News and Stories
By Donita Flecker
USMS Level 3 Coach
Sebastopol Masters Aquatic Club
Head Swim Coach & Founder
For my efforts as the sole owner, Head Swim Coach and founder of Sebastopol Masters, in 2022 I was presented with the inaugural USMS National Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award.
Sebastopol Masters is a small club located 45 miles north of San Francisco. The award is presented annually to athletes, coaches, volunteers, and clubs who show a public commitment to diversity, equity, equality, and inclusion across race, gender, age, religion, identity, and recognizes individuals or clubs that create diverse and inclusive environments for their members that assures everyone feels empowered to bring their full, authentic, unique selves to the sport.
“Donita was instrumental in creating the Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator role within the Pacific LMSC, convincing the board of directors to consider adding this important committee. She suggested that the LMSC’s meet sanctions include facilities that have gender-neutral bathrooms and she has challenged clubs to find ways to be even more inclusive.”
Quote from Donita’s USMS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award
At my first USMS convention in 2018 my colleagues suggested I apply for a committee. My first choice was the newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee, my preference because it was new and I believed it would be easier to have an impact. Being on a committee was also an opportunity to put myself out there while learning about the business side of USMS. But my particular interest was how I could provide swimmers with more opportunities and be more inclusive, with my club and others in our LMSC.
Some of the things I have learned and incorporated into our workouts: I spend equal time with all my swimmers, giving directions, paying individual attention and providing feedback on stroke and technique. I soon came to understand this is a great way to promote inclusivity and bring everyone together as a club. Everyone might be doing the same workout, but not necessarily the same distance. Now everyone enjoys the same experience of being together and making new friendships.
I also write all workouts on a white board. I had not done this before. Having workouts on display benefits swimmers who are visually sensitive. Kerry O’Brien from Walnut Creek Masters showed me how using different colored dry markers allows all abilities to easily recognize differences in set intervals, rest, intensity, and number of yards. I use red pens for the advanced swimmers who want more challenging workouts. Black is the easiest color to see so I use it for everyone. Blue or green pens are the “lighter option” for swimmers wanting less yardage and more rest. Different colors let me accommodate all levels of swimmers, allowing them to personalize their workout and intervals. I’ve had great feedback and will continue to use this method.
The USMS Diversity and Inclusion Committee is a cohesive group from across the nation, yet with different life experiences, perspectives and ideologies. We come together to promote diversity and inclusion throughout USMS. I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures, thought processes, and social interactions beyond my little “country in the city” hometown of Sonoma County. What unites us is that swimmers just want a friendly atmosphere at the pool, where they’re made to feel welcome — and never different than their peers.
I did have a recent situation of a member who wanted to be referred to with a different pronoun. I was able to listen and better understand how they wanted to be addressed. They just wanted to be included like everyone else. I learned to adapt and apply the lesson to my dealings with all of swimmers. That approach has worked with everyone and made us all comfortable on the pool deck and between the lane lines. Sebastopol Masters welcomes all swimmers with open arms to a friendly environment.
As a member of the committee, I’ve been mentored by some great coaches and made great lifelong friendships. My exposure to different lifestyles has alter my perspective and biases when it comes to identities and sensitivities.
I’ve changed the way I address swimmers with regard to their identities and sensitivities. I’ve learned not to assume what you see on the outside is what’s going on inside. I have made it a priority to ensure all swimmers and guests feel comfortable and welcome the moment they step on the pool deck.
Despite our differences outside the pool, we are all swimming in the same pool water. Sets and intervals are based on ability. No one is expected to do more than they can. Sharing great workouts with friends and fostering camaraderie in the pool and your lane is what diversity and inclusion is all about. Diversity and Inclusion committees must be a part of every LMSC. They can build awareness about identities, sensitivities, and inclusiveness in order to foster fair, sensitive, and welcoming environments to our teams, clubs, and workout groups.
If interested in learning more about Pacific Masters' Diversity and Inclusion Committee, contact Vicki Shu at DivIncChair@pacificmasters.org.