Center Of Open Water Excellence At SIU

Center Of Open Water Excellence At SIU

In a land far away from the East and West Coasts of America, there is a rapidly developing open water swimming program headed by Rick Walker.

At Southern Illinois University, Rick has two FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup victors training hard for this year’s summer season: Kirsten Groome, a freshman from Shreveport, Louisiana and Mazen Aziz from Egypt.

It is extremely rare that two World Cup swimmers train together on a daily basis, so we asked Rick how these athletes benefit from training with one another.

Daily News: Do Kirsten and Mazen train together?

Rick: Yes, both in the pool and open water. This weekend, we are attempting our first open water swim.

Daily News: How is it training such an elite group of open water swimmers?

Rick: They challenge themselves. They both know what it is like to be doing what they are doing. We have had some difficult sets where Kirsten gets pushed by Mazen and Mazen can’t give up because Kirsten won’t let him. They have been good for each other.

Daily News: What are the challenges?

Rick: They go through the same challenges as everybody: trying to get in the extra yardage despite having a pretty tough academic schedule. Keeping their focus with their eye on the ball. But they both want to be good and this has helped them both.

Daily News: What kind of workouts do you do in the pool that are specific for a 5K or 10K race?

Rick: We have done the typical straight swims, but we have incorporated tethered swims into the pool. Making them swim for interval times of 30 minutes down to 5 minutes. This is done so they get used to swimming straight over longer periods without the breaks of the walls as well as resistance training. We do a lot of straight swims where they have to swim as an example: straight 800 under a certain time and then take about ten seconds rest before doing an all-out 200 for time and then repeat it for 4 or 5 times. We just did the first part of a challenge set. They went short-course yards 30 x 100 @ 1:30 holding under 1:00 for Kirsten and 58 for Mazen and El. Then 15 x 100 @ 1:15 holding under 1:00 and 58. Then 5 x 100 @ 1:05 holding under 1:00 and 58. Kirsten held 58 and Mazen held most at 56’s while El was a little faster at mostly 55’s and 56’s. It was a good start and we will now make the intervals quicker and the goal times faster as well.

Daily News: What kind of open water workouts do you do?

Rick: We will start by getting used to the cold-water swims and then start working on pace and stroke rate swims with emphasis on finishes to follow. Starts have become an intense element to most international races, so we want to prepare them to handle the all-out intensity at the beginning and then being able to settle into a race pace for the remainder of a long swim.

Daily News: How many athletes do open water at SIU?

Rick: We have three right now that I would consider hard-core open water swimmers and we are picking up another swimmer. We have several more who do open water as a means to their training prior to our collegiate season.

Daily News: Who would have thought that Carbondale would become the open water swimming center of excellence in the United States?

Rick: It is kind of funny, but we have had a long history of people who have been USA Swimming national team members in open water here at SIU. Liam Wesloh (Canada), Nathan Stooke, Briley Bergen, Stu Paterson, Chris Gally and now Kirsten Groome and Mazen Aziz. We even have another coming in next year. Those who have not really been involved with open water would have never known that, but now as it has grown into an Olympic Event, swimmers are looking for a place they can go to get an emphasis on pool and open water without having to give up either one. We are probably the most likely place to get that done in college swimming. I have been contacted by numerous college coaches who are now interested in how to prepare some of their swimmers for upcoming open water swims. Many of them are beginning to see the benefit to their swimmers and their programs, so I am only all to happy to help any way I can. They are even inquiring about doing collegiate swims like we do in the beginning of our Saluki Open Water Festival, a combination of a 1650-yard pool swim and a 5K open water swim. This is a good thing and it has been something I have anticipated for many years, just did not know specifically when it would start to take off. I never doubted it would.

Daily News: What do you think of the new 10K race that will be added to the World University Games in 2011?

Rick: I think this is a great step for our collegiate swimmers. I have proposed that our association throw out for consideration having an open water season by having two sports (outdoor and indoor) which might help save some programs because we become more value in a numbers count. We are using swimmers we already have and the cost can be minimal as far as added competitions (smaller travel squads). It could also extend our seasons into the spring which is much closer to the summer and we would not have to worry about rules that prohibit us from doing serious training going into the summer. Having open water included in the University Games will be a major benefit for open water swimmers who are in college, whether they are international or domestic. I think it will draw more athletes to the event and provide another international event for our American swimmers to get international experience. I see no negatives.

An absolutely, undeniably positive program and approach to the sport.

Second photo by Morty Berger shows Mazen Aziz winning the 2008 FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup race in Lac St-Jean.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones