Portrait of a Master: Linda Buchanan (USA)
Ms. Buchanan is a former world champion triathlete who has been playing Masters Water Polo for about 10 years now. She started for a simple reason: namely, several women she swam with formed a local women’s Masters Team. “The way they talked about it”, she says, “made it sound fun. So, I tried one practice and was hooked.”
She continues to play, however, because of the challenges water polo provides, as well as the dynamics of teamwork, which she didn’t experience as much as an individual athlete. “I play for fun, fitness, competition and friendship”, she concedes, but “learning something new is motivating and competing in polo keeps me swimming and exercising more than I might have otherwise.”
Working and communicating with her teammates under the stress of a game is where she believes the sporting benefits lie. “Handling that”, she says, “has provided huge life lessons for me.”
In reality, her transition into water polo followed an extensive background in swimming. “I started swimming when I was 10. My whole family swam, including my brother Greg, who plays Masters polo as well. Honestly, I was not great; I did make the Division III All-American, on a relay. Trying to improve my swimming made me curious about technique and training, which was the basis of 20+ years of coaching – Masters and Age Group”.
Athletic and multi-talented, in the early 80s she got into triathlons, a venture that would lead to great success. “I won a big race in Los Angles in 1983 and, as a result, got a Nike sponsorship. That year I also won the World Championships, which I won again in 1986. I was also named 1986 Triathlete of the Year. I raced nationally and internationally for five years until injuries and ‘age’ (I was 30, which was old then!) crept in and I decided to retire”. Her years as a triathlete allowed her to make a living from sport, having also gained sponsorship from companies like Anhueser-Busch and Specialized Bikes.
Since taking up water polo, Ms. Buchanan – a college lecturer - has discovered new sides to competitive sports. “Polo is hard, and may even seem unapproachable, but I’ve found the water polo community to be encouraging for newcomers”, she says. Presently, she practices with her team twice a week, and she tries to make it to the pool an additional 3 or 4 days. She also cycles twice a week, but say the key to her fitness is actually yoga.
Linda Buchanan (USA)
Ms. Buchanan is proud to note that her team won the 40s Division at this year’s Masters Nationals. “This year we didn’t have some of our normal key players, including former National team members Maggi Kelly and Simone LaPay. So, we really had to work and strategise about our games, which made the victory more rewarding”, she explains. The water polo programme she is involved with, she says, which has allowed her to learn from and play with multiple former National players, has been generally successful on a Masters level and it is hoped the trend will continue.
Moreover, Ms. Buchanan observes that US Women’s Masters has grown tremendously in the past eight years. “The first year that US Master’s Nationals included women – 2001 – there were only four teams; all competing as open. By 2009, there were 33 women’s teams in four age groups: 12 in the 20s, 7 in the 30s, 7 in the 40s and 7 in the 50s. Her message, therefore, to potential Masters: “As someone once said to me, ‘I figure I’m not going to get any better at the things I already do, why not learn something new?’ It keeps you young!”