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A Top Swimmer Gives Back To Us

July 29, 2023 3 min read 3 Comments

A Top Swimmer Gives Back To Us

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.

For instance:

*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.

"We work on overcoming adversity and not have the loss of a limb limit what can be achieved," Ingraham said. "Fitness, personal goals, strength, endurance, and competition are all small successes found in the pool."

Ingraham cuts down the distance between her immense skill level and the people she teaches. She is moored to a culture of promoting the support with sincere intention. It's why an All-American 43 times in Masters swimming can relate to the 50-year old swimming their first laps.

She is good technically as a coach as far as stroke, no doubt, but Susan can convince a new “senior” swimmer that their heart rate can go from 120 to 145 and they won’t have a stroke. She helps them lessen the resistance to exertion.

“The issue is they came into swimming late,” Ingraham said. “So if you were in athletics as a young person, you understand part of the process is you have that lactic burn and your heart rate is through the roof. That’s part of the process and it doesn't scare the younger athlete.

“But if you start swimming at 45 and your heart rate is too high, you're like, ‘Oh, no. This is bad for me'.

"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.



3 Responses

Mike Lavigna
Mike Lavigna

July 30, 2023

Keep digging Ray, you always find the gemstones!!

Mike Lavigna
Mike Lavigna

July 30, 2023

Keep digging Ray, you always find the gemstones!!

DeEtte Sauer
DeEtte Sauer

July 30, 2023

I am honored to compete on Susan’s team. I am a late blooming senior and have been greatly encouraged by this remarkable woman/coach.
She is the best!!!

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