon coast, but only a small group of them attend pool meets or open water swims. I timed 10 people for the Hour Swim, but only five sent in their results. Only two of us signed up for the State Championships.
Some people told me in Corvallis that numbers were down at the championships due to the travel involved; or, some people have simply backed off from competition; or they are doing something else; or, family, job, personal pressure has increased. Yet, a casual half marathon in the same place, the same weekend, drew 6 times the participants.
Is it the nature of the sport? Swimming is not easy, unless one grew up as a competitive swimmer. The learning curve is at least ten years. Running is natural. We are born to run. We are not born to swim.
Some beginning adult swimmers are intimidated by the prowess of USMS swimmers who have been swimming for over 30 years. I don’t find the same reaction from beginning runners against veteran marathoners.
I know there are USMS programs, such as April’s “Learn-to-Swim Month”, where USMS has focused on this problem. I don’t know what OMS has done for this USMS project, even though I did search the OMS website.
Perhaps we are victims of our own success. More people are swimming than ever before for exercise. There are a lot of ex-runners in our local pools who can no longer run. Their knees are gone. Others are there because swimming is warm, friendly, and soothing for muscles. People like the casual atmosphere of a pool.
The trick, though, for OMS and USMS is how do we get these regular swimmers into competition. Or, perhaps, we simply should not worry about that and be happy they’re in the water.