- SWIMMING WORLD MAGAZINEDuring the summer of 2011, I am doing an internship with Swimming World Magazine, "The world's leading independent resource for aquatic sports." As an intern, it is my responsibility to turn in weekly feature stories. Here are the stories that I've written.
- Brendan Hansen & Ed Moses: The Comeback…Kids? -- August 16, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
PHOENIX, Arizona, August 16. IT's not news to say that there have been quite a few top-caliber swimmers making a comeback in the past 10 months. On any sort of short list, you can't even count the number of those comebacks on one hand.
You could argue that Dara Torres preluded the trend by four years with her stellar 2008 performances, but this isn't about who did it first. Why are all these comebacks so popular, and why now?
The top comeback headlines at this year's USA Swimming National Championships surrounded breaststrokers Brendan Hansen and Ed Moses. Their stories give a good idea of why the 2012 Olympics are looking like they could be dubbed as the year of the comebacks and "old folks."
Brendan Hansen is Back On Top
The start of Brendan Hansen's comeback was far from what you might expect.
"It was a really weird chain of events that took place, with none of us really having a say in it at all," he said. "It just happened."
Hansen was coaching on a training trip in Florida last December with his brother when he wasn't satisfied with the intensity of a set. Instead of trying to tell the kids how to do it, he decided to just get in and show them.
"I got in the water and started doing the set and I felt really good after practice," he said. "I thought, ‘You know what? I'm here, I might as well just keep doing it.'"
He stayed in the water through the rest of that week. When he got back to his home in Austin, Texas, after the trip, he called Texas coach Eddie Reese and asked if he could swim with the UT team "for a few weeks."
"I figured – if nothing else – that it would put me in really good shape for the triathlon season," Hansen said.
During his retirement stint, Hansen was a regular on the triathlon circuit. It gave him a chance to stay fit and fulfill his competitive drive. What really bound him to the triathlons was the pain they caused.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I wanted to find something that hurt more than a 200 breaststroke," he said. "I think I found it."
Taking the swimming on a week-to-week and month-to-month basis, the early stages of Hansen's comeback were more like a series of stepping-stones than anything else. He didn't begin with any aspirations, and that's one of the reasons why he has been so successful so quickly.
"All the signs in 2008 that told me to stop were all there telling me now, very strongly, that I needed to stay," he said. "They were the complete opposite signs."
Those signs that led to his retirement included things like not wanting to go to morning workouts (and not going altogether), and getting to meets and not caring about what kind of time came up on the clock.
When he left in 2008, Hansen said that all these things were taking a mental toll, and he was feeling the effects constantly.
"I left the sport not having any inclination whatsoever that I was not coming back," he said
For having such strong feelings about the absence of a future in swimming back then, it's quite a turnaround to where he is now. Hansen says that his biggest strength now is the knowledge of where he came from. He's on a mental peak, loving how much he loves the sport again.
"I'm about as excited as I was as an 18-year-old freshman at Texas – 10 years ago," he said.
And even though he's happy now, he has no regrets. He left at the right time, and he knows that leaving was the only way he was ever going to get his passion for swimming back – even though that wasn't the intention at all.
Swimming is all about mentality, and there aren't many people that will tell you otherwise. Retiring and then coming back may seem to some like a counterproductive idea, but it's a great way to take a mental break. Sometimes, those two or three weeks at the end of a season aren't enough to recuperate completely. Sometimes, the head just needs more time than the body. And while it certainly wasn't intended, in hindsight, it's sort of like Hansen's brain tricked itself into thinking that he was quitting.
He had completely moved on. And that must be the best way to recover from the stresses that this sport puts on you. He's just carefree.
"Now [when I go to a meet], I don't have any expectations," he said. "All the stuff I used to dwell on and worry about at practice and during taper [like not feeling good in the water] doesn't matter to me at all anymore."
Everything from here on out is a bonus. He's watching an encore presentation of "The Brendan Hansen Experience," and he got into the showing for free. There's no stress anymore for Hansen. Everything that he accomplishes is all about fun.
Hansen isn't afraid to share his brutally honest advice, either.
"This sport needs to be fun," he said. "If it isn't, you need to stop, and that's what I did."
Hansen contends that a lot has changed in the sport since he left. Every day in practice, he gets help from the other Texas breaststrokers with new drills or techniques that weren't around back then. In the earlier part of his career, Hansen was the one who was approached with questions about how to go faster. The tables have turned now, and he's now the one getting advice.
When it comes down to it, Hansen is still getting it done, too. Two fresh national championships in hand, as well as a world top-10 time in the 100 breaststroke, he's already accomplishing his goals and moving on to new ones.
It wasn't even until March that he set goals – and that was just because he knew that he couldn't keep practicing without any. So, he told himself that he was going to swim at a Grand Prix meet and then long course nationals. That was it. No times, no places, he just set the goal of swimming in a pair of meets to see how he was doing.
Going into nationals, his goal wasn't on winning national titles. He was focused on the big picture, wanting to post times that would be amongst the best in the world. He wanted to post times that would have been in close competition with times from the World Championships. He got that done.
The next step is to get back to the top. The super-competitive Hansen wants nothing more than to win another Olympic title. But that will have to wait until next summer.
Ed Moses Has Traded His Clubs for a Suit
It's amazing how quickly Hansen has been able to get in his top form again. And not to discredit competitor Ed Moses at all, but Hansen's two-year retirement must have a much different effect on the body than the five years that Moses has taken off.
That said, Moses thinks he is in a good place one year out from Trials.
He said, "I'm pretty stoked that I'm doing so well after only nine months in the water."
Moses' comeback was more planned than Hansen's; it had to be. Moses' retirement was official (in terms of the paperwork that needs to be filed with FINA in order to formally retire), whereas Hansen's was not. In terms of coming back, this meant that Moses needed to observe the nine-month window to clear whatever formalities FINA has. During that period, he was also unable to participate in any major competitions.
That only limited his competition in USA Swimming competition, though, so he went on the Masters circuit and competed there. He submitted the required FINA paperwork around Thanksgiving of last year, so that he would be cleared by August 1 and would be able to compete at long course nationals.
During his retirement, Moses refused to even get in the pool. He ended his former career on the same terms as Hansen did, without the slightest urge to come back. (It's funny how those kinds of things turn out.) He was gone so long that normal things like the feel of the water and the feel of rest and taper were foreign concepts to him now. It was about as close to starting from scratch as a formerly world-class swimmer can get.
Even though Moses missed the entire tech-suit era in the sport, he insists that not much in the sport has changed since he left. When comparing breaststroke times now on the world-class scale to the breaststroke times before 2005, they're very close. And that's precisely the reason that Moses decided that coming back to the sport was the right thing to do.
Citing Hansen's 2:10 in the 200 breast at Nationals, Moses remembers that Mike Barrowman was going 2:10 in that event 19 years ago. Moses' times from the early 2000's would still place well today.
That said, Moses set an early goal of finalling (top 10) at Nationals. While his 16 and T-17 places in the 200 and 100 breaststrokes, respectively, didn't reach the goal, he remains undeterred.
The next step is going to be re-experiencing a regular high level of competition, discovering new venues and traveling to meets. The World Cup circuit and Grand Prix series will likely be the meets that satisfy those needs.
"I'm going to put myself out there," he said.
He'll be busy, but that's nothing he's not used to now. Even though he was living out his dreams in his retirement, he was busy most of the time – between starting his own production company and trying to make it on the PGA Tour, that is.
"The only reason I left [golf temporarily] is because this swim thing fell in my lap," he said.
After moving to Florida and joining the prestigious Bay Hill Golf Club, Moses was improving rapidly at the game of golf. He went to tour school, played in U.S. Open qualifying tournaments, and even played on the Hooters tour. Whereas before it would seem that Moses was retiring from swimming to play golf, now it's like he's quitting golf temporarily to swim.
It should be no surprise that getting back in the pool and training on a regular basis has been hard. Moses has been training with the elite breaststroke corps at USC that includes names like Eric Shanteau, Kosuke Kitajima, Mike Alexandrov, Rebecca Soni, and Jessica Hardy. Moses said that for a while, his goal was just to hang with the female breaststrokers in that group.
"It's a shot to my pride to get my [butt] kicked every day," he said. "I was used to being the fastest, I was used to winning every set and every repeat."
Joining that USC squad wasn't really much of a choice for him, either. Much like the "swimming thing," the team at USC also just sort of fell into his lap. Moses was living in Los Angeles working on his production company, and he knew that he couldn't get up and move to train with a team. It was perfect; one of the top breaststroke groups in the world is only about 15 minutes from his home.
