Susan Souders didn’t know what to expect when she stepped into the blocks for her first race at the 2022 USA Summer National Masters Swimming Championship.
She hadn’t swum in a competitive race for 61 years, not since joining a club team in 1961, and wasn’t sure she had the stamina required for the race, a 100 breaststroke. But her worries were unfounded: she finished fourth in the 75-79 age group with a time of 2:33.66.
“It was fun,” said Souders, 77, a member of the San Diego Swim Masters. “It was fun.”
Souders’ return to competitive swimming began when her daughter, Lisa Souders, entered a friend in the 2019 USMS Summer Nationals alongside her mother. Lisa Souders decided she also wanted to swim with her own mother because of everything she had done.
Susan Souders taught her daughter to swim at a young age, judged strokes and turns at her youth meets, traveled the East Coast to watch her high school and college meets, and tracked her meets of mastery through a direct.
“The way she spoke [her request that I swim with her] was, “I want to go to this swim meet with the person who gave me the love of swimming,” says Susan Souders. “There was some apprehension. It was, like, ‘Am I really going to be able to do this? And will I be able to do it competitively? I guess my competitive way has decided that I’m going to swim, and I want to be able to do the best I can. I’m glad I did.
In a nod to her mother’s officiating encounters, Lisa Souders, 47, told her mother not to be disqualified for a false start and also told her not to do a flat stomach.
The advice was understandable. The blocks have changed a lot in the years since Susan Souders last competed, and she has had only a limited opportunity to practice her start at the competition.
She held her arms back when told to take her mark, a reminder of the “trophy debut” of yesteryear, and took both advice from her daughter. However, the water filled his goggles, adding another challenge to his swim.
“I couldn’t see anything the whole way down or back,” she said. “I just kept swimming.”
Lisa Souders watched as her mother started, walked onto the pool deck to cheer her on from the end of the bend, then came back at the end of the start to hug her at the end.
“I’m trying not to choke,” said San Diego Swim Masters member Lisa Souders, moments after her mother finished, her emotion causing a strain in her voice.
Susan Souders also swam the 50 and 200 breaststroke and did a mixed 200 freestyle relay and a mixed 200 medley relay with her daughter. She did the second leg out of the two, handing over each time to her daughter, who did the third leg.
“Being here with her is pretty cool,” Lisa Souders says. “It’s a to-do list [item].”
The summer nationals won’t be the end of Susan Souders’ swim days. After spending much of her life teaching swimming lessons and swimming laps or with a masters program, she intends to continue in the sport, with the help of her daughter.
“I absolutely think it’s one of the best exercises anyone can do,” says Susan Souders, “and she makes sure I keep doing it.”