There were swim teams and leagues, practices and competitions, trophies and ribbons, hours on end spent doing laps and years dedicated to coaching others. Sue Mangan recalls more than 40 years of swimming, and as she stands by the pool at Columbia Swim Center, it’s hard to believe that there once was a time when she couldn’t even stand to be in the water.
“When I was younger, we had one of those little pools in the backyard,” Mangan said. “I would stand in it, not really swim, never get my face wet. There was something scary about it. Once I actually jumped in, I realized it wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it was. When I finally got in, it was full-bore. I was all about racing and all about swimming. It kind of went from 0 to 60 very fast.”
Mangan, now 49, is Columbia Association’s head masters swim coach, running a program for adult swimmers of varying skill and experience who presently range in age from their early 20s to their late 60s. Some of them are open water swimmers, while others take to the pool for the sake of fitness. There also are competitive swimmers and triathletes. Last year, the program had 165 participants.
“We provide structure,” she said. “A lot of people go to the pool and swim laps, but they really don’t know what they’re doing. They’ll go swim for half an hour. There’s no supervision, no coaching, and they really don’t know if their technique is good or bad. I have a workout. People who swim on their own tend to do what they like to do, not necessarily what they need to do. They don’t necessarily like to challenge themselves, whereas I’ll challenge them here.”
She also is an age group coach working with kids on the Columbia Clippers swim team.
Mangan grew up in Ellicott City and has lived in Kings Contrivance since 1992. Like many who were raised in Howard County, she went from being a pool rat to being on the swim team. She took up racing at about 10 and continued on through high school and on to the University of Delaware, where she was part of the school’s Division I swim team.
The demands of college athletics weren’t for her, though, not when she wanted to enjoy the college experience, go to class, have a social life and be able to participate in intramurals. Mangan took a break and swam perhaps once a month when she was stressed.
“Swimming becomes a part of your life so much that it’s almost a divorce when you stop,” she said. “I came to grips with the fact that I just like being in the water.”
Mangan has been a lifeguard, an assistant manager, an assistant coach and a head coach, working with local pools and teams. She’s been doing this in the area since 1980, barring five years when she lived in California. Mangan came back in 1992. Working with swimmers has been her primary form of employment since 1998.
In 2012, Howard Magazine honored Mangan with a first place award for “Best Coach.”
“I’m good at helping people reach their own personal goals,” she said. “I push them, and they appreciate that.”
-Article by David Greisman. Video by Erin McPhail.