His friendship with Ryan Lochte also has been helping the comeback. Moses says that he's tried to fuel his own passion watching Lochte's improvement and successes.
"I feel like he is exactly what I used to be and is exactly what I want to be again," he said. "Loving the sport of swimming, dropping time; everything that you would want."
The focus with everything has – and will remain – oriented around enjoying the sport. He doesn't want to be chasing the clock, stressing about time. Moses is back to enjoy the sport as much as he did in the past, before he retired. He knows, too, that everything is all about this next year leading up to the Trials. Fun swimming is fast swimming. It all comes back to those five words, no matter what swimmer you talk to.
Always being honest, he said, "I need to find ways to feed my ego and just get good."
He doesn't put his future aspirations in terms of "hope," but rather in terms of "will." Moses throws out the fact that if he makes the Olympic team next year, he will be the second-oldest male to do so since 1924. He just happens to know that.
He has interesting ideas as to why so many formerly retired swimmers are making comebacks leading up to these 2012 Olympics. While he doesn't have the answer any more than anyone else, he theorizes that it might have to do with the new training styles that are now being used.
Gone are the days when every program pounded yardage until swimmers' bodies broke down. It's easier to swim at an older age now because it's just easier on the body to be able to do low-yardage, more technique- and power-oriented workouts.
There are still the disadvantages of swimming at an old age, though. Things like having a family, and needing to have a job to support that family. He's fortunate to not have to worry about any of that, but that's not the case for everyone making these comebacks. Money isn't thrown around in swimming like it is in other sports, and it's not any easier for an older swimmer to get sponsorships than it is for anyone else.
"Some of these people [coming back] are just putting their lives on hold," he said. "For what, I don't know."
"What makes these 2012 Olympics any different than any other year?"
Age will certainly be one of the major story lines for those major competitions next year. And it won't be until those meets that the success of these comebacks will be assessed fully. If nothing else, seeing all these old names and faces will certainly add another layer of excitement to the season.
- An Iowa City Endeavor (That Didn't End in Iowa City) -- August 2, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
HARTLAND, Wisconsin, August 2. DURING the summer, my articles have focused on anecdotes that were used to draw attention to larger points, issues or trends. Often, they would assume that these anecdotes were commonplace. This feature is a bit different, though. Throughout the piece, I will take you into my head while we're on the road; I'm writing in the present tense, but as this appears on the web, these events will be in the past.
Road Trip to Iowa City Sectionals
The road trip is a quintessential part of championship swimming for senior swimmers. In my six-year career, a four-hour-plus interstate drive to a sectional meet seems normal, even a necessity. Everything about the trip itself – getting away from home, going to a new pool (or one I haven't been to in a while), even escaping from the parents – makes the destination feel like a championship environment.
I can't count how many times that I've been on an extended trip to a meet, and I haven't even been swimming for very long. Between the college, club, and high school seasons, I've been on trips in 15-passenger vans, coach buses, school buses and mini-vans. And as different as the circumstances have been for all those different means of transportation, there's been one thing that was constant: I was always traveling with a group.
On this trip, however, I purposely avoided that. As I'm putting my fingers to the keys on my MacBook, I'm in the passenger seat of a Honda Civic headed straight to Iowa City. Cody Roller (a college and club teammate) and I are on our way to the University of Iowa for the long course sectional meet that begins a day from now.
Subsequently, our coach and the rest of our Lake Country Phoenix teammates are on their way as well. They're living out what I think is the stereotypical swimming road trip, in a two-car convoy of a 15-passenger van and a mini-van. Besides the unusually small group that our team has traveling to the meet, everything about the trip should be perfectly usual for them.
Our goal was to make it different, though. Cody and I are the only male college swimmers that came back to swim for Lake Country. Collectively, we're two years older than the next eldest traveling Lake Country swimmer. We've got a slight case of the "I'm sick of club swimming" bug that pervades college swim teams everywhere. We still love swimming for Lake Country, but there's just a point where we need to spread our wings a bit.
Not only are we not traveling with the team, but we've also got separate accommodations when we reach our destination. We've signed all the same team travel consent forms and waivers, et cetera, and everything we do at the pool will be with our team. We're on our own for everything else, though.
Well, sort of. Actually, the main reason for our separate travel and lodging is because we're meeting up with my college roommate, Hueston Holder, at our destination. Hueston lives in Iowa, and is the only swimmer from his team at the meet. With the exception of a short airport layover last month, we haven't seen Hueston since we left Ashland, Ohio, the first week in May.
We'd been planning this sectional rendezvous since early spring of this year. We figured that it was a perfect chance (and probably the only chance) for us three out-of-staters to come together during the summer. Originally, the plan was for us to find the cheapest hotel we could find in Iowa City, and make the trip as cheap as possible; after all, we are penny-pinching college students.
Midway through the summer, though, Hueston texted me saying that his parents have a motor home. He said we were more than welcome to stay in it with him and his folks. The frugal college student in me saw this as a golden opportunity to cut out the most expensive part of the trip. The kid in me saw it as a golden opportunity for an awesome meet experience.
For years, I have seen motor homes parked outside of the Walter Schroeder Aquatic Center for meets, and I've always wondered what it would be like to stay in one. I always thought it would be really convenient, but I also thought it was something I'd never get to do myself.
Since we began driving two hours ago, I haven't really been thinking about that part though. I've been completely enjoying this drive, taking in every minute. I've never actually been this way before, so I am loving the scenic rolling hills and open rock faces of southwestern Wisconsin. Every chance I get, I'm pausing this story to take out my Canon AE-1 Program (for non-camera folk, it's an ‘80s 35mm camera) to take shots of the landscape. At this point, I estimate that I'll go through at least a 24-exposure roll of film before we get to Iowa City; good thing that I packed four for the trip.
Every now and then, we'll take 30 seconds to sing along with Cody's iPod. Never before have I been so carefree on a travel trip before. It's a welcome change from the usual, especially since I've been looking forward to this meet for longer than I've even realized (I'll get into that in a bit).
The usual mindset for me on a travel trip revolves endlessly in a loop of nervousness and excitement, which unfortunately build upon each other. As I go through my races in my head, I get nervous. As I think about them more, it changes to excitement. With every unintended visualization, the time on my imaginary scoreboard goes down. Consequently, my level of nervousness also rises again. After a few iterations of this cycle, I'm almost psyching myself out for my races before I'm even at the pool.
Often times, I'll have to focus on eating for the meet a week in advance. When I'm at the meet, I can't stomach much more than the Gatorade and water that my body needs to avoid dehydration. I'll put it this way: I have a weak stomach when it comes to nervousness.
It's perfect though. Everything that I wanted this trip to be, it already is.
I'll toss out the near-cliché quote of advice here, "If you want to change your life, you have to make changes."
Pursuit of THE Cut
And this is where the "looking forward to this meet for longer than I can remember" part. It seems like one of those points where my whole swimming career has been leading up to this point: at this sectional meet, I'm aiming to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. In my repetitive ladder of getting one cut and transitioning to the next level of cut, I've reached the theoretical end-of-the-line (Yes, making the Olympic team is at least one rung up from making it to Trials, but in terms of meet qualification on the basis of a time standard, Trials is the top).
Since 2008, when I hadn't a shot in a million at making it to Omaha, I've had the 100 breaststroke qualifying time written on my dry erase board: now 1:04.69. It was always my ultimate goal, but it was also something that I'd only dreamt of. Honestly, when I first wrote that time on my board, 1:04 was really, really fast. I was so far off that I couldn't tell if that time was even humanly possible.
Then, one year later with the help of my BlueSeventy bodysuit, I went 1:05.38 at this same sectionals meet.
In the months following, the body suits were banned. I didn't realize how much they helped until the following summer of 2010. All summer, I tapered on what seemed like a weekly basis, trying to drop .09 to get the summer nationals cut in that 100 breast. I figured that all it would take is a best time.
Without rehashing my entire life story, I'll just say that I started swimming at a late age, as a freshman in high school. As such, I became accustomed to having a best time with almost every swim. Even from season to season, I was able to top my best tapered times with ease. I didn't know what it was like to be in a plateau, I didn't know what it was like to swim and not have a best time for a while. When I was just begging for a single best time in that event, I couldn't do it.
This summer was different, though. Two weeks ago, I went a best time in that 100 breast unshaved and un-tapered; completely out of nowhere. All of a sudden, that 1:04.69 was within reach.
