PEORIA — Some early morning practices by the Peoria Area Water Wizards (PAWW) Masters group have helped turn back the clock for a couple of area swimmers.
After about an 18-year layoff, Amber Johnsen of Metamora and Sarah Adams Butler of Washington are back in the pool, representing the PAWW Masters.
Johnsen, 39, was a distance swimmer at Anderson High School in Indiana before swimming at Western Illinois.
Butler, 40, was a two-time all-American swimmer at Washington, and then swam at Arizona State for four years. She met her husband, Kevin, at ASU, where he also was on the swim team.
Butler was a four-time state qualifier for the Panthers, who didn’t have a girls swimming and diving team at the time, and had six top-five finishes and two more in the top 10 from 1992-96.
And their return to the pool already has paid dividends.
At the recent Illinois Masters state meet, Johnsen won the women’s 35-39 1000 freestyle and was on a couple of winning relay teams. Butler won five individual events in the women’s 40-44 age grouping.
They will be among the favorites in a couple of events at the upcoming U.S. Masters Swimming National Championships, set for May 10-13 in Indianapolis.
At one point of the season, Johnsen and Butler were ranked No. 1 in their age groups in a couple of events. Johnsen is currently ranked seventh in the women’s 35-39 1000 freestyle, while Butler is ranked fourth in the women’s 40-44 200 IM.
Both swimmers got back into the sport a couple of years ago after Derek Amerman and Tracy Miller organized the PAWW Masters, for swimmers 18 and older, late in 2016.
"There was a group of adult swimmers that were swimming together, and we eventually got to a point where I said we should formalize it a little bit and make it a USMS Masters program," Amerman said. "We ended up getting 30 to 35 people on the team now.
"They don't come every morning, but we practice Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 7 in the morning."
That schedule actually worked out for both Johnsen and Butler, who are both stay-at-home moms. The workouts are also helping them stay in shape.
"I don’t do land sports very well," Johnsen said. "There is a huge running community and a huge tri (athlete) community here, and I just don’t do land stuff. I tried to do those things, and it just didn’t fit. Water fits for me."
Johnsen also enjoys working out with the group.
"It’s a ton of fun, and the community of people that are here is great," she said. "I enjoy training with like-minded people. We cheer each other on."
Johnsen ended up in the area when she had an internship at OSF St. Francis, where she also did her medical technology laboratory work during her senior year of college.
"I met my now husband, got married and stayed," she said.
Johnsen also is part of a group that does weight training at 5 a.m. before swim practice. Not that she works out every day.
"If I get three or four in, I’m calling it a good week," she said. "My husband works at Cat, so we have a bit of logistics stuff going in the mornings. So we’re making that work, and making it so I can get to practice and then get home and get my kids (Gavin, 11, and Elyse, 7) to school."
It was a little tougher for Butler to get back to the pool.
"I graduated from college in 2001, and after that I used to loathe the thought of even getting a swimsuit on," she said.
Butler started swimming on her own at Five Points Washington last year, then heard about the PAWW Masters from Johnsen.
"I knew Amber because we go to the same church," she said. "We were at this moms group together, and she said I needed to go and work out with the PAWW Masters. Then I found out it was at 5:30 in the morning and I was like, ‘What?’
"So it only works out when my husband is not traveling, because, obviously, I can’t leave the kids (9-year-old Bailey, 6-year-old Emma, and 4-year-old Nora). When he’s gone, Derek sends me the workouts and I go to Five Points and try my best there on my own. It’s more fun (at Central Park Pool), because we have a really fun group of people. But you’ve got to like it to get up at that time!"
At nationals, Johnsen will be swimming the 1000 free, 500 free, 200 free, 100 IM, 100 fly and 50 fly for the PAWW Masters, which will have about 10 swimmers at the meet.
Butler will be swimming the 50 free, 100 free, 100 IM and, of course, the 200 IM. She posted a time of 2:17.72 the only time swimming that event this year.
"I think I’ve got a few more seconds I could drop," she said. "We’ll see how it will go when I’m neck and neck with somebody pushing me. No pressure, right?"
Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.