Mel Goldstein, the man behind the success of YMCA Indy SwimFit, continues to push himself in the water, a sign of his dedication to a healthy lifestyle. A former world and national champion at the Masters level, Goldstein hits the water five days a week for training sessions that feature 3,000-3,500 yards of work.
A 65-year-old, Goldstein also incorporates three days of running into his weekly schedule, taking to the roads for 32-minute runs on Wednesday and Friday. On Sunday, Goldstein goes for a long run, a workout that stretches up to 80 minutes.
Always looking for variety in his workouts, Goldstein’s favorite set is one that allows for mixing and matching. Following a warm-up swim, Goldstein will move into four rotations of a 400 pull, followed by a 200 stroke, followed by a 100 free (easy) and capped with a 50 (fast). The workout translates into a 3,000-yard practice.
The King Kong of Masters swimming is anything but an overwhelming specimen. At first glance, he’s just another guy, on the smaller side at 5-4. Really, he isn’t the type of individual that attracts all eyes_at least from those who are out of the loop.
Yet, Mel Goldstein is a giant in the swimming world, a walking oxymoron. He’s a little-big man, a major influence on the water world. He’s a first-class athlete, widely known for his exploits on the national and international stages of Masters swimming. He’s also a top-flight authority on the sport in behind-the-scenes fashion.
The director and father of YMCA Indy SwimFit, one of the nation’s most successful Masters programs, Goldstein has an impact on his sport on a daily basis: he has molded a five-site program that provides several options to its members, competitive swimmers, fitness swimmers and triathletes; and he has made significant contributions to the growth of U.S. Masters Swimming on a national level.
Short he may be, but Mel Goldstein is a man who casts a huge shadow.
A couple of years ago, Mel Goldstein’s light bulb lit up. After serving as a volunteer coach at the Arthur Jordan YMCA in Indianapolis from 1983-96, Goldstein devised a plan. Why not a build a sizable Masters program that could serve the needs of the community?
After approaching Doug Thornton, the executive director of the Arthur Jordan YMCA, Goldstein went to work on fulfilling his vision. Quitting his job as a salesman, he was hired by the Jordan Y as the head coach of its Masters swimming program and began working to marshal the quality resources available in the Indianapolis area.
Rather than settling for the use of only the Jordan YMCA’s facilities, Goldstein used his well-honed sales skills to expand YMCA Indy SwimFit into a multi-dimensional aquatic program. Convincing several key individuals that their sites could profit from their inclusion in the program, Goldstein has seen his YMCA club grow rapidly since it opened in the spring of 1996.
“I’ve always felt that Masters swimming should have a tag line,” said Goldstein. “To me, the word, Masters,’ suggests elitism. I think it should include a tag that says, ‘Adult Aquatic Fitness Program.’ I wanted to develop a program for the community. I convinced these various places that their involvement would be beneficial, and they bought into it.”
In a big way.
Today, the program has grown from a starting point of roughly 60 members to a membership of 350 athletes, spread among the Arthur Jordan YMCA, Indiana University Natatorium, Benjamin Harrison YMCA, Fishers YMCA, Baxter YMCA and Ben Davis High School. Boasting 45 practices per week, YMCA Indy SwimFit has developed into a family atmosphere that, simultaneously, has realized nationwide acclaim. It is a dream come true.
With Goldstein now serving as the program’s director, Kris Houchens handles the head-coaching duties while managing nine assistant coaches who all follow the same practice schedule. While athletes of various calibers compete for YMCA Indy SwimFit, the program’s flexibility is its trademark.
“The epitome of the program is that we have something for everyone,” Goldstein said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s about people having the chance to reach their goals, whatever they may be.”
And so, YMCA Indy SwimFit is a diverse group. Some members search for competitive rewards. Some seek to better their lifestyle through cardiovascular workouts. Some use the program as preparation for their triathlon careers. Whatever the goal, it can be met at YMCA Indy SwimFit, a YMCA program for adults who have chosen aquatics as a means of exercise for a healthier lifestyle.
“Mel is a visionary,” said George Quigley, a national-level Masters swimmer and volunteer assistant with the program. “He saw the big picture and how this program could benefit other programs. A lot of YMCAs have overlooked Masters swimming and have treated it like an unwanted stepchild. But Mel has taken the YMCA to the national stage as a liaison to Masters swimming. He took a huge leap.
“Our practice intervals are set so that everyone gets direction and everyone finishes at the same time. You get the idea that the less accomplished swimmers are as much a part of the team as the big guns. It’s a group working together. There’s a family atmosphere.”
Under Goldstein’s watch, the program has notched numerous accomplishments over the years. Since its inception, YMCA Indy SwimFit has produced 45 USMS champions and has captured eight national YMCA Masters team titles. And, it has generated a quartet of Masters world records and eight American standards. Yes, the aquatic program has done it all.
“Mel motivates and inspires daily,” said Dale Neuburger, the president of the Indiana Sports Corporation and a former president of USA Swimming. “He is the Pied Piper of Masters swimming in Indiana, and he is universally loved and admired. Best of all, he has always had a great sense of humor. Most of the jokes about Mel begin and end with his height…which is not very much.
“Mel’s success is a direct result of his love for the sport of swimming, his sincere desire to help people achieve what they might think impossible and his remarkable organizational abilities. He attracts volunteers because he is willing to do all of the unglamorous things himself that he asks others to do.”
Whether on the deck or in the water, Goldstein seems to find constant success, a testament to his non-stop motor and bulldog mentality. We’re talking about a man who has achieved national acclaim for his exploits in competition, as well as for his contributions to the sport.
As an athlete, Goldstein has achieved a level of success only a handful of individuals can claim. A ranked Masters swimmer in his age group for years, Goldstein boasts World Championship and national championship credentials.
