July 29, 2023 3 min read 3 Comments
By Ray Glier
Susan Ingraham, 64, is as much servant swimmer as she is superstar swimmer. One of the most decorated Masters swimmers of all-time, Ingraham’s identity should also be tied to less-obvious jewels of success, deeds that do not have anything to do with her skill at winning medals.
*Through the Masters of South Texas swim club she founded, Ingraham helped bind college-age swimmers into a club so they could get university funding to compete in meets. She also helped them to register and compete in U.S. Masters swimming.
*She works with amputees in the pool, a measure of her patience and compassion.
*Susan helps nudge older swimmers who never learned the science of lactic burn and how it teaches them to push through discomfort to improve their stamina.
You know what I’ve learned in 45 years of sports writing? The great athletes can make crummy coaches. They can be impatient and less chivalrous. Not Ingraham. She knows how to share her gifts inside and outside the pool.
“I guess it is how I am wired,” she said. “My major in college was special ed and phys ed (University of Arizona) and I really enjoyed it. We actually went into grade schools, and we would teach PE classes. And I was fortunate the little grade school that I went to had a pool and I was able to get them to see the benefits of water.”
Susan was competing at the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh where she medaled in all six events she entered, which included winning two golds. While she was busy in the pool, I looked over her resume and it listed the multitudes of medals and awards she had won that included being inducted into the Texas Swimming & Diving Hall of Fame this year.
Then I saw a note about her work with college-aged swimmers at Trinity University in San Antonio. And it stopped me. It made me realize there was something else to her ethos.
These Trinity kids were very good high school swimmers, but not good enough to be Division I scholarship athletes.
They are usually the age-group discarded in the sport, but they wanted to keep swimming and form a club team.
“It’s a lost age group, those kids that go to high school and were good swimmers, and then they quit, or they go to college, and they want a break,” Ingraham said. “We want to make sure that those kids that were good in high school that it’s not the end of their swimming career just because they can't swim in college.”
So when the Trinity students reached out to Ingraham and her assistant coaches, Tiitta Elias and Elaine Valdez, for help, they found just the right counselors.
The coaches went to work with the Trinity students and set up a training regimen. They helped them market the club so the numbers would grow.
Within a year, the university was funding their club team so it could compete off campus. Many are now part of Masters swimming, which serves to bolster the sport and give it vibrance. What Ingraham shared with those kids is what other superstars might not have in their personal make-up outside their sport: patience and enthusiasm.
You can hear the enthusiasm in her voice as she talks about her work with amputees.
"Some of what I do is the education of what's going on.”
Does this sound like the superstar we want coaching seniors? You bet it does.
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