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by Ashley Gangloff

December 31, 2008

USMS swimmers give back with a toy drive

As the holidays fast approach, each of us seem to feel an overwhelming sense of reflection and often ask ourselves, "How do I contribute to mankind?" Though expectations of curing world hunger, solving the problems of the Middle East, and improving the environment often cross our minds, reality soon sets in and forces us to ask, "What can I do today in my community that will ‘make a difference'?" Programs such as Lakeside Masters of Louisville, Ky., use events to participate in service projects and serve as inspiration to all of us that question our contribution to society this holiday season.

Each year Lakeside Masters Swim Team hosts the Lakeside Mile, a swim meet held the first Sunday in December. The meet attracts between 30 and 60 swimmers each year, but this event is more than a swim meet. The Lakeside Mile serves as a toy drive to benefit Toys for Tots. The Lakeside Masters Swim Team began collecting toys during the holidays over a decade ago and is confident that the tradition will continue for years to come.

Mary Graves, a member of Lakeside Masters, organizes the annual toy drive. "I believe that swimmers like to give to Toys for Tots as a way of showing support for our community. Many swimmers do not have young children to shop for, therefore, they enjoy buying toys for needy children," says Mary. Lakeside Masters has already collected over 100 toys this year for the cause.

Why toys? Mary and the Lakeside Masters found a good fit with the Toys for Tots program and knew that a toy drive was a manageable service project in which each member could participate. Mary believes that every Masters program is capable of contributing in a similar manner to various causes in their communities. "The Toys for Tots drive is an easy activity for us and a good way to contribute to the purpose of our December meet," says Mary.

How does Mary manage to execute this project every year? Each year Mary contacts the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, who organizes Toys for Tots. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserves delivers a collection box to Lakeside Masters and determines a pick-up date for the collected toys, and then it is up to Mary and the Lakeside athletes to fill the box. "They award our team a nice certificate of participation," shares Mary. The second year that the Lakeside team hosted the toy drive a uniformed Marine Reserve even attended the meet to show his appreciation for the efforts of the team. The participation in a service project not only makes us feel good heading into the holidays, but also has a way of bringing a team together.

Mary's effort and that of the Lakeside Masters Swim Team is one example of many Masters swimmers, programs, and communities giving back. Earlier this fall we learned about Masters member and Olympian Aaron Peirsol and his efforts to save the oceans and we've talked to programs that offer scholarships to young Masters members to assist in the cost of dues; there are an infinite number of ways to make a difference and U.S. Masters members are finding them. As we look back through 2008 and we chart our times in each of our favorite events, check our standings compared to other swimmers from across the country, and plan our race schedules for 2009, U.S. Masters Swimming members like Mary Graves remind us that our organization is more than times, records, rankings and medals. U.S. Masters Swimming is an organization of nearly 50,000 that has the capability of being more than a swimming program.

U.S. Masters swimmers enjoy our time together and we revel in a challenge, both in and out of the water, so here is your challenge. Change the life of someone in your community and include your teammates, coach and program in your effort. Like fitness, goodwill is contagious.



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