Before we left, I was already becoming nervous about going for it. When I was packing yesterday, I was jumping around with the taper squirreliness of a child. I did more rolling around last night than I did sleeping.
If I weren't writing this, though, I wouldn't be thinking about swimming at all, though, which is just what I need. This drive is letting me just hang loose and get away from the world. Bobbing my head to some Eminem and singing along with the cast of Glee is just so much fun.
It's perfect. Of all the swimming advice that I've received over the years, none has proven more true to me than this: fun swimming is fast swimming. It's game over if you're not having fun; just ask Jeff Commings.
When I first thought about writing this story, I wanted to talk about everything that was going through my head along the drive. I thought I would struggle to organize all my thoughts, since my brain is so used to racing all along the way. Retrospectively, it was silly of me to think that would be the case. After all, like I said before, the goal of this whole meet was to change the circumstances in order to change the results.
When you go on to the next section, I will be on the road on my way home. Hopefully, I will have reached the top of the ladder.
Oh So Close
With as much as I've realized that I just generally dislike the state of Iowa (and Cody and I have curated quite the repertoire of jokes to boot), there's a slight bittersweet taste that leaving the state leaves in my mouth. Or maybe that taste is left over from sitting in the steam room at the pool – I guess I can't be sure.
Nope, it does actually feel good to be on the way home.
It doesn't really matter how well you swim at a meet, when you're so far away from home and you aren't sleeping in your own bed, each day makes you wake up and say to yourself, "I need to go home. Right now."
For the record, I did swim well. I missed the Trials cut that I was so eagerly awaiting, but I'm now within .30 of it, which is closer than I was before. I was almost happier to end my winning streak in second-100-breast swims at this meet (I've taken ninth two years in a row). I took fourth, and happened to score the only points for our men's team in the meet.
On the way here, I thought about how atypical this meet was in comparison to sectional meets that I've swam at in the past. And, as it turns out, I've discovered that the trip home still feels the same as always.
I wish I could speak from my own perspective on the effect that driving to the meet every day has, but I lucked out because Cody is driving.
He has a more realistic view; to put it lightly, Cody did not enjoy having to drive.
"It got a little annoying with the traffic…and the [terribly timed] lights," he said. "I disliked a lot about it."
Without having a "normal" meet to compare it too, traffic seemed to be generally terrible to and from the meet each day. Our travel time could range anywhere from 15 minutes all the way to 30. As it turns out, engineers in Wisconsin managed to create stoplights that are timed. It's nearly impossible in most metro areas to hit every single light.
In Iowa, for whatever reason, it seemed like we hit every one of the stoplights on each one-way trip. I never counted, but there had to be at least 25 stoplight-controlled intersections on the commute. One time, I think we did actually hit every one.
Right now, Cody has the car in cruise control traveling up U.S. Highway 151. Every red light that we hit all week made him more eager to click the cruise on once again. He seems to be more at peace with the world in his driver's seat than he has been as of recent.
It's worth mentioning that Cody and I have become used to having a scratchy throat and smoker-like cough on our trips home from travel meets. The University of Minnesota's pool has a notoriously terrible air-quality, and compounding hours on deck take a toll on the lungs. I'm no scientist, but our coaches have told us that it's a buildup of chloramines that cause this reaction.
Our home pool at Arrowhead High School has a history of high chloramine levels as well, but because our exposure there is short term, it really only affects us during practice. For instance, we might have to take a five-minute break at the end of a set and go outside to get fresh air.
At a championship meet with preliminary heats and finals, we are losing a considerable amount of sleep by the last night because of the chloramines. You could probably make a deranged song out of the hacking, coughing, and sneezing. Sometimes we cough so hard it feels like you might hack up a lung and die. Truth is, though, I'm sort of used to it by now, which makes it a little easier.
Hueston, on the other hand, was not. This is the first time that he's ever really been affected by low-air quality at a pool. Last night, the three of us collectively thought that he was dying. His eyes were watery and running, his nose was making him sneeze ten times consecutively, and he'd have the breath for a few coughs in between.
If you have never been penned up in a natatorium with high chloramine levels, you almost feel sick because of the exposure, or like you have a bad case of allergies. The only thing that tells you otherwise is when you get better within a day or two of being at home.
As for swimming at the pool, it feels like you're at altitude, and like you just can't get a full breath. I've never actually swum at altitude, but I have to imagine that this is what it feels like.
We're only an hour outside of Iowa City, but I'm already feeling better breathing the fresh air in the car. Cody and I are still coughing, but we probably will be until Tuesday. Better isn't best, but it's better than bad.
It's unfortunate, really. I loved the pool that the University of Iowa built, it's just a shame that the airflow engineers seemed to have missed their mark. I can't imagine that it's easy to keep clear air flowing with 600 athletes on deck, but the air was poor when we arrived Wednesday. It wasn't nearly as bad at Minnesota has been, but again, that's relative.
On the drive down, I noticed only one helicopter that was spraying a cornfield. Already, I've seen two small planes buzzing over the crops – and right over our heads. If I was driving, I'm sure I would be a bit unnerved by the planes flying right toward the car at low-altitude. Apparently, it's a popular thing in this state for farmers to own a crop-dusting plane. I guess that would explain why the local arena football team is called the Iowa Barnstormers.
Now that the meet is over, I have to face the fact that I have a summer class that begins Monday, French II. I meant to review my French I materials before it begins, during this trip. That never happened, nor is it going to between here and home. Sleeping does sound good though.
If you wanted to draw this into some bigger story, I think that would be a good way to summarize it. Road trips make swimmers sleepy. Fact.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to make these last few hours fitting of a typical swimming road trip. So, goodnight!
FINALLY! Made the Cut!
It's been a week since I returned from Iowa City now. On that trip home – as you may have determined – I found a way of detaching myself from my swimming. Well, that detachment held through until the end of the week, and through my final meet of the summer: the Wisconsin 13 & Over LCM Championships.
Due to a conflict with that French class I mentioned earlier, I was unable to participate in the Thursday and Friday prelims of the meet. And due to the fact that my normal three-day taper had turned into nearly three weeks leading into the meet, a smaller event program seemed the only hope I would have for surviving my shortened meet. Finally, with the history of my lackluster swims on over-taper, I figured there was no hope of swimming well.
My one and only goal prior to the meet was to have fun. As long as I accomplished that, I was willing to call it a successful meet.
Friday finals came around, and I swam a leg on the 4x100 freestyle relay. The swim felt strong and smooth at the time, and I was astounded to have gone 53.7 (1.5 seconds faster than my 100 free best time from Iowa City). I texted a few coaches, telling them something to the extent of, "53.7 100 free on a relay. Might have two more shots at Trials."
You see, I had mentally considered my season to be over before we left Iowa City. I even called coach Paul Graham and began discussing long course meet opportunities that would fall during the upcoming NCAA season.
I slept on that relay split, and woke up the next morning tired and not looking forward to a long day at the pool. Judging from the timeline, I could see that there was a three-hour discrepancy between the 9 a.m. prelim start and the 12:18 start of the men's 100 breast. I groaned, and figured that going out for a good breakfast would be the best way to pass the time.
Teammate Brent Schreibel and myself went to a local diner (the stereotypical breakfast location, run by a Greek family with a seven-page breakfast menu) to buy some time and some food. I gorged on Polish sausage, toast, hash browns and scrambled eggs. Needless to say, we didn't take as long as we'd hoped to eat: it was only 9:45 after paying the check. Of course, there was a Dollar Tree in the adjacent strip mall – and that's where we went.
We walked out of the store with $3 worth of temporary tattoos (packs of tribal, glow-in-the-dark and princess tattoos) and a concept of how ridiculous we might look after using them all up. We got back to the pool and went to the locker rooms to cut them out and put them on. An hour later, we weren't yet finished and we realized that there was only half an hour until we swam (both of us were in the 100 breast), and neither of us had our suits on yet.
I was nervous for the race only for the reason that I was so short on time. Plus it was hot at the Walter Schroeder Aquatic Center, which meant I was sweating, which also meant that putting on my size 26 was even more difficult than usual.
Somehow, I managed to make everything work and get behind the blocks before my race. I could see that there were the usual slow times in the morning heats, and I wasn't really worried about making it back for a second swim (I'm not that cocky, but I was the second seed, the defending state champion, and I can't remember the last time that I wasn't top-8 at this meet). I just wanted to make the morning swim as comfortable as possible. And even though I was rushed, even though I didn't care about my time that much, I had to remember to have fun. So I let out a loud craw toward the team bench (an inside joke, but something that must have commanded some awkward looks from the crowd and swimmers).
