Q&A with Randy Rogers, Masters Swimmer
Just like any sport, motivation is the key to success when it comes to swimming.
This is especially true for those who have trouble getting to the water, or who want to train more regularly but are juggling the duties of family, work and life alongside their swim training.
We recently sat down with Randy Rogers, a Masters Swimmer who has been swimming competitively for most of his life while doing all of the above.
Randy swam his first U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) Nationals in 2007, where he placed 6th in the 1650. In 2016, he won both the 1500 at the USMS Long Course National Championships and the 5K Postal Swim National Championships.
But after a serious leg injury put him temporarily out of commission, he had to find the strength to recover so he could compete once again.
Here’s what Randy had to say about training, overcoming injuries, and staying motivated both in and out of the water.
Vasa: What does swimming mean to you?
Randy: Swimming is a passion for me. It is an important part of my regular routine, a refuge of sorts away from the stresses and pressures of life.
The first time I remember ever being in the pool was when I was about 5 years old. My Mom took me to the Morton Hot Springs Pool in Boyes Hot Springs, CA in the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up.
As soon as I was on deck, I made a bee-line for the deep end of the pool and went straight to the bottom.
The lifeguard had to rescue me.
After that, I was hooked.
Vasa: What’s your background as a Masters Swimmer?
Randy: I started swimming with a team at age 8, and competed with an Age Group Team in high school.
My coach, Mike Wall, was a 1964 and 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist who was a teammate of Don Schollander.
I also swam in college at the U.S. Naval Academy. When I was later offered the opportunity to serve for the U.S. State Department in Iraq, my first question was “Is there a pool?” (There was, so I accepted).
After that, I was swimming Masters until my mid 30’s, but I stopped about 10 years ago because I was burnt out.
Then, in my mid 40’s, the pool began to call on me again and I started competing in the USMS Nationals. But in November of 2016, after winning the 1500m and 5k, I got injured.
I broke my tibia and fibula through a simple slip and fall in a parking lot.
It was devastating.
But as my friend and Masters World Record Holder in the 200 fly, Larry Day, told me, “This will be a time of real personal growth.”Larry Day told me, 'This will be a time of real personal growth.' Click To Tweet
Of course, I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but he was right. Since then I’ve had to work very hard to recover so that I can continue to compete.
Vasa: What did you do to rehabilitate after your injury?
Randy: I was in a cast (and out of the pool) for 12 weeks.
During that time, it was tough to do very much, but I came up with some crazy things to exercise and maintain my sanity.
One was to take on the “Kill 22 Challenge.”
This is an effort to bring awareness to the tragic fact that 22 soldiers and sailors die by suicide every day. So, you do 22 pushups for 22 days and post of a video of you doing so.
With an above-the-knee cast on my leg, I did just that and made funny videos of me doing the pushups and posted them on Facebook.
It was silly, but helped me maintain my sanity while housebound through the cold, grey Seattle winter.
At 8 weeks, still with my cast on, I got back on the Vasa Trainer, and at 12 weeks I was back in the water with the cast off.
My Coach, April Cheadle, was great and watched me closely so that I didn’t overdo it.
Slowly, and with the help of many people, including my Physical Therapist, I got back in shape enough to compete at Nationals in August (2017).
Vasa: We remember working with you in 2010 to ship a Vasa SwimErg to you in Iraq. Did you use the Vasa Trainer in your recovery process?
Randy: Being able to continue swimming in Iraq helped immensely under very trying and dangerous conditions.
I had contacted Vasa and asked about how we might be able to get a Vasa Ergometer to Iraq and you made it happen.
When it came time to train again when I was injured, I knew Vasa would come through. The Vasa Trainer has come in handy as a supplement to my pool training when I was in a cast.
I think everyone has a certain way they train to meet whatever goals they have. For me, dryland was a key component, especially the Vasa and strengthening my core.
My current dryland training still includes the Vasa Trainer.
I’m still focused on core work to improve my upper body strength and my high elbow catch.
I also use the footpad [Leg Power Platform] on the Vasa to improve my leg strength, as it’s not only fun but I believe very useful.
Vasa: How did you stay positive and motivated to get back in action?
Randy: It was very hard to stay positive after such a serious and devastating injury.
I had help and support from many, especially my coach and teammates from Bainbridge Aquatic Masters.
After a rough initial few weeks of the reality of things setting in, and many discussions (and tears) with teammates and friend, I refocused in doing what I could to maintain some level of condition.
There were some pretty dark days, and making those silly pushup videos became a highlight of my day and helped me stay motivated on making a small measure of progress every day.
Taking those initial first steps on my own after not being able to walk for 12 weeks was a huge accomplishment, and I took much motivation from that.
I also had inspiration from my Mom, who passed just this year. Growing up, she would say things like “Tomorrow will be a better day” and “Just do your best.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but these sayings were a key part of keeping me motivated and staying positive during my recovery.
It was a long road, but I managed a 3rd place finish at the USMS Long Course Nationals in August in the 1500, and a 6th place finish in the 200 fly.
I’m planning some epic events in 2018, and the Vasa Trainer will play a key role in my training program.
Vasa: Do you have any special workouts or sets you do in training that you use as “benchmarks” year-round?
Randy: Other than lots of 100’s, there are a few sets I like that I use as benchmarks.
For my 200 fly, as I get close to a race, I will swim 4×50 fly on 10 seconds rest, which I believe will pretty closely simulate what you might swim in a race.
In freestyle, I will swim 10-15×100 with 20 seconds rest and try and hold my mile pace.
For longer races, I will swim 50×100’s, a mixture of pulling and swimming with fins on 10-15 seconds rest and try and maintain a consistent pace.
I think the Vasa has improved my upper body strength, which I knew was a weakness.
I also think my dropped elbow in freestyle benefited from some exercises on the Vasa.
Dryland training gives you focus that is sometimes hard to get swimming in the pool during a regular team practice.
Vasa: What advice do you have for Masters Swimmers or triathletes seeking to get stronger, better, faster?
Randy: Be consistent in your training.
Work on those areas you know are weaknesses, as hard as it may be to do so.
Find a good coach, or experienced fellow swimmers, who can watch your technique and offer suggestions.
In swimming, even the smallest changes can produce huge results.
My underwaters in my mile are a perfect example. They are not a strength for me, yet by improving your streamline off the walls, you can drop 30 seconds or more in that race.
That actually happened for me in early 2016, as my teammates were all cheering me on by holding streamlines on deck so I could see them off every wall.
Staying motivated to swim amidst injury and setbacks, plus other obstacles (like serving your country halfway around the world) can be difficult.
But, like Randy, it’s important to keep consistent and use every tool at your disposal.
Dryland training (and the support of a good coach) can make all the difference.
Whether you’re swimming in the middle of “rockets firing on the Embassy,” as Randy puts it, or your hometown pool on the open water, if you love to swim, you’ll find a way.
“It’s always been a part of me,” Randy says. “It always will be.”