The Virginia Masters Relay Team, left to right: Dave Holland; Shirley Loftus-Charley; Lisa Bennett; Chris Stevenson. Photo courtesy of Shirley Loftus-Charley. The Mighty Mermaids, Left to right: Lisa Bennett (VA); Christie Ciraulo (CA); Tracy Grilli (NH); Nansea Steadman-Martin (NJ); Karen Einsidler (NJ); Jenny Cook (CA). Photo courtesy of Lisa Bennett.
Lisa Bennett's first swim coach told her that she would never be a "breaststroker."
But now, more than 40 years later, Bennett, 54, holds two individual national U.S. Masters Swimming records, and she recently added another national mark and a world record for a relay to her list of accomplishments — all for swimming the breaststroke.
"The four of us did exactly what we needed to do," Bennett says of the record-breaking 400-meter medley relay, which she swam with her Virginia masters teammates Dave Holland, Shirley Loftus-Charley and Chris Stevenson at the Albatross Open Short Course Meters meet in North Bethesda, Md., on March 20. They won in the 200-plus age group (their ages are added together).
Bennett, a special investigator with the FBI, serves as registrar for the Virginia Local Masters Swimming Committee, while Stevenson, 46, is chairman. Stevenson, a University of Richmond environmental-studies professor, swam for Greece in the 1984 Olympics because of his mother's citizenship there (his family also lived in the country for several years when he was growing up). In addition, he holds national and world records in the backstroke and butterfly, as well as in individual medley events, Bennett says.
Four times a week, Bennett trains at NOVA of Virginia Aquatics in western Henrico County. That hour, she says, is her escape.
"It's my time, my hour," she says. For Bennett, swimming helps relieve stress, and it's one of the things she can control. "There is something soothing about hearing the water," she says.
The satisfaction she derives from the sport is not only mental but also physical. "We are trying to defeat the aging process," Bennett says with a laugh, noting that she peaked in her 30s and 40s, swimming faster than she ever had during her younger years.
Since age 12, Bennett has never really stepped away from the pool, whether she was coaching or competing. She swam throughout high school and college, and since joining U.S. Masters Swimming at age 25, she hasn't stopped. (Then, masters swimming started at age 25; now it is 18 and up.)
Bennett says that while the competition aspect has certainly kept her in the water, swimming is also about friendships and having fun.
"Seeing really fast times is nice," she says, admitting that she hates to lose. But along with what you can get out of swimming, such as setting a new record, Bennett says, "there are so many things you can give."
Bennett and five friends from around the country who are known as the Mighty Mermaids swim open-water events from coast to coast, raising money for breast-cancer research in support of a teammate who is a breast-cancer survivor. The group, whose members are all older than 50, is set to swim the Catalina Channel in California at the end of July.
"Swimming is a big part of my life," Bennett says. "I'll always be in the water one way or another."