I hit the water and felt amazing. I was sitting very high in the water and was able to keep my stroke really long through the first 50. I went out in 19 strokes for a 30.35 split, which is exactly where I needed to be. Coach Tom Coons has been telling me all season that my first 50 meters is always my strength, though; my last 10 strokes are the weak part of my race. That very relaxed first 50 made for that near perfect second 50. I took 24 strokes on the way back, splitting 33.95.
- 1:04.30 was on the board. I was amazed, because I was expecting to see a high-1:05 or low-1:06 at best. I played around and managed to get my Trials cut.
In the locker room afterward, I ran into Tom Miazga. He asked me, "How does it feel to have the monkey off your back?"
I didn't know what it felt like to have a monkey on my back. I never got to the point where I had any sort of monkey on my back, not at this meet at least. Some things just come when you least expect them.
Not just that, though. Having the cut out of the way, I was free to mess around as much as I wanted in finals. My only goal left was to defend that title, and even that wasn't something I wanted to do seriously.
During the week between sectionals and state, my teammates and I joked around about how "You Make My Dreams," by Hall and Oates, (from (500) Days of Summer) would make a great walkout song. The meet management wasn't allowing the top seeds to pick their respective songs, though. A little saddened but not about to give up, I went up to the announcer's table with a $10 bill in my pocket and asked if they would play the song for my march. They agreed and I didn't even need to bribe them.
I went crazy on that march. If I didn't know the others in my heat so well, they may have thought I was the cockiest guy at the meet. I jumped and danced in tandem – and across the pool – from teammate Cody Roller for the entire march. My legs were borderline aching when it was over and I actually had to swim. And again, as if it didn't matter at all, I still ducked under the cut with that finals swim, finishing in 1:04.42.
And as if it's like a perfect segue into the next story that I will write for Swimming World – a piece on comebacks – I took the advice of fellow breaststroker Brendan Hansen and just had fun with it. There really is some sort of mystical power of having fun. Fun swimming is usually fast swimming. And fast swimming is always fun, which makes for a great cycle of confidence.
- Massage On Deck -- July 14, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
HARTLAND, Wisconsin, July 14. THEY look like a sort of deranged percussion instrument – a big rubber ball skewered to a handle like you'd see on a wood file. Lake Country (Wis.) swimmer Logan Roberts calls them "bongers," but even that name doesn't tell you what their purpose is.
"The first time he took them out, someone kind of laughed [because] they didn't know what it was," Logan's mother, Traci, said. "He was embarrassed and put them away."
They are actually used as a tool for massage.
Logan has been carrying the bongers in his bag for about a year, but it's just recently that he's begun to take them out and use them. Since he has, it seems everyone on his team wants to try them out; he half-jokingly estimates that teammates ask to use the bongers at least 12 times per meet. By "use," that is, he means that they ask him to give them a massage with the bongers.
He never really asks for massages in return though. There is a sort of learning curve to using the bongers, and Logan says that most people hit too hard with them.
It's a case of "like mother, like son," with Traci and Logan. Traci is a licensed massage therapist, which is the reason that Logan has the bongers in the first place. She has had the bongers since she graduated from massage school nine years ago.
Having Logan drum on your back isn't exactly a comfortable experience, though.
"[The bongers] actually hurt," said teammate Kyle Wenger.
It almost feels like someone is lightly but repeatedly punching a tight muscle in your back. Then again, releasing muscle tension is almost always painful.
By definition, the bongers are a tool for percussive massage. As its name suggests, percussive massage is characterized by rhythmic beating on a fatigued or spastic muscle.
"It's kind of like tenderizing meat," Traci said. "It's not so much to beat the muscles into oblivion, but more to wake them up, get the circulation going, stretching them out, keeping them more or less loose."
Unlike other types of massage, percussive massage is not about relaxation.
In a spastic muscle, the blood vessels have become constricted and blood flow to that muscle is limited. The massage helps to bring oxygen to the muscle so that the waste can be carried away. It flushes out the muscle much like water does, which is why drinking water while exercising is also important.
By no means do you need to have bongers to enjoy a percussive massage; the base or side of the hand works in exactly the same way that the bongers do.
By no means is percussive massage the only beneficial on-deck massage, either. Another tool that is becoming steadily prominent is the massage stick. While the premise with a massage stick is similar to the bongers, the stick uses a stripping motion instead of a percussive motion.
Almost all of the Eau Claire YMCA (Wis.) swimmers at the Western Great Lakes Open were using their massage sticks.
"Almost after every event we whip them out," said ECY swimmer Wes Manz. "It feels pretty good."
Massage sticks can be expensive though, ranging in price from $15 to $45. While convenient, as with the bongers, a stick is not necessary if you're looking for a stripping massage. You can also use your hands, pushing down with the base of your hand and then sliding your hand along the muscle. It even works to mix it up and use a kneading motion as well.
Or, you can get creative like ECY swimmer Alex DeLakis. While most of his teammates have actual massage sticks, DeLakis decided to save his money and settle for a standard kitchen rolling pin instead.
Yes, he had a wooden rolling pin sticking out of his swim bag.
"It seemed to become a trend to have these [massage sticks] on deck," DeLakis said. "I was going through my cabinets and was like, ‘Hey, a rolling pin!'"
"I saw those…for like 35 bucks and instead of paying 35 bucks for [a stick], why not use [a rolling pin]?"
While not as prevalent on the deck of a meet, foam rollers work in the same way as the massage sticks do, except using a person's body weight to provide pressure in that stripping motion.
Generally speaking, massage is very helpful in a practice or meet environment. There are a few things to avoid though.
"I would think that any kind of deep tissue massage – anything that hurts – is probably not good," said Traci Roberts. "If you're stripping really hard or pushing really hard, then you might cause the muscle to kind of become painful and it might become counterproductive."
Lake Country coach Tom Coons has used Logan's bongers on deck to alleviate muscle spasms in his back. As it turns out, massage tools aren't just helpful for the swimmers on deck; coaches in pain can benefit as well.
- Socialization in Practice -- July 5, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
HARTLAND, Wisconsin, July 5. TALKING is a simple thing; it is so common, even at practice. Swimmers will do their best to hold up a conversation in five-second gaps between swims, and two-minute periods between sets.
Senior swimmers are pretty good at it by now.
There are the obvious difficulties that such conversations present, but what's more interesting is how the opinions of this socialization differ from coach to swimmer.
A normal Lake Country Phoenix (Hartland, Wisc.) practice is rarely quiet. Aside from the time spent actually swimming, there will often be multiple conversations going on at once.
For a swimmer, talking is a sort of rite of passage. Some say that it makes practices go faster, others say that it makes practices easier, and still others claim that conversation is what keeps them coming back to practice.
- "For the little joy that practice offers, talking makes it a lot more enjoyable," said Lake Country swimmer Evan Barta.
"Once you look back on it [if you were talking], the practice…doesn't seem as hard if you were having fun," Holly Johnson said.
Even though coach Mark Kohnhorst used to be a swimmer, he insists that it would be good for training if swimmers didn't have to talk during practice.
"Too often, a conversation carries through into a not-so-high-quality push-off," he said. "When a swimmer is involved in a conversation, it's very difficult to coach in between sets."
Lake Country's coaches have had a fairly extensive battle with conversations in that regard. It's not very often that either Kohnhorst or coach Tom Coons do not have to raise their voice to get the attention of their swimmers to explain a set.
Every time they do so, the pool will go silent – not always immediately, though. As you can imagine, this upsets the coaches.
Having a little stubbornness, the swimmers get upset at the coaches when they raise their voice, too. The disagreement seems to stem lightly from the interpretation that talking might be considered a sort of privilege, or something that at least needs to be done sparingly at least.
It's not just the coaches that feel that way, though. Olympic gold medalist Garrett Weber-Gale will sometimes train with Lake Country during the winter holidays, and one of the most lasting impressions that he's left is the loose quote, "If you're swimming as hard as you should be, you shouldn't have the breath or energy to talk."
The swimmers don't exactly take that seriously. Instead, it will get thrown around from time to time as a sarcastic remark.
And as you may have figured out, when Kohnhorst or Coons raises their voice, the ensuing silence doesn't last very long. If you'd ask the swimmers for an estimate, their responses range from .02 seconds to two seconds.
