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CCU Atheneum: Karen Fuss with her coach during a statewide swimming competition.
Karen Fuss with her coach during a statewide swimming competition.

In the Swim: CCU's environmental educator competes nationally

by Mona Prufer
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You might know Karen Fuss for bringing rain gardens to area schools, or you might know her work with loggerhead sea turtle conservation at Waties Island. But did you know she also swims competitively at the national level?

Fuss, environmental educator in the Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetland Studies, recently qualified in four events for the U.S. Masters Swimming Short Course Yards Competition in Atlanta from May 20 to 23. She’ll be swimming in the 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle,50-yard breaststroke, 100-yard breaststroke and 100-yard individual medley.

Some 1,500 competitors will be participating.

In November 2008, Fuss started master’s swimming, an organized program of swimming for adults that ranges from lap swimming to international competition. There are 450 masters swim clubs throughout the country.

She started at Conway Wellness Center, but when her coach moved away, she moved her swim sessions to Pepper Geddings Recreation Center in Myrtle Beach and to the North Myrtle Beach Aquatics Center. She swims three or four times a week to keep her competitive edge and recently participated in the Grand Strand Masters state meet.

About 125 swimmers competed in the statewide competition in early February, and Fuss won 11 first place awards and a second place, including a swim relay race.

Born in Pennsylvania, Fuss grew up in Colonial Heights, Va., where she swam competitively as a child from age 8 to 14 but quit before high school. “I think I got burned-out at an early age,” she says. “There were too many other things I wanted to do back then, like high school basketball.”

In early 2008, she joined Weight Watchers to take off some weight and began swimming again as the exercise component of the weight loss program that encourages participants to “move!” She lost 35 pounds and kept swimming, regaining her zest for the sport.

For the Atlanta competition, Fuss will be competing with 40 other swimmers in the 50-yard freestyle. “If I hit 20th, I’ll be happy,” she says.

It’s not really about competing, though the meets provide extra motivation, Fuss says. “I love the camaraderie and excitement of the meets. There’s even an 87-year-old man who’s been swimming for 10 years!”

It’s really more about jumping into the regulation-size pool and swimming. “It gives me energy and makes me happy,” says Fuss, who, for her 40th birthday, participated in a sprint triathlon. “It’s a great stress reliever that makes me a better mother, a better teacher, a better everything.”

“It’s my own time,” she says. “Swimming is such an individual sport. I leave my worries at the pool.”

The mother of a 10-year-old son, Nolan, she is married to David Fuss, who is a watershed planner. As a family, they enjoy boating, a water sport they can all participate in together.

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