Swimspire Stories: A Conversation with U.S. Masters Swimmer Allen Stark

Swimspire Stories:
A Conversation with U.S. Masters Swimmer Allen Stark

Dr. Allen Stark, M.D. is a U.S. Masters Swimmer based in the state of Oregon. A breaststroke specialist, Allen has held several national and world individual records, and is part of two currently held national relay records. When he’s not swimming, Allen runs his own psychiatry practice with his wife and fellow swimmer, Dr. Carol L. R. Stark, M.D. We are delighted to be featuring a few of Allen’s contributions to Swimspire in the near future on the breaststroke, technique tips and how to balance work, swimming and family life. Check out his story below.

Allen Stark celebrating his world record-setting swim at the 2014 FINA World Masters Championships

Allen Stark celebrating his world record-setting swim at the 2014 FINA World Masters Championships (Photo courtesy of Elaine Krugman)

I first learned to swim when I was five years old. I grew up around the water and when I was ten we got a cabin on Grand Lake in Oklahoma so I was in the water much of the time. I remember having always had a natural whip kick and – with no competitive training – finished 1st in the 25 yard breast stroke at Scout Camp when I was 12. Clearly, breaststroke was a natural choice for me! One of my best friends was on the swim team and when we were 14 he talked me into joining the swim team. Having started later than most people on the team, I was consistently beaten by kids of both genders who were younger than I was…that is, unless they had us doing breaststroke kick, where I was able to more than hold my own.

Our high school started at 10th grade and I tried out for the swim team. Our swim team was very good, finishing 2nd in the state and it was considered to be quite prestigious to make the team. Being, at the time, a short, scrawny kid, I was extremely proud of being the #2 breaststroker on the team. Part way through my senior year I managed to become the #1 breaststroker on the team and was very excited about swimming.

Allen Stark at the 2011 National Championships.

Allen Stark at the 2011 National Championships (Courtesy of Elaine Krugman)

I went to Rice University, where swimming basically saved my mental health. In high school I was at or near the top academically, but Rice was and is still extremely competitive and I was in the middle of the pack. I felt lost and alone. The Rice swim team was Division 1 but we had no scholarships and were near the bottom of the Southwest Conference. Nevertheless, we had great camaraderie and I had a place where I felt like I belonged – I was captain of the team my Junior and Senior year. I even met my wife through swimming. In those pre-Title IX days, there was no women’s team, but a few of the women bugged the coach into letting them have a lane during practice. My wife persuaded him to coach them and then to get them into competition. He finally relented, timed them, and discovered that their relay qualified for the DGWS Nationals (women, at the time, had a separate division from NCAA.). They went to nationals at Tempe, Arizona during our senior year. Despite that accolade my wife never received a varsity letter because women were not awarded letters at that time.

After college, my wife and I went to medical school at Baylor College of Medicine. I was able to swim 2 or 3 times a week, which was a welcome respite from the rigors of medical school. I liked the feeling of swimming fast and had gotten bored with long swims so I was mostly doing 25s and 50s at or near race pace. I had read about Masters Swimming and was looking forward to turning 25 so I could swim at Masters meets. In 1974, I graduated from medical school and turned 25. Both my wife and I started our residencies in Psychiatry and I went to my first Masters Meet. I was swimming about 3 times a week then and I discovered that my speed work had actually made my 50 and 100 breaststroke faster than when I was in college. I was surprised to discover that I was probably the fastest Masters breaststroker in the state of Texas. In 1975, I went to my first long course Masters Nationals in Knoxville, Tennessee. I finished 3rd in the 100 and 200 breaststroke (there were no 50s at Nationals back then) and I was hooked. In 1976 I went to long course Nationals in St. Louis and finished 2nd in the 200 breast and 1st in the 100 breast, which I found unbelievable but wonderful. I’ve swum in nearly every long course National competition since then as well as several short course Nationals.

Allen Stark celebrates the love of swimming with fellow U.S. Masters teammates

Allen Stark celebrates the love of swimming with fellow U.S. Masters teammates (Photo courtesy of Elaine Krugman)

In 1988, we moved to Oregon and I have been swimming for Oregon Masters ever since. This has given me the privilege of swimming with some wonderful people and in some really fast relays. I have had many wonderful experiences with Masters swimming. Every record-setting relay I have ever been on has been fantastic. There is no better feeling than being part of a team reaching our goal. I’ve had so many memories that I’ve cherished but a few swims really stand out during Worlds and Nationals since 1995. There have been many challenges along the way, but I’ve always kept going – in search of that last good meet! Swimming is just such a meditation in motion experience – it just clears my mind and makes me feel good for the rest of the day. I want to keep that. And competition just makes every workout more important. Being ready for competition gives an edge to my workouts that is really good for fitness as opposed to just swimming for fitness alone. And above all, I just love swimming!

We’re looking forward to sharing more about Allen’s story, his love of breaststroke, training regimen and tips with you. Stay tuned for the next article, coming soon!

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