June 19, 2013 at 8:39 AM | Posted in Growing up, Swimming | 2 Comments
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Krishnamurti said that once a child learns the name of a bird, that bird is lost to them. What he meant, I think, is that once the child learns the category of a bird, that individual bird disappears. ‘Ah, it’s a swan. What’s that other one?’

Jack, happy

Jack, happy

I thought of the impact of naming the temperature in our pool. Our heater was not working and before even thinking about going in I checked the temperature: 62 degrees, which is 14 to 16 degrees colder than usual. I went in for, literally, 35 seconds and thought myself a great hero. Then yesterday, with the temperature at 67, our two young grandchildren went in and didn’t want to get out.

Once they learn the proper temperature for pools, they will re-think. Until they do, they will enjoy life as it comes.

Of Cold Showers and the Whisper of Coaches

May 20, 2013 at 10:28 AM | Posted in Coaching, Golf, Swimming | Leave a comment
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I am finally back in the water, a month after the discovery that I have “Grover’s Disease” – a minor condition that comes upon people after 50 (and supposedly goes away on its own) and causes upper body inflammation and, unfortunately, itching. Such a silly sounding name for itching but it kept me out of the water, not because it was proscribed, but because I saw no solution to my dilemma. I missed swimming.

I had attributed my itching to the chlorine and that must play some role but upon hearing an off-hand comment by another doctor – that the degree of inflammation is exacerbated by heat –  I smiled with new hope. Just as on the golf practice range, where any whispered tip became that week’s game plan, I formulated a strategy: cold showers and no whirlpools. Now, in swimming, this means two cold showers as etiquette demands one before and one after. To this, as a show of commitment, I shave after I shower and not as I shower as is my long tradition. Concluding one experiment, I will say only this: my showers are now quite short.

In the water, I heard two voices. First was Coach Zamsky’s and his injunction to “make it fun.” Now, making it fun means to me using toys, like fins and pull buoys — things that make you go faster and make swimming easier – things that lend you the dream sensation of balance. By switching between toys and normal swimming you glimpse life with and without gravity.

Then Terry Laughlin of Total Immersion fame commanded: pay attention! but first I had to dismiss his dismissal of toys as unhelpful. Instead, I listened to his instruction to give focus to specifics, like the way my hand enters the water or how many strokes across the pool.

If you, like me, had well-meaning but not great coaches in youth, get them now. You have no time to waste.

A Bane of Swimming and a Cure

January 6, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Posted in Swimming | Leave a comment
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Given the ills of the world, itchy skin is not much until you get really itchy and your skin breaks out in blotches and you know what causes it and that makes it worse because that thing is swimming, one of the few athletic things left to you now that you are two years into therapy for your hip. It is not exactly swimming but the chlorine combined with the dryness in air and the dryness inherent in at least this soon to be 63-year-old body.

Of course, I’ve “been on the internet” and read various cures but curiously no one was brave enough to declare that their method was foolproof. But a few days ago, I met a silent guru and a possible solution is in place and early tests are promising.

In the locker room of the fitness center where I swim I occasionally have seen a very slender old man who I’ve taken to be Japanese. He is all bones; he could be standing in a corner in a physical therapists office. While I’ve seen him lather up with skin lotion before, I’d never seen his next step. He really lathers up and then “dries” himself off with a hairdryer. He has beautiful skin.

In general, one does not approach another man in a locker room but I was so itchy I asked him if I could ask him a question. He signaled that he did not speak English. As I said, I was itchy and went ahead and pantomimed his routine and asked him in my simplest English why he did it. “Better, ” he said. He nodded and I nodded and I headed for the lotion.

It works. Am I completely itch-free? No. Am I 90%? Yes.

I am better.

I’m Happy with my Medals from Yesterday

August 4, 2012 at 7:58 AM | Posted in Olympics, Sports, Swimming | 2 Comments

Just before going to sleep last night I told my wife that I was happy with my medal haul for the day. In the 100 Fly, though I was not pleased with my turn, I felt the satisfaction that I had hoped for, knowing it was the last individual race of my career (or so I keep telling myself.)

In the 200 Back I was comfortable from the beginning. This is my best stroke and I felt really long and tall and young and when I was swimming a thought did cross my mind about what I would text my girl friends back in Colorado.

I was the only one who thought I would win the 50 Free, the splash and dash, and I had thought I won when I touched but that Frenchman, who was outside my peripheral vision, just beat me. I think that if he swam next to me, I’d have had him. But I’m not such a nut that a Silver bums me out.

Now in the 800 Free, I figured that this being the Olympics and me being 15 years old, that I’d just get blown out of the water by some person with a name that I can’t pronounce but they let me go and never came after me. I may win this race for the next 16 years but I’m only saying this to myself, so as not to seem conceited.

Yes, all in all, 3 Golds and a Silver, it was a good day.

Hats off to you, Missy Franklin

January 11, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Posted in Swimming | 2 Comments
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Missy Franklin is 16 years old and one of the greatest swimmers in the world and currently number one in the 200-meter freestroke and the 200-meter backstroke.

It so happens that there is money to be made in swimming. Michael Phelps makes 5 mill a year and Missy, though no Phelps yet, could make hundreds of thousands of dollars — if she would declare herself a professional. And there lies the problem and why I’ve become such a big fan of hers. If she were to take the money – indeed, she has already turned down winnings – she could not swim for a college team.

As a nice feature in today’s Wall Street Journal by Scott Cassiola relates, she loves the spirit and comraderie of her high school team and she does not want to miss that experience in college. I just love this attitude. There will always be money and we know that it comes and goes. The world is not short of money but we have never had enough spirit.

