I learned how to swim before I could walk, according to my parents. I have literally grown up in and around water. In the early 70s, when we were living in Germany, I joined a German swim team, my first experience with competitive swimming. I quit all my other sports at the time and focussed on swimming.
Upon returning to the United States in 1976, I immediately found and joined a local team, MAC (Manhattan Athletic Club). It was a small team with mostly girls, but it was perfect for me. In fact, I met my best friend through that team (well, actually we MET in gym class, but I got to know her through swimming). I swam for MAC, then MHS (Manhattan High School Swim Team) and eventually for the Manhattan Marlins (a rival team to MAC).
By the time I hit college, I had been swimming competitively for 8 or 9 years. I decided to walk onto KU's swim team, which I did. But after a year of 3-4 hour/day practices and a particularly heavy academic schedule, I decided I was through with it. I continued to swim in other settings (I spent my summers lifeguarding, joined an intramural water polo team, taught swim lessons, etc.), but my competition days were over.
In 2000, I found myself looking for ways to get stronger for surfing and wanting a little exercise. Hence, I joined the El Segundo Masters Swim Team, where many of the LA Beaches Lifeguards work out. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed being back in the pool and having organized workouts. United States Masters Swimming Organization has lots of information available and makes it easy to find a local program.