Katie Glenn sets two US Master’s Swimming records

Former professional also coaches Off-Piste master’s swim team

Katie Glenn races at the 2022 USMS spring nationals. Glenn set two USMS age group national records at the meet.
Special to the Daily

It’s one thing to preach sport’s idealistic pursuit of excellence and another thing to live it out. To do so for a lifetime, especially in the wake of an elite career, is truly rare.

Katie Glenn, 45, a Vail lawyer and former Team USA swimmer with NCAA titles and Olympic trials to her name, is familiar with the pinnacle of her sport, but that hasn’t deterred her from its fundamental essence.

“For me, it’s fun to test myself,” she said.

“My goal has always been ‘how fast can I be no matter what age.'”

Turns out, that’s pretty fast. The head coach of Off-Piste Aquatics, a master’s swim team that practices three times per week at the Vail Racquet Club, she recently set a pair of American records at the USMS short-course yards national championships at the end of April. Her 50-yard (29.42 seconds) and 100-yard (1:04.45) breaststroke marks were her 24th and 25th U.S. Master’s Swim (USMS) records. She still holds 12 USMS age-group national records and three International Swimming Federation age-group world records.

Support Local Journalism

Glenn isn’t keeping track of her accolades at this point, and even though she trains for elite performance, her primary joy comes from instilling a passion for swimming in an area known for snow.

“We feel like we have a really fun group of people and that’s what motivates everybody to get up in the middle of winter when it’s dark and snowing and there’s a blizzard on I-70,” she laughed about the team’s regular outdoor pool meet-ups throughout the year.

“We still get everybody that drives up to East Vail to come swim. The people are what make our team so special.”

Karl Edgerton, Toni Axelrod, Kate Allan, Jim Railey, Kate Power and Heather Gilmartin pose for a picture at the 2022 USMS spring nationals.
Special to the Daily

Finding joy in racing

A native of Dallas, Glenn was an NCAA national champion and 18-time All-American at Southern Methodist before competing at the 1996 and 2000 Olympic trials. Though she didn’t qualify for either Atlanta or Sydney, she was fortunate to represent her country at the Beijing World University Games in 2001.

“Competing for the U.S. in anything is the pinnacle,” she stated.

She “retired” from competitive swimming in 2001, but four years later, some of her old college teammates convinced her to do the Maui Channel, a six-person relay across a 9.9-mile Hawaiian ocean stretch.

“I got hooked back on swimming and I’ve been masters swimming ever since,” she summarized.

She also met her husband, another former All-American swimmer, at the event. After dating long-distance for a few years, she relocated to Palo Alto in 2009 before the two moved to Vail together in 2015. Reinvigorated, it was natural for both to start coaching a team of masters athletes.

“I think I needed it mentally and I came back into the sport with a fresh perspective,” she said of the four-year hiatus.

“I realized that the joy of swimming, especially for adults — it can be a lifelong sport — and that’s what I encourage with my swimmers here. Using swimming to help you do the other things that you want to do and then also testing your limits within swimming.”

For the 15 athletes on the team, a majority of which were never swimmers before joining, the 6:30 a.m. practices on Monday, Wednesday and Friday are life-giving breathers spliced into hectic work weeks.

“I think we try to instill in our swimmers confidence from finishing a tough workout even if they’ve had a really hard day or their work life is really stressful,” Glenn said.

“Coming to the pool and being with your adult teammates — it’s a super social sport, which doesn’t seem like it but it really is. It’s really the community that draws people to swimming or keeps them there, especially with COVID.”

During the pandemic, Off Piste held a couple of practices in Gore Creek, dabbling in and out of the freezing water for short stints.

“We were just like, ‘ok this is the only way we can swim, so let’s do it,'” Glenn fondly recalled.

“It was actually very fun and funny and we kind of reflected on that this year. We’re so happy that we’ve had our pool since July of 2020.”

The group’s close-knit nature and love for the sport means that team hikes, bikes, dinners or happy hour conversations inevitably come back to the pool.