Now competing in the 65-69 age group, Goldstein capped 2003 in fine form, ranking among the top seven nationally in five events, highlighted by a No. 2 rating in the 200 meter butterfly. Meanwhile, Goldstein collected six top-five finishes at the Long Course Nationals in August, stamping his performance with silver medal-winning efforts in the 100 and 200 fly events and the 400 individual medley.
“He has a passion for competition and structured practice,” said Dave Tanner, a longtime friend of Goldstein’s and a national Masters champion in his own right. “He makes the sport fun. It’s not drudgery. He has a good time. It’s not just an hour in the pool. Mel is wired differently than most people. When you look in his eyes, he has a fire and a twinkle. He’s not real big, but he’s a giant of a man.”
For everything Goldstein has accomplished as an athlete, he has matched that success as a contributor to the sport. The president of United States Masters Swimming from 1993-97, Goldstein has benefited the sport in countless ways.
Through his leadership and coaching talents, he has developed YMCA Indy SwimFit into one of the most cohesive Masters teams in the country. He has aided in the organization of numerous Masters Nationals of both the long and short course variety. He played a major role in running the World Masters Championships in 1992, the only year the event has been held in the United States.
“Mel has had an enormous impact on Masters swimming, both in Indiana and nationally,” Neuburger said. “When the first bid for a national Masters event was made for the 1983 long course championships, Indiana had only a few dozen registered athletes. And virtually none had the technical expertise required to host a major event. With Mel’s characteristic energy and enthusiasm, the event was a big success and was a harbinger of many future competitions at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis.”
Along with his Masters involvement, Goldstein has also dedicated his time to the organization of various Olympic Trials held at the Indiana University Natatorium. He’s also lending a hand in the preparation of the 2004 FINA World Short Course Championships, slated for the Conseco Fieldhouse. If there is a way for Goldstein to contribute to his sport, he’ll do it. That’s his way. Just don’t expect Goldstein to take any credit. Simply, he sees his efforts as a service.
“What I try to bring to the community is a sense of volunteerism. You want to involve people who typically wouldn’t be involved,” said Goldstein, whose club will run April’s 2004 Short Course Masters, a feat rarely accomplished by a single club. “It’s great to be part of (meet organization). It’s giving back to a sport that has given to me.”
Generosity is a word that defines Goldstein’s character. On a daily basis, the man is inundated by an endless stream of swimmers, either seeking training tips or simply wanting to chat. That generosity was evident in 1991, when Goldstein and Quigley were traveling home following Long Course Nationals in Elizabethtown, Ky.
Frustrated by his performance at the meet, Goldstein expressed his dissatisfaction to Quigley. He wondered why his performance didn’t match his expectations. He wondered if something wasn’t right. He wondered what went wrong.
The answer, recognized by Quigley, was obvious.
“During the meet, there wasn’t a five-minute period when someone hadn’t approached Mel with a question of some sort,” Quigley said. “There was always someone asking him a question or asking him to do this or that. While the rest of us were sitting around focused on our races, Mel was running around. As much as he loves to compete, Mel is so generous. He’ll give so much to others to make sure they have a great experience, and he’ll do it at his own expense.”
Influence of a Legend
Not a day passes where Goldstein isn’t impacted by his mentor, the late Doc Counsilman, in some way. In daily life, his influence is a physical presence. In his work endeavors, his influence is a guiding force. Basically, Doc was an ever-present force in Goldstein’s every activity.
The legendary coach of Indiana University’s powerhouse squads, Counsilman’s accomplishments in the sport are awe-inspiring. Guiding the Hoosiers from 1957-90, Counsilman compiled a career record of 285-41, a run that included six consecutive NCAA championships from 1968-73. He led a pair of Olympic squads, to Tokyo in 1964 and to Montreal in 1976, arguably the two most successful teams in Olympic history.
Yet, for his athletic achievements, Counsilman’s impact, particularly on Goldstein, stretches beyond the water. Sure, Counsilman played a major role in Goldstein’s rise in the swimming world. But, there was so much more.
In affecting his athletes, Counsilman stressed a trio of principles that have become staples in the lives of those he touched:
Believe in yourself;
Don’t try to be something you’re not;
Be the best that you can be.
“My philosophy comes from Doc,” said Goldstein, who competed on Counsilman’s first team at Indiana. “He gave me those three principles, and I’ve tried to incorporate them into my personal life, my business and my athletic career. Those principles have helped with my success. He taught me to be happy with what you have. His influence has been great.”
In his constant search for the betterment of Masters swimming, Goldstein collaborated with Tanner in 1999 on a book, “Swimming Past 50.” Both graduates of Indiana, the book was designed to address several issues connected to Masters swimming.
After discussing training opportunities for the 50-plus swimmer, the book delves into the mental aspect of Masters swimming, along with the social benefits afforded by the sport. More, the book provides numerous tips, including suggestions for weight training and improving flexibility.
In addition to providing instruction for the Masters swimmer at the competitive level, the book also was designed as an eye-opener for the former swimmer, the individual unaware of the benefits and possibilities available in the Masters world, including the opportunity for a lifestyle of optimum health.
“Mel just impresses you,” Tanner said. “He has a lot of substance. You enjoy just being with him. He’s an interesting conversationalist. He makes you feel alive, and that’s the mark of a man.”
It all started as a dream, a hope that_with a little hard work_something special could be formed. Today, eight years after YMCA Indy SwimFit was launched, the program is nationally-renowned, an outlet that offers a little bit of everything.
In the world of Masters swimming, Mel Goldstein is a living legend, not just for his accomplishments as a swimmer, but for the significant impact he has had on the sport he loves. In terms of stature, Goldstein is a little man. In terms of status, Goldstein is a giant.