"It's pretty easy to talk while the coaches are talking," Johnson said. "There's so many people."
Kate Jones thinks that hard work should be rewarded with a sort of free speech.
"They need…to just let us talk," she said. "We work so hard. We should be able to talk if we're like [working hard] to do the sets."
- Mike Udolph: The Man Behind the Computer at Ashland -- June 29, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
ASHLAND, Ohio, June 29. AT any given meet, you will see that person hiding out behind the timing computer. They're there so often that you probably don't even notice their presence anymore.
The fate of many meets is in their hands, though. In Ashland, Ohio – home to Ashland University and Ashland High School – the man who has had his nose in front of that Colorado Timing Systems display for the past 23 years is Mike Udolph.
By day, Udolph works in the sales department of National Patent Analytical Systems, a company that produces gadgets that do everything from checking blood alcohol concentrations to warning bus drivers if a child is in the "danger zone."
Udolph is 60 years old, is happily married, and has two sons, Steve, 31, and Greg, 29. Both graduated from Ashland High School. Both were swimmers.
Like most swimmers, Steve and Greg got started at an early age, swimming for the local YMCA team. And like most swim parents, Udolph became frustrated with all the downtime during meets.
"When your son is 8 years old and he swims one race for 30 seconds and you sit there for six hours at a YMCA meet, you get bored stiff," he said. "When they asked if anyone wanted to work the timing system…I said, ‘Well gosh, I've got nothing to do!'"
That was in 1988, and he's never stopped doing it since. From 1988 until 1994, Udolph only ran the system at YMCA meets. After that, he started running the timing system for AHS and AU as well. Today, he is the only person in Ashland trained to run the system.
With as many meets as he's taken in from the balcony over the years, you'd assume that he's pretty fond of the water. That's not so; he's actually terrified of the water. He knows how to swim – he even got his "Mile Swim" Boy Scouts badge – but he does his best to avoid going in.
Because of that fear, he encouraged Steve and Greg to get in the pool at a young age.
"They learned how to swim because I'm scared to death of the water," he said. "[We wanted] to make sure that they were not."
His thinking worked, and the two swam all the way through their high school years. He was there at every meet, too, looking on from his perch above.
A lot has changed from those first YMCA meets. For one, the technology has improved tremendously. When he started working the computer, Udolph remembers a time without a scoreboard and without digital readouts, where the results the results of a close race would only be known when the thermal dot-matrix printer spit them out, and he could announce it.
"It was slow…everyone held their breath until I could get the printout to come out," he said. "That was the only way you knew [the times]."
As much as the times have changed, he's also seen swim trends come and go. There was a time when TV wrestling was king, and the infatuation with the WWF (now WWE) wrestlers pervaded even the pool deck.
That was a period where the high school boys team became so enthralled by the wrestlers that they made it a pre-meet ritual to walk out to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's theme song.
"That was a crazy thing to begin the meets with," he said.
Although he's never seen anything quite that crazy from the AU team, he's seen something that has impressed him just as much, watching coach Paul Graham build a winning team from one that was "decimated."
"The team was really a mess when Paul took over," Udolph said.
Since taking the reins in 2000, that transformation has been nothing short of remarkable. Coming from a team that had trouble winning an individual race at dual meets, Graham has built a now-perennial contender in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (both teams were third at the 2011 GLIAC Championships) and at the NCAA Division II Championships (the women were fifth and the men were 11 at the 2011 Championships).
Udolph has had a hand in helping that rise though, even though he may not know it, even though it may not be direct. But having him there at meets takes a lot of stress off the shoulders of Graham.
"[Having Udolph] is a godsend for our program," said Graham. "For us, being a smaller program, we're always looking for ways that we won't be spending money trying to find someone [to run the system]."
"He's very helpful, very reliable, [and] very knowledgeable."
Udolph was especially helpful to a younger Graham, responsible for hosting the 2001 NCAA Division II Championships in Canton, Ohio. Even though AU had a limited number of swimmers competing at the meet, his steadfastness allowed Graham to not worry about whether or not the times would come up on the board without error.
Since Graham started, there have been only two or three meets that Udolph has been unable to attend. That says a lot considering the travel involved in a sales job; just last week, he was in State College, Pa.
As impressive as Udolph's performance has been, he has been just as impressed by the athletes that he's seen over the years.
"I enjoy watching the kids swim because I know how hard they work at it," he said.
The collegiate swimmers, especially the walk-ons – a group that has been so important to the AU team over the years – captivate him more than anyone else. The high school athletes do impress him, but he just has a different sort of admiration for walk-on collegiate swimmers.
"They do it because they enjoy it; you have to respect kids when they do that," he said.
That dedication of college athletes – the willingness to go ahead with a 16x50s warm-down set after a grueling meet – makes those meets a little more enjoyable to him than the high school duals.
This past year, Graham honored Udolph at the annual "senior meet" for his years of service. Udolph insists that it was unnecessary because the team didn't "owe" him anything, but he did appreciate it.
Here's a fun fact: for whatever reason, Udolph has a lot of trouble remembering the names of swimmers on the AU team, while remembering names really isn't a problem for him with the high school teams. His limited – albeit still extensive – contact with the teams on-deck at meets also makes it difficult for him to recognize female swimmers without their caps.
He jokes, "I could walk by five of them and not even realize it."
It's important to note that his help has not been limited to only running the timing system at meets, either. Drawing upon his sales experience and using his personal business, Udolph coordinated a bundle purchase of six Colorado systems and pads for local high schools and organizations.
He knows how to get a good deal. And that's exactly what working the meets is for him.
"It's my one thing that I'm giving to the community…it's that one little thing that I volunteer for," he said.
Udolph says that he plans on keeping it up until he and his wife retire, probably for at least another six years. Like the stereotypical retiree, he dreams of spending his winters in Florida, far away from the harsh darkness in wintry Ohio. The meet entertainment helps him get through it all, though.
"It gives me some reason to not fall asleep in my chair in the winter," he said.
- Digging into a Box of Caps -- June 21, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
PHOENIX, Arizona, June 21. ALL too often, swimmers take their caps for granted. A whole world of possibilities is waiting to be unlocked when you look closer at that flat piece of rubber. Really look closely. What does that cap say on it? What color is it? Then think to yourself: why do I wear it?
Caps and practice suits are the same in one aspect. What you wear is like what car you drive, except without the money part. The primary difference, and the reason that caps are so much different, however, is the idea that they are disposable.
At most, you might spend $12 on a cap. Grab bag caps might set you back $4. If you're a collegiate swimmer, you might even luck out and have a box of practice that are there for the taking.
- You always choose the cap you wear, though. And behind that cap, there can be a lot of stories.
At Ashland University, there is a steadily stocked box of practice caps in the coaching office. While it had a few of the novelty caps (like ones depicting snorkeling turtles), most of them were overrun caps from a few different teams that Kast-a-Way swimwear does work for.
According to Kast-a-Way, overrun caps exist because of a mistake during the printing of the caps. It could be a press whose setting is a little off, a color that isn't to specification, or any of a variety of reasons. These mistakes make the caps sell for a much cheaper price, and make them an ideal purchase for a college team looking for a cheap box of caps.
These caps were from teams that none of the swimmers had ever seen before. Some had names, some showed that they were meant for "Senior Champs" teams, and others just had a stock club logo. All of them made good practice caps, but they made even better sources of endless entertainment.
The first caps out of that box to become popular were dark green caps emblazoned with the letters NDCY. Some had nothing more than those four letters, but most had a name as well. Half of the team must have been wearing those caps at one point. The Ashland University team could have easily been mistaken for the NDCY team on any given day.
Assistant coach Mike Shelby once joked that the team looked like they'd gone to where ever NDCY was and beat up a bunch of children, stole their caps, and now wore them as trophies. It was a funny joke at the time, but even funnier because if the caps didn't come from the box, they would have come from a young team.
The Northern Dauphin County YMCA Gators (NDCY) team is from Elizabethville, Pa. Judging from the team picture on the team's website, it would appear that they are mostly young. Some Ashland swimmers may never realize how funny that joke would have been if they actually knew the team whose caps they were wearing.
The names on the caps had a more lasting impact, in some cases. Surnames like Paul, Lindsay, Roadcap, and Tallman gave nickname potential for the swimmers wearing those respective caps. The most lasting nickname was Tallman, though. The Tallman cap belonged to freshman Carianna Doyle, which was ironic because she's one of the shorter people on the team. Shelby loved the nickname "Tallman," and routinely threw it around. Even after the cap had broken, the nickname stuck with Doyle.