I’ll be rooting my head off for her in London.

Session with Coach Zamsky

December 8, 2011 at 9:19 AM | Posted in Swimming | 7 Comments
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I was once playing golf with an excellent golfer and he said that he was amazed by how many golfers stick with the same swing or strategy after it continues to not work. Try something – anything – he said.

I thought of that after Coach Zamsky set me straight on my snorkeling but only after. Now that Coach is back in the water we have resumed our weekly or so sessions and in our last we contemplated the snorkel. Depending on your point of view, the snorkel is either a tool or a toy. Its purpose is to make breathing easier and more regular so you can work on other aspects of swimming, like body position, arm angle and a thousand other things.

In the same way that we think the scale may be broken when we weigh too much, I thought my snorkel may be broken because water kept getting in my mouth and I’d have to stop in my watery tracks. There were instances where it worked perfectly but more recently I was getting nowhere. The key, I thought I remembered, was to bite down hard on the bit. Now, I knew that it was possible that the reverse was true but for some reason didn’t try that (see golfers above.)

When I first suggested to Coach that my snorkel was defective he considered the possibility, even suggesting that he knew someone who could fix it. But then he asked me to give it a try biting down lightly, hardly at all. Voila!

There was more to the lesson than this – my breaststroke kick continues to puzzle – but Coach being Coach, I showered with a glint in my eye. Problems have solutions.

“Make it Exciting”

November 11, 2011 at 8:54 PM | Posted in Swimming | Leave a comment
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from GoSwim

I had my first lesson in a long while with my swim coach, Al Zamsky. He is fully recovered from some work on his internal electronics and at 82 or so, seemed even spryer than usual.

With some of my own shoulder problems holding me back, I’d been avoiding the fly. Coach was not impressed at all with my weak flails forwarded and he demonstrated the proper technique. Then he said, and this is classic Coach: “when your arms come out of the water – MAKE IT EXCITING!”

Neptune Winks

October 11, 2011 at 7:59 PM | Posted in Swimming | Leave a comment
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the sun on the water at Egypt Beach in East Hampton

I was in Long Island this weekend and the weather was so beautiful and warm, my wife and I went to the beach. We sat and while she read, I gazed out at the water. Soon a tall slender, perhaps slightly under middle-aged woman waded in and the man with her took pictures of her. All of a sudden she was swimming in the unbelievably calm waters. She had a beautiful stroke and her heels just broke the surface of the water. Then she back-stroked and called out that the water was warm.

I had never seen the Atlantic look so flat and inviting. I went back to the car where I had my bathing suit and ran into the water and began swimming. Though I swim all the time — and had swum that morning — I am daunted by ocean swimming. But, somehow, the woman had showed me how easy it was.

Then as I turned to swim the other way I looked to the beach and I (couldn’t help but) noticed that the woman, the swimmer, was sitting topless having a glass of wine with her friend.

I thought that this was true karma — I had got off my chair and hopped into the cold water of October, and was justly rewarded.

Endlessly Seeking New Ways of Thinking

April 20, 2011 at 2:52 AM | Posted in Personal Development, Running, Sports, Swimming | Leave a comment

I realized too late, as it relates to golf, that while both believing in and focusing on continual improvement is healthy, insisting on it leads, penultimately, to despair and finally and worse, to being an unpleasant person to play with. In this latter stage of my sports career, I seek to not make the mistake twice and as I’ve never been free of this sort of multiplication, this takes some doing.

I just tried out a new method of balancing the will to improve with sanity. Like most “improvers” I keep track of my results from races and swim meets from one year to the next. I also keep track of my “Personal Bests” – a common term in the world of these sports. A Personal Best in running is similar to your low round in golf or your lowest handicap. At its best, achieving it can lead to great satisfaction but at its worst can lead to dismissing all performances not Personal Bests.

My new method treats each season as a whole and not, say, one of twenty. So I am not competing with my 48-year-old self or even last year’s self. To that end, last Sunday’s  race was one of  19 or so that I’ll run. I have not been running much as I’ve been focusing on swimming and rehabbing a slight injury. So I allowed myself the luxury of running slowly, even allowing a few short walking episodes within the race.

My swim coach Al Zamsky never fails to point out that you begin winning by showing up and not staying home The race temperature was a very cold and windy 35 degrees. Very few showed up. But beyond this attendance grace note, as it was my first race with nothing to compare against, it was also my Personal Best of the year. And, as I had the wisdom to run real slowly, I will likely best it soon.

I wonder, now greedy, how many other fields I can apply this line of thought.

Motivation by way of GoSwim

March 30, 2011 at 4:43 AM | Posted in Personal Development, Swimming | 1 Comment
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I am a devotee of GoSwim. Glenn Mills, a 1980 Olympian in the Breast Stroke, video producer and swim coach is the master of ceremonies.  He is a generous Tweeter, posting great videos throughout the week. Of course, this is partly to publicise his company’s products but it is more than that; I feel a super-positive vibe from both his videos and his writings. His Olympics was the boycott year but I don’t hear a woe-is-me in his voice.

In the past, every four years I’d fall in awe of the US Olympic Swim Team. Now that I swim almost daily I try to follow them in between. It is true that you have to try to do something yourself  to appreciate the difficulty of an endeavor be it swimming, running, selling, developing software or closing the books at month end. But then there is a level beyond that the greats play at and to see them as they train is, for me, more exciting than the performance itself.

In his recent blog post , Are You the One?, Glenn includes three videos of a portion of the workouts of three all time great Olympians, Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps and Amanda Beard. If you decide to watch only one, I suggest the first with Lochte.

Impressed? Excited? Make you adjust your own workouts?

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