Who’s In That Lane? (January, 2024)

January 28, 2024

One of the best parts of being in the Conejo Valley Multi-sport Masters, beyond the obvious health and conditioning that it provides, is being part of a group that loves swimming as much as you do. The conversations we have before, during, and after sets, or as we are getting into our out of the pool, and the conversations we have with coaches as they tell us the next set they have planned for us, or as they remind us for the 373rd time not to breathe when we come off the wall, all make for a very social experience. Non-swimmers don’t understand, but we all know that by swimming together, we develop bonds.

Each month, we will feature a swimmer or several swimmers and share information about them. Some of them may be the CVMM Swimmer of the Month, some may be randomly selected, and some may be selected for a distinction that needs to be shared. 

I have volunteered to write these articles. Coach Nancy Reno will let me know which swimmer(s) she has selected for that month. I’ll do my best to keep them from being too long, but I know there will be a lot to say! It is our hope that this will bring us closer together as a team, and that by celebrating a few of us each month, we celebrate all of us.

For the first edition of this feature, we will focus on our world-record setting mixed 4 x 100 meter free relay team of Shelly Marshall, Don Smith, Becky Cleavenger, and Matt Biondi. I have to say that I felt elated and honored as I watched them pursuing and achieving their world record performance at the Long Beach swim meet in December. I joined the entire pool crowd in a huge cheer when the world record performance was announced. Here they are, from left to right, Becky Cleavenger, Don Smith, Shelly Marshall, and Matt Biondi, beaming after their amazing performance.

They range in age from 58 to 67 (I’m not going to reveal ages, though if you’re a masters swimmer, it’s kind of out there!). All four were accomplished college swimmers: Don and Becky swam at CSUN, Shelly swam at UCLA, and Matt swam at Cal. We all know that Matt also swam for Team USA in the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Olympics, winning a total of eleven medals, eight of them gold. Becky swims in the morning workouts, Don and Matt swim at the noon workouts, and Shelly swims in the evenings. Though with all of them, they will sprinkle in other workouts if their schedule allows or requires it.

Becky has the most tenure with CVMM, starting when Nancy Reno came here in 2009. Matt joined up in 2012, Don in 2020, and Shelly in 2021. All four are grateful for the friends they have made at CVMM. Shelly loves that she has regained her long-lost identity as a swimmer. (I love that – I’m sure it’s something many of us feel.) Don was swimming solo before joining, and loves how much he is pushed by working out with the team. Like Don, Becky appreciates being challenged in a way that would never happen if she didn’t have a coach pushing her. And Matt loves the banter and fun that just happens, such as when a lane mate arrives late for the workout. I bet that all of us can identify with one or more of those reasons for loving CVMM, and I know that’s just scratching the surface.

I got to be with all of these CVMM’ers at the Long Beach Meet. It was my first meet in a while, and I have to admit I was very nervous. All of them were welcoming and clearly loved being part of a team at a swim meet. When asked why they still do swim meets, the first thing all four focused on was the social aspect of the meets. They love being with teammates, cheering them on, and seeing former teammates who may have moved and now swim for other teams. And they made it clear that all swimmers, world records setters and those who swim the most slowly, are cheered on and encouraged. All of them know that their fastest times are behind them, but they just don’t focus on that at all. Still, the meets give you something to work towards, and help you monitor your progress. And I certainly identified with Matt when he said that doing occasional meets helps keep the beer belly under control. Ha!

It should not surprise any of us that while Becky enjoys a mixture of distance and sprint sets, all four truly love sprint sets with lots of rest. And for Becky, Don, and Shelly, if they’re really going to sprint, they want to keep the distance at 75 yards or less! Do you hear that, Nancy?! I’m all for that!

And on the relay itself, Matt’s biggest concern was that the two women on the team were not there as he was getting on the blocks. He thought that Don and he might be swimming in a two-man-DQ effort. Becky was happy that she was oblivious to the fact that they might swim at world record time. Don kept his attention on not false-starting (that happened A LOT with other teams) and making sure he did not miss his flip turns at the bulkhead. ​​(I have missed my share of bulkhead turns – give me a real pool wall any day – way less confusing!) And Shelly was extremely nervous, knowing her time would be slower than the other three, and just wanted to support the effort with her best possible swim. All four loved seeing Nancy celebrating (along with the entire crowd at the pool, though Nancy may have been the most exuberant) when the world record was announced.

So these are just four of the amazing group of CVMM swimmers, and that includes all of us, who swim in our lanes and in the same pool with the rest of us. I know we are all proud of their world record effort, but we are way more happy that they joined this team for the same reasons as all of us – for the camaraderie, for the push from our coaches, and in the pursuit of health and fitness. It’s great stuff.

Until next month!


Note: If you would like to see the actual transcript of what each swimmer said in preparation for this article (it’s worth the extra time of reading!), click here.

Also, thanks to FAST (Fullerton Masters) swimmer Bill McGarvey whose title and idea I have outright stolen for this and future articles. I did have his permission to steal, and I am grateful for my wise Fullerton Masters friend.

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