Then again, sometimes caps are worn (or consequently, saved) because of the way that they were obtained. For instance, Ashland freshman Hueston Holder managed to find a lost Michigan State cap during a meet at Eastern Michigan. Before the meet, it was his goal to wrangle an MSU cap before he headed home after his final swim. The allure of that cap was the Spartan logo on its side. There's something about a Big Ten logo that looks cooler than the logo of a small-town Division II school.
For Holder, that cap was a sign of accomplishment, a status symbol, a trophy. He still keeps it in his swim bag and is still just as proud.
For the craftier female swimmers, the blank caps in that magical box were the most popular. Flat purple caps were decorated like scrapbooks. Girls took them like a blank canvas and ran with it, writing their names or nicknames in sweeping letters. Flowers, stars, and swirls accessorized the caps even further. The personalization factor of these caps made them an obvious practice choice for the girls who took the time to "make it their own."
Then again, the purpose of wearing a particular cap might just be a representation of a larger cause. On Nov. 6, 2010, Ashland traveled to the University of Indianapolis for a breast cancer awareness meet. Along with the pink ribbons and balloons that decorated the pool and stands, each team was given pink T-shirts and caps. Those pink caps really struck a note with some. That might be a reason that they were a popular choice in the week following that meet.
Sometimes, caps can even represent a connection to something. In Hartland, Wisc., two Lake Country swimmers wear the Shenandoah Marlins Aquatic Club (SMAC) Senior Champs caps that they found in that cap box. Taking out that cap every day keeps them a little bit closer to their school, even though they're almost 450 miles away.
In the end, there's almost always a reason for choosing a particular cap to wear in practice. Just like you wouldn't go into your closet blindfolded and pick what to wear, swimmers don't really reach into their bags and haphazardly pick the first cap they feel as the one they will wear. But, what does your cap say about you?
- June Training: Heading for the Home Stretch -- June 13, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
PHOENIX, Arizona, June 13. THE month of June is a pivotal one in the training cycle of United States swimmers, a time when training ramps up just before tapering down. In a broad sense, the goal of every team is similar: to swim fast at the end of the season.
Every team has their own philosophy of how to get there though. These philosophies are as heavily influenced by internal factors like individual coaches' beliefs as they are by the external factors like pool availabilities. Sometimes, even things like weather and climate can have a drastic effect on the training that a team does during this month.
In Wisconsin, Lake Country Swim Team has very limited access to long course facilities.
"In June, we can finally go outside, enjoy our summers, and do long course training," said LAKE coach Tom Coons. "We've been cooped up most of the fall, most of the winter [and] most of the spring, so we do like going outside for as much summer as we can get."
When they get outside, Lake Country approaches its long course training differently than they do short course training. Race speed and over-distance training are the two top changes for the club.
Coaches Mark Kohnhorst and Coons also like to get swimmers outside as much as possible for dryland, taking advantage of favorable weather for runs or stadium stairs.
The pool availability for coach Duffy Dillon and Fort Lauderdale Aquatics is much more favorable than it is for Lake Country. They call the International Swimming Hall of Fame pool complex home, which means that they have access to a pair of 50-meter pools.
Dillon takes advantage of that fact as often as possible, and acknowledges, "We are in an enviable position."
In general, FLA leaves the pools set up so that one is short course year round, and one stays long course all year. Even during the short course season, the team will average three to four long course sessions each week. During the long course season, they simply even up the number of sessions in the short course and long course pools.
Crazy enough, sometimes workouts can even switch between the two pools. For example, Dillon says that sometimes he will have his sprinters warm up long course for a short course workout, so they can get a longer, lower intensity aerobic warm-up set in.
But as it turns out, when it comes to long course training, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Well, maybe not that exactly, but Dillon thinks that it's important to keep short course training integrated during the long course season. He says that turns and walls can tend to fall apart during the long course season otherwise.
Both Dillon and Coons stress the importance of good walls, even during a long course season. The types of training that their teams do long course are different, though.
Unlike Lake Country, who will do over-distance training for all four strokes long course, Dillon and Fort Lauderdale take a more stroke-axis-specific approach. That is, aerobic breaststroke and fly sets are done exclusively in the short course pool, never long course.
This idea of switching between courses is widespread, and not at all limited to these clubs. The Colorado Stars also switch between courses, taking morning practices in their long course pool and afternoons in their short course pool.
Not every team has access to long course facilities, though. Northern Lights Swim Club, located outside of Anchorage, Alaska, can't practice at a long course facility at all this summer. Instead, they are doing their summer training in short course meters.
Coach Cliff Murray knows that his situation isn't ideal during a long course season, but he has a good idea of how training short course meters can be translated into long course success.
"I've convinced all the kids…that we can train short course meters and make it just as effective as long course meters," he said. "It's a handicap, but I'm not going to let the kids know that."
Murray actually talks to his swimmers about what the differences between short course and long course are, and how racing in both courses is different. And he emphasizes how a lack of access to long course is a problem that's been beaten in the past, citing Ian Crocker as an example of someone who was able to be greatly successful without having any long course access.
"We're [still] in the long course mode," he said.
Sometimes, it's the unlikely or absurd events that might interfere with June training. For ASK Swim in Minot, N.D., that is just the case. Usually, they have long course access from the beginning of June through the end of July. But, with the flood crisis in North Dakota right now, the long course pool that ASK calls home won't open until June 20.
To compensate, coach Kathy Aspaas will modify the yardages of short course swims so that they more closely relate to the long course equivalent. That means that she tries to avoid doing swims shorter than 75 yards, and will routinely include off-distances like 125s.
Ultimately, Dillon summed up June training best.
"We try to tax our swimmers in as many ways as possible…June is like our boot camp," he said. "By June 30, they feel very tired."
One of the other reasons that June is so important is because kids are out or getting out of school. It is sort of like a strategic time period, where a number of different variables line up to create a great training situation.
"With school being over, we like [June] because we now move up on the priority list," said Coons. "During the school year, we don't fight family, we don't fight God, [and] we don't fight school. So we're number four on the priority list."
"Now with school over, we get to move to number three, which definitely helps," he said.
During the summer, coaches report seeing better energy levels from their swimmers. Spending eight hours in a classroom (and probably having a practice earlier that morning) can really limit how much a coach can expect from a swimmer during an afternoon during school. Naps and snacks can make it much easier on a teenage body to withstand the training, though.
Summer jobs can interfere with summer training, though. Some teams may advise against getting jobs completely, but most recognize that some kids will need to work during the summer months. Dillon tries to manage his swimmers' work schedules by offering jobs helping out with the club's swim camps.
There's also the idea of kids being kids and losing track of time in between practices. As a result, they might not take the necessary steps to be able to recover properly. But, STARS coach Michael Peterson and Coons agree that learning to manage time effectively and managing time around a job is a learning process, and they are quick to point out that swimming can be a tool to improve that skill.
While it isn't a perfect comparison, there is a definite relevance between June training and Christmas training. Both times are similarly distanced from the end-of-season championship meets, and both are consequently some of the most intense parts of the entire season. This is not news, and is one of the reasons that both times are highly popular for taking training trips. Tiffany Elias featured the benefits of taking a holiday training trip in the June Issue of Swimming World Magazine, and most of those benefits hold true during summer training trips as well.
Dillon and Fort Lauderdale Aquatics have not been able to take a training trip yet. A lot of variables ranging from tough economic times (Florida's tourism industry took a major, lasting hit) to the obligation of hosting camps have made it impossible to do a team training camp. They have all seen the benefits of training trips for other teams, as their ISHOF pool is one of the top spots frequented by traveling teams. Dillon is planning on taking one next year though, leading up to the Olympic Trials.
In general, it seems that there is a pattern of teams doing their aerobic training during longer morning workouts, and then using the afternoons as a time to work on race speed or technique work. This would correlate well with meet preparation and is comparable to the warm-up that might be done during a championship meet; a longer, workout-esque aerobic warm-up in the morning to wake the body from sleep and to loosen, and then riding that increased heart rate from the morning session into the evening, where a warm-up might be shorter and more oriented upon loosening tight muscles and fine tuning race details.
There are as many perspectives of what June training should or shouldn't be as there are coaches and teams. When it comes down to it, though, the results of this month of training will be seen in the results of the championship meets, and every team and coach is confident that what they're doing will lead to fast times when they get there.
