In a previous article, I wrote about the complexities of finding relay teams at swim meets. I know, it shouldn’t be that hard because all you need are four men or four women, or a mixed team of two men and two women, and you have a relay team. At every meet except for Associations, we are all one OREG team of 500 swimmers, so if you don’t have enough swimmers on your team, you can always “borrow” someone from another team.
In reality, though, it’s harder than it seems to get four swimmers for a relay team. One person may be focused on setting individual swim records at that meet, and not on relays. Another one may have been training for a particular race, which is right after a relay event, so that’s not going to work. Still another may feel they aren’t swimming well that day and decide to skip the relay. Even if people have agreed to swim a relay, one person’s illness or injury right before a meet can scratch the entire relay team. So when a relay actually happens, I don’t call it good planning, I call it luck.
I know these situations well because for the last five years, I have been recruiting Oregon swimmers for relays at meets. Not just for random relays to fill the day, but for teams that can break Oregon, Northwest Zone, National and World (FINA) relay records.
This all started when I wrote a computer program called Record Break’r. It finds the best relay teams based on their USMS times and all the relay records. With this tool, I can download all the swimmers at a meet, get their times, generate all possible relays, and then compare them with FINA, USMS, Zone and Oregon records. When I first wrote this program, I was amazed to see all the possible relay records that could be set from all the swimmers there are on deck at a swim meet.
However, I didn’t know most of the people, so when I went to a meet with all of these awesome relay teams, I had to try to find them. I would walk around the deck asking people if they knew so-and-so. Because Oregon swimmers are a loosely-knit group of friends and know each other from meets, I would usually get an answer like “Doesn’t she swim for that team over there?” and I would go over to that team and find them.
At larger meets, I would sometimes resort to asking the announcer to call them by name to come over and meet me. I’m sure they were a little nervous to hear their names being called over the loudspeakers. Those swimmers would come over, looking like they were wondering if they had done something wrong, only to have me recruit them for a relay team. I think they were relieved and a little bit impressed that they were summoned.
What also surprised me was that most people were more than willing to be on a relay team, even with other people they had never met before. I think that says a lot about our Northwestern friendliness and desire to bond with other swimmers. When I introduced the team members together, they would learn about each other. By the time the relay was over, all four were new friends who shared a real experience together, and maybe a record, too.
Sometimes I was so busy introducing swimmers to each other and writing up relay cards that I would nearly miss my own events. Nowadays I have built up my email contacts list so that I can usually notify people a week before the meet and let them know about relay opportunities, and to see if they are interested. Then I can write up the relay cards before the meet and just hand them out.
Last fall, I couldn’t attend a meet but I checked the possible relay teams anyway. When I saw that four women could set a FINA record, I emailed them and they were ready to skip events just to focus on that relay. By the end of the meet, they had set a new world record in the 400 Medley relay and I wasn’t even there to celebrate it with them!
So I guess the moral of this story is that we have tons of talent within team OREG just waiting for someone to ask them to swim in a relay. The real reward for me has been in making so many new friends and introducing people at meets, and I think we are a stronger team OREG. Instead of seeing co-competitors as rivals, we become partners and together we achieve so much more.
Even if you aren’t going for a record, go ahead and form your own relay teams. The excitement and fun of racing as a group is, for me, way better than any individual swim. It’s easy to fill out the card and hand it in. If you need assistance, just ask me or one of the referees. Invite someone new to join you, they would probably love to be asked. With a little luck, you might make a great relay team! You will definitely make a friend and a shared memory.