MODESTO — Whether it's in the heat of summer or the chill of winter, about 130 members of a local swimming club complete their laps at the Modesto Junior College aquatic center.
In recent weeks, some of them have trained for a meet Saturday at MJC hosted by the Modesto Area Aquatics Club.
As club member Chad Brown said, the meet is more than "a bunch of old people in Speedos splashing around in the pool."
It will feature 120 members of U.S. Masters Swimming clubs in Northern California. Some will be shooting for national or even world records, and several hold national records in the events for their age group. (Click here to see video.)
Formed in 2004, the Modesto group is not one of the more established USMS clubs in California but is a strong advocate for the health benefits of swimming in a region where obesity rates have soared and many thousands struggle with chronic illness related to idle lifestyles.
It includes some former collegiate swimmers such as Mark Fahlen who enjoy the competitive side of the program.
"I expect to win," said Fahlen, who swam for the University of California at San Diego and was an Academic All-American. According to the USMS website, Faylen holds the ninth fastest time this year in the 1,000-yard short course freestyle for the 40 to 44 age bracket at USMS events and was in the Top 10 nationally for seven other individual events in previous years.
USMS has about 60,000 members in more than 1,500 clubs and workout groups nationwide.
The Bay Area's Laura Val has registered for the Modesto meet. She's notched the best time nationally this year in 11 individual events for the 60 to 64 age group.
Although the national association refers to its membership as swim masters, the Modesto club accepts everyone from beginning to advanced students.
Brown joined about eight years ago after turning 50 and not liking what he saw in the mirror, he said.
He trained for triathlons but took a shine only to one of the three events. Today, he does laps at least four times a week with the noon swim class at MJC.
"Cycling was a huge time commitment and running was hard on my knees," said Brown, a property manager in Modesto. "I'm probably in the best physical condition I have been in the last 20 years."
Club about 200 strong
The Modesto club claims about 200 members including people from many occupations, such as education, accounting, law enforcement, farming, business and the health care field. The hourlong classes start as early as 5 a.m. and also are held in the evenings.
Board President Kathryn Sandner said a coach supervises each class to help the students with their technique and keep them working at a good pace. Many class members complete about 3,000 yards per session.
Sandner said the 25-meter MJC pool is kept at an reasonable temperature during the winter months.
Fahlen, a kidney specialist in Modesto, is one of two physicians in the noon class who vouch for the health benefits of swimming. It is a good cardiovascular workout, improves lung capacity and works all of the muscle groups with low risk of injury, he said.
Fahlen noted that it's not a weight-bearing exercise and the bones don't benefit much, so he adds walking to his exercise routine. The former runner said the endorphin kick, or natural high, from swimming is the best he has experienced.
"It feels just great coming out of the pool," he said.
Elliott Metcalfe, an internal medicine doctor, won't be among the Modesto club members competing Saturday. He prefers the competitive swims in Lake Berryessa sponsored by USMS.
"Swimming is easy on the joints, and if you have a problem where you can't exercise on a bike or on the road, it's a great way to get exercise," the doctor said. He added that class members are grouped with others who swim at their speed, so they can socialize and work out together.
Sheryl Galloway of Turlock joined the class a year ago.
By swimming 80 to 100 laps five days a week, she has lost 35 pounds, toned up, improved her thyroid function and recovered well from a back injury, she said.
With those kind of benefits, she doesn't mind sharing the slower lanes.
Karen Servas, a grant writer for the Stanislaus County's Area Agency on Aging, said she gave up the sport after competing with the swim team at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in 1982-83. She took to running during her adult years, but returned to the water after suffering a bad foot injury, she said.
Servas, 51, said she was about 10 pounds lighter as a runner, but the swimming workouts provide more upper body strength.
"I feel like if I got in trouble, I could defend myself," she said. On Saturday, she has signed up for freestyle and butterfly events, which were her forte in college, and will swim backstroke just for fun.
Brown, 59, was practicing his starts Wednesday.
"I have some ribbons," he said. "I don't do it to win. I do it to prove to myself I can."
Information about Modesto Area Aquatics Club programs is available at www.maacswim.org. Registration for swim classes is through MJC community education at www.mjc4life.org. Cost is $38 a month and there's a $60 annual cost for insurance. Saturday's meet starts at 9 a.m. at MJC.