I’ve been a member of USMS for a while now, and I’ve been happy. They’ve given me insurance when I needed it. Their swim meets are fun. SWIMMER magazine, at least until the wonderful H2Open came around, was not half bad.
The best part of USMS membership is when you’re swimming with a club. Or when you’re traveling. I’ve “used” my membership at Ft Bragg when I was traveling, and worked out with the Ft Bragg masters for a week, without paying anything.
But as I’m about 8000 miles from the closest USMS club, I thought I’d save some bucks in 2015 by not rejoining. “But IronMike, what if you do any of those European open water swims that require national federation membership for insurance purposes,” you might ask, dear reader(s). Well, that’s a good point. Upon further investigation, turns out I won’t need that for a lot of OW swims I can attend. And I can always join at the last minute if there’s a swim I can’t live without, as USMS sends you a virtual membership card immediately.
So I decided I’ll save the money this coming year. Then today I read the following from USMS:
According to new rule 302.2.2A, an open water swim shall not begin if the water temperature is less than 60°F (15.6°C) unless heat-retaining swimwear is required of all swimmers. A swim in which heat-retaining swimwear is required of all swimmers shall not begin if the water temperature is less than 57°F (13.9°C). For swims of three miles or more, the swim shall not begin if the water temperature exceeds 29.45°C (85°F).
As if I needed another reason to not join USMS. Talk about not OW-friendly, or marathon swimmer friendly. The above is for swims that want USMS insurance (which already is quite expensive and onerous). Many swim organizers have gone to other organizations for that (WOWSA is one I can think of off the top of my head).
What USMS has declared in the above is just crazy. Everyone knows the true test (and sometimes prerequisite) for channel swims is 6 hours in sub-60°F. This new rule by USMS is a blatant move against marathon swimmers (not just cold water swimmers, I’d say). And to say that no swim will happen at all, wetsuit or not, if the water is below 57°F is just mind-boggling. What the hell? OW swimmers do this quite often. It’s called acclimatization. And what about the upper end? I’ve been in pools hotter than that, and it sucks. I hope that upper end rule stands for indoor pools, too.
When asked to comment, the fair-weather swimmers at USMS stated that
[t]he rationale for these changes are due to athlete safety. This proposal aims to reduce significantly the risks from thermal issues from swimming in water that is dangerously cold or hot for most United States Masters Swimming members, but allows some flexibility for those who choose to swim in wetsuits. The United States Masters Swimming open water swimmer population, taken as a whole, are typically not elite athletes, in general do not acclimatize, spend more time (in some cases, much more time) in the water, have more health-related problems, and are much more likely to be using medications which can alter their adaptability.
OK, so using this rationalization, perhaps USMS should make some adjustments for the elite athletes among its population. Perhaps a 1-second delayed start per 50m in the pool? 20 minute delay for the elites in the USMS Open Water National Championship 10K? How to determine elite? Well, if you were on a national team for one. Maybe if you were in the top-3 in the event the previous year? Yep, silly. My point.
I think their reasons for forcing wetsuits on us in a 3 degree range are wrong, misguided and ignorant. Instead of treating their clientele as adults (USMS is defined, after all, as “organized adult swimming”), they are deciding for us, deciding that our acclimatization is not sufficient, our hard work not satisfactory to carry us through 10 kilometers (or more) of cold water. And oh, we OW swimmers are all old and on meds, and too stupid to figure out we shouldn’t swim while on depressants. Thanks USMS. Good-bye. I’ll stick with MSF.
I’m all for the higher end limitation, however. RIP Fran Crippen.