For Montana Masters, It’s The Chance To Keep Swimming

The following article was reprinted with the permission of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

March 30, 2008

By MIKE KIEFER Chronicle Sports Writer

 For Montana Masters, It’s The Chance To Keep Swimming


Bozeman Masters swimmer Mary Robbins competes in the Mixed 200-yard Freestyle Saturday afternoon on the campus of Montana State University during the Montana Masters Swimming Championships.

Charlotte Sanddal never looks at the times. She’s just there to compete.

The 84-year-old Helena swimmer has been swimming in the state senior Olympics since she retired in 1993, but she rarely has a seed time. She has swum with the Masters swim clubs in Bozeman – where she likes the 50-meter pool – and Helena, where she lives.

Everyone who sees her stroke calls it graceful. The beauty transcended pure aesthetics at the short-course Masters swimming state championship on Saturday. The format guaranteed that Sanddal, the only swimmer in her age group, scored the most points of the day.

This Masters state champion sells that line about “just being happy to be here.”

“It’s just to be able to do it,” she said.

You don’t have to drive 680 miles to enjoy competition, but it seemed Saturday that if you had, it was all the sweeter. Jeff and Jenny Hodges put in 12 hours in the car along with six swimmers from Pierre, S.D., to attend the event, which they heard about almost by accident.

“It was in our junk e-mail box,” Jeff Hodges said. “I never thought that I’d swim competitively after college.”

That is not to say you need to leave college to swim with the Masters.

Between winning the 400-yard individual medley and the 50-yard butterfly, 21-year-old Brian Christiansen had to run back to check on a film class assignment that he had spent most of Friday night building. He was looking a little haggard after the race.

“It kind of hurt,” Christiansen said about the 400. “It used to be one of my favorite events, but I haven’t been training a lot. This year, I just wasn’t doing a lot of skiing and I had to do something than school.”

Christiansen hardly minds being one of the few 20-somethings on a club that has traditionally trended toward those in their 30s and 40s.

“I had to come and swim with my Masters teammates,” said Christiansen, who grew up swimming with a club and high school teams in Salt Lake City, which he called considerably less easy-going. “It’s so fun with the Masters. Everyone’s so happy.”

Last year, Bozeman played host to this event default, when a boiler at the Carroll College pool “blew up,” nearly forcing the meet’s cancellation.

“I was ready to do it,” Helena Masters coach Anne Gilbert said. “I’m a triathlete, so if I can’t swim, I’ll go for a bike ride. But the people down here in Bozeman were like ‘what?’ It’s a great club here.”

Hamilton’s newly formed Canyons A.C. club brought 19 swimmers who have trained in a pool with only three lanes, where there are no starting blocks and no diving allowed.

The Canyons swimmers range of experience runs from swimmers who couldn’t finish a lap just months to Beth Fischer, who swam for the University of Colorado, graduating in 1983.

Fischer says she has to avoid comparing her times today with those of her college years, but she says it’s nice to have what she calls “restart value.”

Many of the swimmers competing Saturday have their eye on open-water swimming and the triathlon season, fast approaching with the Grizzly sprint-distance triathlon in Missoula just weeks away.

That’s why many well-known names n Matt Guzik, the Wirth brothers, Molly Hayes n were getting a good baseline for their swim leg.

“It’s the most technical leg,” Gruzik said.

Whether swimming competitively for the first time or trying to regain some competitive zest from past lives, the Masters swim championships were mostly about good spirit.

“People here are just exceptional,” Sanddal said. “They’re friendly. It’s still a competition but they do it in such a positive way.”

Mike Kiefer is at and at 582-2657.


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