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As competitor, coach, senior's in the swim


Nancy Brown laughs about the fact that she can be a bit pushy when the subject is swimming. It's not uncommon for her to be at a pool, see a stranger doing laps in a less-than-perfect way, and simply go and dispense some unsolicited advice.

"Usually, people are very receptive," said Brown, 69, a longtime swimming coach and competitive swimmer. "Most people are very happy. They're struggling in the water, and I'll do anything to make it easier."

Swimming is her passion, said Brown, a widowed grandmother of 12.

Since moving to Pasadena in 1984, she has coached and swum with the SPY Maryland Masters, an Anne Arundel County-based group that has been competing in age-group meets through the YMCA masters' swimming program - and winning numerous awards in its national events. The SPY team - SPY stands for a defunct Severna Park YMCA team - won five straight national YMCA titles through 1996.

This week, Brown and several Maryland Masters team members who work out regularly at Woods Community Center in Severna Park are headed to the University of Pittsburgh for the National Senior Games. The Senior Olympics competition is expected to draw about 10,000 athletes age 50 or older in various sports.

Brown, a strong swimmer who was eligible for Senior Olympics years ago, is making her first trip to that organization's nationals as competitor or coach. In addition to watching over her team members in some events, she will compete in six races.

She's also optimistic about success for other Maryland Masters swimmers in Pittsburgh.

"She's a very committed and dedicated person," said John Collings, 77, of Annapolis, who describes himself as a semiretired career coach. He will compete in six swimming events in Pittsburgh. He has been to Senior Olympics events before.

"She puts a lot of time and effort into the Masters group," he said of Brown. "Without her motivation and dedication, we wouldn't be able to do what we've done. I don't think it would have happened."

Phil Kerr, 70, another retiree who has been to Senior Olympics competition, is driving to Pittsburgh with Brown. He tuned up by finishing first in the 70-to-74 age group in Sunday's 4.4-mile swim across the Chesapeake Bay from Sandy Point State Park to Kent Island.

Kerr said Brown has helped make him a more competitive swimmer. And while the competition at the national level might be friendly, it is still competitive.

"She's always very positive, and she's always encouraging, no matter how many times you repeat the same mistake," said Kerr, who drives from Kent Island to benefit from Brown's coaching. "[Plus] she is an outstanding swimmer herself. You have to have confidence that what she says is correct."

Brown started her competitive swimming at Baltimore's Friends School, where she was team captain in 1953 and 1954. She credits her coach there, Larry Peacock, with being one of the best influences she has had in swimming.

He got her a job teaching swimming at Suburban Country Club in Pikesville. She later coached summer-league swimming in Baltimore County and helped at North Baltimore Aquatics Club.

In the early 1970s, having not swum competitively for many years, she read about a masters' swimming program, found herself inspired and founded the Maryland Masters team.

Brown set several national YMCA records in the 55-59 age group and a world record in the 100-meter short-course backstroke in 1991, a feat that earned her a mention in Sports Illustrated.

She retired as a book- keeper/secretary for a plumbing and heating company about that time and turned her attention to swimming.

"I've just been involved with [swimming] for so long," Brown said. "It's a good feeling to see other people swim well and to benefit from what I know. I don't think I'll ever stop."

Brown gets to a pool often, year-round. Her team has regular practices, sometimes as early as 5:30 a.m., and has four coaches to help out the about 60 swimmers.

As she thought over her Pittsburgh trip, she said, "I think it's something that I'm meant to do. I've got that love for it. You've got that passion, and you want to give it out to other people."

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