Blue Thunder are back again - making it to every World Masters Championship since 2004. Who is with the team this year?

We've been to all the worlds since 2004 representing Blue Thunder and over the last couple of years we’ve had seven or eight teams in Budapest, and then last year we had 60+, 65+, 70+, and 75+ teams in Japan. This year we have brought our 75-plus team with players aged up to our oldest at 81 years. Here in Doha we have two Brazilians, a Finish player, one from Puerto Rico, one from Guam, and the rest from the United States.

Are they all former elite players, or what is the team’s make-up in Doha?

Blue Thunder is a very open and inclusive club by design and that's what keeps our club active and competitive. We like to travel and will fly across the world to compete. I think at this stage we've been everywhere in the world to play, on every continent, except Africa and Antarctica – which may be difficult if the ball is under the ice!

That means we have everything from top level players through to those that have never played before. One of our goalies, who's not here this trip but who played in Japan for us, his daughter played competitive water polo in college and she challenged him to get in and play. He’s only played for five or six years and last year in Japan was at the world masters as a goalie.

The other players have all probably played somewhere in their youth and then they've elevated their game to the international level. In Doha there are a couple of players that have played internationally like Jim Ferguson (playing here for the Channel Islands) who is an ex-Olympian). The rest of us all were all high school or college players.

It’s such an eclectic mix, which is what makes these Championships. The real neat part is everybody's from such a diverse background. We’ve got doctors, lawyers, I’m a forester by degree and I run a recycling business, all the way through to school teachers. It is people from every background, every walk of life, and we all come together through sport.

Blue Thunder are known as one of the most inclusive water polo clubs in the world, and I guess that mix of life backgrounds and sporting backgrounds is what makes the club so successful and unique?

Our club aims to show that water polo goes beyond college and high school and is for people from not just the United States but across the globe. We think it's a great sport to play and that keeps you very physically fit and we love traveling the world and playing in all the various events.

Image Source: Doha 2024 Organising Committee

And the enjoyment element is clearly a driving factor of being able to field teams at every world masters since 2004?

We love the camaraderie. I mean, I now have friends all across the world, and we communicate annually if not more often. Because we don’t have a 70+ team here, I am playing for the Slovak team and they have become my brothers from Europe. And then in the United States I play with US teams. So again, it's a sport that has brought us all together and that keeps us together.

I think of the different slogans World Aquatics has used over the years, and the slogan here is ‘water is important’. It is. It's the most important thing we have on the planet. It's more valuable than gold. And if we're able to use it to facilitate peace and friendship and cooperation, and show the value of sport on top of it in the water, the value of camaraderie, and the ability to play sports and be friends at the end – that’s really the value that we see.
By Mick Barry, Masters Water Polo player

 It's not winning the medals. It's not being first. It's all about coming together, doing your best, and once you’ve done that, then in the evening going to dinner with your competitors and friends.

I’ve heard that theme all week – that yes people are here for competition, but it’s more about meeting new people and going places that your travels might not necessarily take you?

Exactly. I mean, I would not have had Doha on a vacation list because I didn’t know a lot about the city, but now that I’ve spent time here, I would come back on vacation again. And that has happened everywhere we've gone. Through masters, through the sport, we have built up a tradition of finding places, and many players have gone back later to explore more.

But again, as you mentioned, the real value of this whole tournament to me and everybody I know, is camaraderie. These are my friends, new friends, that I wouldn’t have known before. And that's really the most important thing to us. And that's why I get stuck being the coordinator for everybody! I've actually helped opponents find their way here today! And yes, it’s a sport with a winner and a loser, but we all meet afterwards and enjoy each other's company and friendship. Nobody dislikes anybody. It's just a good community.

Image Source: Doha 2024 Organising Committee

Because there are less athletes, the masters water polo community is tight knit. There are so many swimmers that you really don't get that community feel whereas water polo is a different beast. We're all kinds of different individuals, tied together, with the thread of water.

We’re still not done here, but any words of encouragement for anyone who might be part of a masters club back home and that may never have considered a world championships because of the perception you need to be the best of the best?

I would say anybody that's playing at a local club, or local team, come to Singapore! In fact that is where I started. I started playing in Des Moines, Iowa, of all places. And it was through that club that I got connected to the international traveling club, Blue Thunder.

And for Blue Thunder, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are?

Everybody's welcome at our Blue Thunder. We unite different groups from all across the United States. We have players from every time zone, and some of these members just join us for world championships.

We cherish inclusion and are willing to have anybody of any level join in. We've had beginners come to our national camps. We've had international athletes come to our club camp. We do it once a year because that brings everybody together at one time because the rest of the year we're all over the place.

The bottom line is if you're playing anywhere at any level, you can compete at the world level. In masters there's teams that will allow people that are beginners to play and Blue Thunder is one of those teams. The more, the merrier. We play together as teams and then the results are the results. And it's fun. The joy you get from meeting people – in fact you should see my Christmas card list! It is crazy. It's really a community and we welcome everybody to join that community.