- Post-Storm Joplin: Swimming is One of the Few Regularities -- June 7, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
JOPLIN, Missouri, June 7. JOPLIN has risen to unfortunate prominence in recent weeks, the latest tragic tale of Mother Nature's fury this year.
The pictures we've seen on national news are eerie, conveying scenes of a seemingly post-apocalyptic world. But to residents of Joplin, the May 22 storm was a horrifying reality, and will be one that is not easily forgotten (more likely, not forgotten at all).
The massive tornado cut a path six miles long and half-a-mile wide straight through the city of 50,000. Twisted metal, glass shards, split wood and overturned cars littered that strip, and the images show a stark landscape of flattened buildings.
St. John's Regional Medical Center is a striking anomaly, one of the only buildings left standing in the twister's path. Reports have some doctors claiming, even in that case, that the hospital nearly imploded as a result of the high winds. Medical records and X-rays have been found as far as 60 miles away from the city. The former patients have been dispersed into hospitals in an even larger radius.
But, the Webb City High School pool is still where it always has been, seven miles northeast of Joplin. And its home club team, the Jasper County Killer Whales, is still in the water.
"We're just going with the flow, letting people get their lives back on track," said Shawn Klosterman, the C.O.O of JCKW and the aquatics director at the Webb City School District.
JCKW is an all-area club, so about half of its members live in Joplin.
A large number of swimmers and their families have been helping their community clean up. Even Klosterman has missed two days of work helping his mother-in-law clean debris and board up windows (and his wife is volunteering as a Red Cross crisis counselor). The team understands the need to volunteer, and a rigid attendance policy is anything but appropriate right now.
"We aren't expecting anything to be normal yet," Klosterman said.
An expectation of normality would be outrageous. To say that the club has been affected by the storm would be a gross understatement. For some swimmers and their families, the storm literally hit home.
Two former JCKW swimmers lost their homes in the storm, as well as one current swimmer, Michelle Barchak.
"We were in the basement when the storm hit," she said.
She and her family huddled under a workbench while the storm passed. Initially, a window in the basement blew out, throwing glass all around. When the wind started blowing in, the air pressure rose, and Michelle said it hurt her ears. The temperature rose, and she heard a roaring noise. But, she says even though it seemed like forever, the storm only lasted about a minute. When it was over, her father found them all shoes so they could walk out of the house over the broken glass.
"Where we were was the only place in the basement that wasn't permeated with glass," she said. "We were lucky."
As it turns out, luck in the midst of a massive tornado has a different meaning than luck during a more normal time.
When they made it upstairs, they saw that the neighbors' homes had literally been ripped from their foundations. Consequently, they were leaking natural gas. Hurrying to avoid a secondary tragedy, Michelle and her family ran to her grandmother's house a few blocks away, returning later to pick up important items like computers.
Her first worry was for her friends. Fortunately, while some also lost their homes, and even her high school was destroyed, everyone close to her was safe when all was said and done.
"Working on online classes…and going to swim practice has really helped me keep a normal life [after the storm]," she said. "Other than being around the wreckage, it's really not that much of a change."
Yes, that's right. She and her friends still hang out regularly, and even though she's staying at someone else's house, Michelle insists that her life hasn't changed much.
The tornado hit on a Sunday, and Michelle was back in the water by Thursday. Her family was able to borrow a vehicle right away from her father's work, and she's been able to make it to almost every practice since.
With the loss of her home, though, so too came the destruction of her swimming equipment. No matter, her teammates helped her out. The car her family is driving now has also been borrowed from a teammate.
The defining spirit in the aftermath is that sense of teamwork that has grown. Everyone is helping everyone else who needs it.
"A few of my friends whose homes weren't damaged have been helping us almost every day," Michelle said.
The spirit of teamwork extends beyond JCKW to the entire swimming community, though. "There was an immediate outpouring of support from swim teams," said Klosterman.
The night of the storm, he already had received emails from local teams checking to make sure he was okay.
"They were ready to come to town and bring swimsuits and goggles for the kids to get us on our feet," he said.
Interestingly, the most interesting caveat of the storm is that Klosterman feels like the residents of Joplin were the last ones to realize how bad the storm actually was.
"It almost seems like Joplin…was finding out about it after everyone else was [nationally]," he said.
For Klosterman, who was not in the immediate path of the storm when it hit, the damage wasn't visually apparent. With local media outlets shut down as a result of the storm, it became a national headline before the local media were even back on their own feet.
"It was kind of a weird situation," Klosterman said.
Different methods of support have come in from as far away as Wisconsin, where one woman emailed Klosterman saying that her club was doing a swim-a-thon for JCKW families.
At a meet in Bentonville, Mo., $2,100 was raised to help swimming families who lost their homes. As a matter of fact, at that Bentonville meet, other teams' coaches volunteered to act as a coach for the JCKW kids who were at the meet without a coach. You see, in the weeks prior to the tornado, the head coach at JCKW had moved on to another position, and Klosterman has stepped up to solve the many problems that have quickly sprung up.
If the club deals with the storm as well as the town has, it will be just fine.
"[After the storm] everyone had that look on their face like they've seen a ghost," Klosterman said. "Or like they are a ghost."
Obviously, there was that initial sense of shock, but he contributes the fact that everyone has been so willing to help everyone else to the reason that the cleanup is coming around so quickly. It's like everyone is in fighting mode trying to get Joplin back to normal.
"Everyone just felt like they couldn't do enough to help," he said. "Every conversation for at least a week [following the storm] started with, ‘Is your family okay? What can I do to help?'"
Just as amazing as the stories of help are some of the stories of survival. People have come out of extraordinary circumstances, like hiding in a different spot than they usually would, and surviving only because that particular closet was the one part of their home left standing. The hundreds of people in St. John's hospital when the storm hit, including Klosterman's assistant, Teresa Reeder, managed to survive by hiding in the hallway.
She was on the seventh floor at the time.
"Afterwards, everyone just kind of wondered what to do next," she said. "We all kind of worked together."
They systematically carried all the patients in beds down the stairwells to buses that took patients to other regional hospitals. Again, the theme was teamwork, with everyone making their first priority to make sure that everyone else was safe and accounted for.
In the coming weeks, surely the national media will be keeping tabs on the Joplin cleanup. The community will never really return to normal though, at least not the same normal that existed before the storm.
Joplin will still need enormous help along the way, and so will JCKW. Even though the initial outreach has been great, the non-local volunteers who have come in droves with disappear almost as quickly as they came, and Joplin will still have more cleaning up to do. If you'd like to help JCKW or Joplin, email Shawn Klosterman at email@example.com.
Since JCKW is a non-profit organization, all checks made to the club are tax-deductible. They have set up a separate bank account to accommodate the donations, and that money will be used to help families within the team that have been affected by the tornado to get back on their feet. Excess donations will be forwarded to the general Red Cross fund for Joplin aid.
"Six months from now, people are still going to be needing help," said Klosterman. "And we need to make sure that they're getting it."
- Tom Miazga: Everything He Could Have Ever Wanted…Almost -- May 31, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
ST. LOUIS, Missouri, May 31. HE's a sports fanatic, a singer, and a scholar. He also has a vision of being a Paralympic champion, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
Tom Miazga is a Paralympic swimmer with Ozaukee Aquatics in southeastern Wisconsin. He will also be a junior at Saint Louis University (St. Louis, Mo.) in the fall.
At SLU, Miazga has had an opportunity that very few Paralympians have: the ability to be a part of an NCAA Division I intercollegiate team. He acknowledges how special that opportunity has been for him.
"Realistically, I probably shouldn't be swimming on a D-I team…I'm just not up to that par," he said.
Miazga was born with spastic diaplegia, the most common form of cerebral palsy. A type of nerve damage, his CP means that neurons in his brain perpetually fire the message for muscles in the legs to contract.
"My lower extremities are always really tight," he said. "It makes it really hard for me to walk."
He can walk though, and you can routinely see him swinging his legs around, walking on his toes to the blocks before a race. Spurts of walking actually help his CP.
Cerebral palsy is not technically a progressive disability, but if Tom doesn't take care of it by stretching routinely and walking as much as he can, it could get worse to the point where he is completely confined to a chair. Swimming helps with the CP too.
On land, Miazga obviously feels a sense of confinement in his chair. His chair kept him from playing the pick-up soccer or football games in grade school. In general, he says that it was difficult at times to make friends as a child, just because kids are so judgmental, "Emotions run like a roller coaster."
