- Patti Sponsler
Not Just All Wet!
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
HUGE and incredibly well-deserved congratulations are in order for Melbourne’s B.J. Graham, who was awarded the U.S. Masters Swimming Kerry O’Brien Coaches award on Sept. 17. (nomination letter)
Each year, the organization honors worthy coaches – this year only four - throughout the United States for the “passion, dedication and heart they bring to the pool deck and who are building SCMS membership in communities around the country.”
Graham has become the living embodiment of those ideals.
It all began in 2017 with the request from a friend.
“Brittany Streufert asked me to train her for open water swimming,” said Graham, who at that time worked in the corporate world. “It sounded like fun and coaching was always something I had wanted to do.”
While Graham had formidable swim prowess in both pool and open water racing, he wanted to bring to the pool more than the skillset of a competitor.
“I felt that if I was going to be a coach, I needed to have the coaching credentials,” said Graham, who is now close to earning USMS level four certification, the highest competency granted by the organization. “Beyond that, I didn’t have a plan.”
Serendipitously, in 2019 Graham ran into old swim pal, Mike Mirda, a youth coach (18-years-old and under) for Swim Melbourne, and they began chatting about their plans for the two upcoming Swim Around Key West races, each a 12.5-mile stroke fest around the island.
During those conversations, the idea to bring forth a local USMS Masters team was conceived.
"He told me that he wanted to start a Masters team but didn’t want to coach,” said Graham. “I had the coaching piece of the puzzle and he had the Swim Melbourne piece. I said 'let’s do this.’”
On June 28, Graham registered Swim Melbourne Masters with the state of FL and United States Masters Swimming.
Three days later, he took the OA Masters win in the solo division of the Swim Around Key West (.org), covering the 12.5-mile liquid route in 4:47:17 or 22:59 per mile. His wife and fellow coach, Trinity, had paired up with Brittany Streufert to swim the two-person relay and they finished fourth overall in 6:03:08.
On June 15, Mirda and a crew of five others took first in the six- person relay in the .com Swim Around Key West in 5:07:39
After their races the Grahams and Mirda worked in earnest to launch Swim Melbourne Masters.
“We committed to multiple coached practices weekly, something that did not exist in this community,” said Trinity Graham, who has shouldered a large part of the club’s organization and continued effort in addition to her full-time responsibilities as a Nurse Practitioner.
Many coaches in Brevard have tried to build a viable Masters program over the years but have failed, in part, due to how difficult it is to rent pool space at a consistent time multiple days a week.
“Mike went in and rented the Sherwood pool,” said Trinity Graham. “They (City of Melbourne) have been reasonable about the fees.”
The Grahams weren’t sure how many would commit and sign up for the program.
“We thought there would just be a few of us,” Trinity Graham said. “Twenty-two swimmers signed up to participate that first summer and six of them competed in the Rowdy Gaines Masters Classic.”
The momentum dulled temporarily during the cooler months as Sherwood was unheated at the time.
While the ravages of Covid shut down much of the world in 2020, the infectious control processes put in place at Sherwood allowed Swim Melbourne Masters to continue practice as the water warmed up again.
“This gave many swimmers the only in-person interaction outside of their homes for many weeks to months,” wrote the author of B.J.’s award nomination.
As Covid decreased, word of mouth about the excellent coaching and inclusiveness began to increase the team’s roster.
“B.J., Mike and Trinity welcome everyone with open arms and have the patience of saints,” said Indian Harbour Beaches Lisa Hamelin, the first member to join the team. “B.J. always takes the time to explain each part of the workouts. He will offer alternatives for individuals if needed. The great thing about Masters, too, is that while there is structure, you have the flexibility to adjust.”
B.J. Graham also provides additional training for those who are newer to the sport or need accommodation for injuries.
“One thing he did really, really well during the two-hour swims is to use two or three lanes during the second hour for those who are self-proclaimed guppies,” said Trinity Graham. “He is able to provide specific stroke work and drills for those who are newer or slower.”
While swim practices under other coaches may seem intimidating, the Grahams have built a sense of fun and camaraderie into the workouts.
The more experienced swimmers are quick to encourage the slower ones and all are welcoming to those who are new to the group.
“We intentionally keep it as positive and fun as we can,” said Trinity Graham. “People enjoy it for the physical, mental and social benefits. We've had people from around the country drop in and say how much they really enjoyed their experience.”
The coaching is not just geared toward Michael Phelps wannabes.
“We have about 30 to 40 percent into pool racing and about 20% of them lap over to open water,” said B.J. Graham. “The rest are triathletes or people who don’t want to compete but know the quality of their lives is better because they work out.”
Today, the Swim Melbourne Masters has more than 100 members and has earned the USMS Gold Club Designation. And while not all members are pool competitors, many of those who are have set quite a number of records (current through 7/11/22) in all age groups, strokes and distances.
Triathletes and open water enthusiasts are also gaining success from their club involvement.
“We’ve had multiple podium finishes for triathletes including 10 podium finishes at Pineapple Man Triathlon and numerous open water individual and relay wins and podium finishes,” said Trinity Graham.
And there will be more awards and records as a now much bigger club competes again this weekend (Oct. 14-16) at the Rowdy Gaines Classic in Orlando.
“This event is a true milestone for the team,” said Trinity Graham. “We have 35 individual swimmers entered and will swim 52 relays for a total of 227 events over three days! We are poised to win the entire event with this many entries/possible points. For reference, we had eight swimmers entered last year and placed ninth overall. Exciting stuff!"