On Monday mornings, just after sunrise, Jupiter’s Intracoastal is a cool oasis for a handful of swimmers, one retired ocean rescue lifeguard and one swim coach. A peach-colored haze reflects off the still water, transforming the imminent 1.2-mile swim into a reminder of Jupiter’s beauty.
The Palm Beach Masters swim team (a local chapter of the U.S. Masters Swimming) is the reason we’re all standing shin-deep in water at the Intracoastal’s bank, just across from Coral Cove Park, about to embark on a steady swim to Cato’s Bridge and back. We quickly adhere our swim caps and goggles and dive fingertips first into the waterway, gliding above countless nine-armed sea stars and the occasional stingray.
Don’t be fooled by the early morning tranquility, however. Palm Beach Masters swimmers are in for a serious workout most days, typically ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 yards of freestyle, drill and interval swimming at one of three pools in Palm Beach County (Jupiter’s North County Aquatic Complex, West Palm Beach’s Lake Lytal Family Aquatic Center and Delray Beach’s Aqua Crest Pool).
From April through October, swimmers can take a break from the chlorine during open water swims at Juno Beach’s Loggerhead Park on Saturdays, or Jupiter’s Intracoastal Waterway on Mondays. The club also hosts the Snag Holmes Masters Invitational in Jupiter each spring, and swimmers are encouraged to compete in other swim-related events throughout the year.
Fortunately for me (a self-proclaimed fair-weather swimmer), the one-hour pool workouts are broken down by ability level: Wahoos typically include former college and high school swimmers, as well as some former Olympians; Loggerheads are competitive triathletes and noncompetitive fitness swimmers; and Manatees vary from swimmers who are just learning their strokes to those who are getting back into the sport after taking a few years off. I fall into the latter category.
Practices take place year-round Mondays through Saturdays and are led by one of several coaches, all of whom typically offer suggestions to improve each swimmer’s stroke and speed—and have the athletic resumes to back up their pointers.
Head coach Linda Irish Bostic is definitely a Wahoo, having competed in countless swim meets over a 15-year swimming career that included a trip to the 1980 Olympic Trials. The former JTAA administrative director started the club in 2009 when she noticed a need for a program that catered to morning swimmers. Since its inception at the North County Aquatic Complex, Irish Bostic has seen the club grow to more than 500 members across Palm Beach County.
“One of the things U.S. Masters Swimming is really trying to overcome is the intimidation of the name,” she says of the program. “It doesn’t mean you have to have mastered swimming. It’s just a swimming program for adults. We have everyone from 20-year-olds to 80-year-olds.”
Palm Beach Masters was named the U.S. Masters Club of the Year in 2017, and saw record growth during the 2018 summer months.
“You’ll see a big surge of people getting back into the sport once they become empty-nesters or once they retire, or at both points in their lives,” Irish Bostic says. “What I love about swimming is it’s an individual sport. You know if you finished strong, you know if you tried your hardest, and it teaches a lot of lessons.”
Lessons, indeed. Back on land after Monday’s workout, I peel off my neon yellow swim cap (tangible proof that I completed the 2018 USMS Summer Fitness Challenge) and enjoy the early morning breeze. Don, a retired lifeguard and Palm Beach Masters member who doubles as our kayaking caretaker during open water swims, paddles over to tell me I swam alongside a manatee during part of our journey. “You two were neck-and-neck,” he says.
Today’s lesson: Take a moment to look around, even in the middle of a laborious swim. You just might be swimming next to something extraordinary.
Palm Beach Masters is a Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation program. Club dues are currently $60 a month, and swimmers must be registered with U.S. Masters Swimming. Swimmers are welcome to join the club for a week of workouts at no cost. For up-to-date registration links, monthly practice schedules and club information, visit palmbeachmasters.org.
Photos courtesy of Tracy Marcello
Want to keep up to date with all the best events happening throughout the Palm Beaches? Sign up for our Society Sightings newsletter, which delivers a list of 30+ events in your inbox once a month. Interested in a print subscription? Click here.