“We find ourselves talking about swimming even when we’re doing those other things just because it’s a fun sport for them,” she said.

Glenn sees the unique place for swimming in a community drawn to injury-prone activities like winter sports, climbing and mountain biking.

“Swimming is one where the injuries are minimal,” she said.

“There’s a lot of lap swimmers in this valley, but getting people to actually do something together and helping them find the social aspect of swimming and the joy that that brings is really fun.”

The team consists of PhDs, ski instructors, Vail Health employees and retirees. Though Glenn considers herself in the “fire-breather category,” she said masters nationals encapsulates a wide gamut of goals.

“You also have people not serious about the racing, going because it’s social and their team is going,” she added.

Others, like Thomas Hackett, an orthopedic surgeon at the Steadman Clinic, train to complete iconic open-water swims like the English Channel. “He’s your adventure-swim guy,” Glenn described.

Everyone over 18-years-old is considered a masters athlete, though some, like Maurine Kornfeld, continue competing past 100. “Everybody wants to take their picture with her,” Glenn said of the USMS nationals staple figure.

Short-course yards nationals is every spring, with long-course meters nationals in August. Only world records can be set in meters, so Glenn’s spring records are “just” national bests. There is also an unofficial short-course meters nationals in the fall. With age divisions broken up into five-year increments starting at 25, there is always an internal and external carrot to shoot for.

“If I’m moving into a new age group, I’m going to be checking what those new records are,” Glenn revealed.

“Are those within my reach? How hard do I have to work? What do I need to be doing to set myself up to have the opportunity to try and break those records. That’s how I find the drive.”

Sometimes, Olympians and national-level athletes hop into races, looking for a less pressure-packed environment.

“Masters nationals is a really fun meet,” summarized Glenn.

When she is preparing for a competition, she’ll swim 60-75 minutes, five to six times per week. Alternating between breastroke — her best event — and freestyle and individual medley, she estimates logging 3000-3500 meters per session. Of course, as a Vail local, she can’t help but indulge in the area’s attractive cross-training opportunities, too.

“I feel like I have ADD with all of the activities you can do when you live in a mountain town,” she said of her hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. Like many elite athletes, Glenn sometimes gets caught up in her own competitiveness when she partakes in more “foreign” sports.

“I struggle to find joy in the other things when I know I’m not as good at them,” she said, a laugh escaping with light-hearted honesty.

“There’s a balance. I do the other things because they are really fun and I have to just chuck off and not think about doing it for competition. The competition is strictly in the pool.”

In addition to chasing records, Glenn is motivated to be active for those who can’t. Her husband, Tim, recently got back into the pool after battling through a brain tumor.

“I want to make him proud — I can’t just train without a goal in mind,” she said.

Striving to better herself individually isn’t where her philosophy of sport ends. The camaraderie and mutual striving bears the sweetest fruit when her teammates and athletes reach new heights.

“I have an internal push to see how fast I can go as I continue to age, but my joy for the sport really comes from seeing the hard work and effort I know my swimmers have put in and see them get the results,” she said.

Karl Edgerton stands with all of his medals from his first master’s nationals in Mesa, Arizona.
Special to the Daily

Karl Edgerton competed in six events at this year’s nationals, placing fifth in the 1650-yard event in the 55-59 age group. He won the 1500-meter at the master’s national long-course championships last summer.

“I had goosebumps and I was so excited for Karl (Edgerton) when he had such great swims at nationals and that really motivated me and knowing our teammates at home wanted us to do well,” said Glenn.

Compared to when she was trying to make Olympic teams, the coach said, “I’m finding more joy in the racing,” in reference to the USMS circuit. Even though an Olympic birth or NCAA title isn’t on the line, when she competes, there is still a lot on the line — both individually and collectively.

“I was trying to get the fastest time so I can make everybody proud — that we were representing Vail on the national level.”

Members of Off Piste Aquatics compete at the master’s meet at the EagleVail pool last summer, hosted by Joey Roberts, an Off Piste member.
Special to the Daily

Support Local Journalism