Swimmer Spotlight – Abby Blank


Abby Blank
Age: 31

Occupation: Library Assistant at Vancouver Community Library
LMSC: Oregon Reign Masters

Abby Blank

Abby Blank

Swimming was a family affair. My older brother started it. Then came my sister, me, and shortly thereafter my little brother. My parents swamtoo. I started swimming competitively at age six on the Coeur d’Alene Area Swim Team with Carolyn Magee, a wonderful woman and all around superb coach. Intensely technique focused, Carolyn pushed me to not only love but understand swimming in a way that gave me an unrelenting drive to tackle the sport. So I kept on it. In high school, after Carolyn had moved, I switched club teams and swam for Spokane Area Swimming under Todd Marsh, another wildly talented coach. My skills as a 200 breaststroker and 400 IMer blossomed under Todd, as he knew how to crank out high, quality yardage in every practice while still making the whole thing fun. College swimming was always a goal, and under Todd it was a certainty. He was thoughtful and patient when helping us choose a good fit, and somehow convinced me to attend a D1 school in the very middle of the Midwest.

But college swimming was a struggle.I didn’t connect to the coaches, team, or workouts the way I had in the past.This process that was once exciting and challenging became monotonous, and swimming turned from something I loved doing into a job. By my senior year all I could focus on was putting one foot in front of the other to get through it. My silver lining was school, and I was lucky enough to understand that swimming was paying my way to open up new and vastly different doors.I fell into the creative writing program, where I worked with some fabulous professors who ultimately pushed me to go to grad school.It wasn’t until later that I found out Todd had urged me to go to this school primarily for the academics. Swimming was just a way to get there.

I gave up swimming while pursuing my MFA because the thought of stepping foot into a pool was overwhelming.I was burned out, unmotivated, and couldn’t fathom trying to reestablish any type of relationship with coaches, teammates, or water. I also didn’t want to face the daunting transition from club to Masters swimmer. Retraining my brain and body to be okay with a much slower me was, well, scary.It wasn’t until I graduated and moved back to North Idaho for a few months that I was coaxed back into the water by the skilled and ebullient Mike Hamm, coach of Coeur d’Alene Kroc Masters. It really was because of Mike that I started to like, maybe even love, swimming again. A techniques master, Mike got me to start rethinking about the mechanics of swimming instead of the trivial ups and downs of winning and losing, which is a driving force of any college sports team.Much of his energy, too, was focused on building a lively and familial team, of which I reaped the benefits.

After my short stint back in North Idaho, I packed up and moved down to Los Angeles to meet up with my now-husband, Ryan. I immediately landed a job coaching girl’s high school swimming, joined the Southern California Aquatics (SCAQ) Masters team, started teaching private swim lessons, and eventually started coaching for SCAQ as well. Needless to say my swimming equilibrium seemed to balance out, so when Ryan and I moved up to Portland three years later I felt at ease jumping on to the Oregon Reign Masters team, and even competing at meets again (thanks, Dennis!).Though I rarely compete, maybe twice a year, I have found it to be a good motivator in setting goals throughout the year.

Since moving to Portland I’ve also started incorporating yoga into my exercise routine, and can’t believe I didn’t start sooner. Because of yoga my swimming has gotten stronger and, dare I say it, even a little easier. These days I swim three days a week, and do yoga four to five times a week. I also love hiking and backpacking, and just got my first real-deal mountain bike. I recently got a job working at the Vancouver Community Library, so writing and (lots of) reading has reentered my life as well.

The act of swimming has been a lifeline for me. The process is familiar, centering, and therapeutic.It’s a way to be weightless and grounded at the same time. And it’s a way to be connected to all sorts of fantastic people who, for some reason, keep coming back again and again to willingly jump into that cold water.I am eternally indebted to this sport, and am so grateful to know that it will be a part of my life forever.

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