Instead, a teacher, Steve Keller, reached out to Tom at recess and they would shoot hoops together. Steve had taught Tom's older siblings so he knew of Tom and his disability, but no one ever asked Steve to take the initiative in the situation. They'd play basketball every day, and Tom says the other kids got jealous.
You see, Steve was one of those "cool" teachers in elementary school. He got points for being one of the few male teachers in the school, and got even more points for being a funny guy. Everyone else wanted to hang out with "Mr. Keller."
"He made me realize that there's a lot more of me than just a kid in a wheelchair," Miazga said.
At the time, Steve was the swim coach at Cedarburg High School (Tom's alma mater), and was just starting Ozaukee Aquatics.
Steve noticed that Tom had a strong upper body (from the wheelchair), and encouraged him to try swimming. So, when Steve put up a private lesson in a school silent auction when Tom was in second grade, his mother bid on it and hoped to win.
As soon as she bid on the lesson, though, Steve bid on it as well, shooting the price up "super high."
"Basically, he won it for himself," Tom said.
Tom and his mother were confused, disappointed, and slightly angry when it was announced that Steve won the lesson. He caught up to Tom before he left and said, "Wait, wait, I had to make sure you won this [lesson]."
Steve actually increased the price to win the lesson for Tom, and their relationship had begun. Tom went to the lesson that next week and had a blast. But, more importantly, Tom realized how at peace he was in the water.
"The limitations that I had on dry land were gone," he said. "I could stand on one foot in the pool all day if I wanted to; I couldn't last 10 seconds on dry land."
He didn't have to worry about the chair, either. He just felt free. He knew that he had found his calling right away.
Steve was a senior coach at the time, so when Tom started, Steve wasn't his coach.
Tom swam until fifth grade, when a slip behind the blocks turned him off from the sport (remember those judgmental kids?). His older brother was playing baseball at the time, so naturally Tom wanted to give it a try.
His baseball days lasted all the way through middle school. By this point Tom had completely stopped swimming, and he didn't even talk to or see Steve anymore because he was in middle school.
Time passed, and the two might occasionally say an awkward hello if their paths crossed downtown, but that was the extent to their relationship over those years. High school came, and setting up for a Student Council event freshman year, Tom passed by the pool and saw Steve coaching. They exchanged that awkward "we need to catch up" glance, and Tom went into the pool to say hi.
They talked for more than an hour. "I ended up…leaving the pool realizing that [Steve] is one of my really good friends," he said. "[I knew I had to] be back in the pool."
That was a few weeks before the high school season was beginning. He didn't really have any expectations at that point; he just knew that swimming didn't have any cuts, and his chances of making the baseball team were slim.
And while he had some experience from when he first took up the sport six years prior, it was still like starting up all over again. His determination led him on a steady rise, though, becoming a national champion in the 100 back at the 2006 National Championships, and eventually winning the first gold medal for all of Team USA at the 2007 Para-Pan American Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in the 100 back. He went on to win six medals at the meet.
All these major competitions were simply a lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Games for Miazga, though. That experience is one of his proudest, and he holds it near to his heart (and also his arm; he has the Olympic rings tattooed on his right biceps).
He was only a junior in high school at that point, and says making it to Beijing was "icing on the cake." He and Steve's original goal was to make it to the 2012 games. Regardless, he still held himself to a high standard after making the team.
His goal was to final at the meet, which he did in the 400 freestyle; he was .03 from qualifying in his signature event, the 100 back. Outside of satisfying that goal, he used the meet as a learning experience. After all, you don't get a better environment to acclimate to high-level international competition as you do at the Paralympic Games.
In talking to Tom about making it to Beijing though, you can see how important Steve is to his swimming. It's not, "When I made Beijing," it's, "When we made Beijing." Tom and Steve are very close, and they both know that.
Tom describes his connection with Steve as a friendship where they look more like two friends than as a coach and swimmer. At practices they might come in talking about a trade they made in fantasy baseball, and during sets Steve might make fun of Tom for his legs, for which Tom will counter with a joke about Steve's gut or being fat. Simply put, Tom really wants to be just like Steve.
As impressive as his swimming accolades have been, Tom's collegiate resume of extracurriculars is just as impressive. In addition to being on the team, he is a Presidential Scholar and a member of "SLU Decadence," an a capella group. Balance all that with his physical therapy major and all the travel that's required in being a national team member, and Tom's always on the move. Just this last weekend, he was at a Paralympic World Cup event in Manchester, England.
For Tom, though, the biggest struggle in college has been figuring out where the importance of the Billiken swim team is for him. During his freshman year, Tom says that he focused all of his attention on the college season instead of on his Paralympic aspirations. He learned, and last year he sat down and decided that he was going to "do me," which meant passing on a few meets, including the Atlantic 10 conference meet, so he could save his taper for a Paralympic meet.
As a matter of fact, Tom is actually done swimming with the Billikens now. A large incoming class and resulting cuts helped Tom to make the decision to train at home in Wisconsin leading up to and following the Trials and Paralympics next year. He's going to take a full year off of school (the spring and fall 2012 semesters), and go for broke, with the ultimate goal of scoring a gold medal and world record at the meet. He trusts that they can do it.
While the Steve-Tom relationship is one of the key factors in Tom's current prominence, the opportunities Tom has been given have helped him almost as much. At SLU especially, head coach Jim Halliburton's decision to allow Tom to be a full-fledged Billiken was huge. Although it was hard for Tom at first to get used to training at first—warm-up in itself would be a workout—he said, "It's been more than I could ever expect."
Tom is living the dream. He actually decided on SLU based on the academics alone; the swimming working out just made it even more perfect. You see, at most of the schools Tom considered, the coaches shooed him away from their teams, telling him that he could just swim on their club team.
That wasn't what he wanted, though. As far as Tom was concerned, he was done swimming club; he was going to college and he wanted to swim with other college swimmers.
It has to be noted that Tom's decision to stop swimming collegiately is not a result of any negative experience with the team or coaches. It's not that he feels that his talents weren't appreciated, either (he cherished his role as a team motivator, and loved the family atmosphere). He just loves Paralympic competition so much.
"It's nice to actually have someone to race," he said.
Even though he may feel free in the water, when he's racing able-bodied athletes, his flaws are still obvious. That doesn't matter in Paralympics, though.
"It's nice to have people around that know what I'm trying to do," Tom said. "Whether it's through OZ or SLU, no one has really seen me swim Paralympically…they don't realize how well I do for myself, they don't realize I'm winning all these events."
He said, "I have a much more prominent name in Paralympics."
Prominent is an understatement. In the backstrokes and freestyles, Tom is tops in the United States. In addition to American records, Tom holds the Parapan American records in the 100 and 200 back, and is ranked sixth in the world in the 100 LCM back. Tom is confident that he will return to the Paralympics in London.
As for training in the future, Tom is looking at opportunities to swim with a post-graduate team, to experience what it's like to train with people who are all so focused on the Paralympics.
And even though he is studying physical therapy, Tom ultimately aspires to start his own club team, just like Steve did.
"I'm going to die on a pool deck," he said. "That's my goal."
This article was also featured by the U.S. Paralympic Team at http://usparalympics.org/news/2011/05/31/meet-2012-paralympic-hopeful-tom-miazga/42572?ngb_id=15
- Collin O'Connell: A Little Person Who Wants to be Shorter? -- May 24, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
HARTFORD, Wisconsin, May 24. COLLIN O'Connell is not a normal person. He is not a normal little person, either.
"You usually hear little people saying that they want to be taller," said O'Connell, a swimmer in Wisconsin.
Why does he want to be shorter, you ask? Well, that's a long story.
Collin is a 17-year-old who suffers from achondroplasia, the most common cause of dwarfism. It is the reason that he stands at 4-foot-5-inches tall.
He attends and swims for Hartford Union High School (located in Hartford, Wisc., about 45 minutes northwest of Milwaukee). Outside of the high school season, he swims for the Lake Country Phoenix Swim Team.
Collin has experienced many great successes in the pool, highlighted by the fact that he currently holds three American Paralympic records (50/100 SCM freestyles, 100 SCM backstroke), and has formerly held the records in the 50 and 100 SCY freestyles. Consider that he only just picked up the sport his freshman year and his story is even more impressive.
Oh yeah, he was afraid of water throughout middle school too, which means that even in a leisure context, Collin is an infant in the pool.
He is one of the only two S6 classified swimmers that he knows of in the United States; the other is North Carolina's Michael Hughes. Both are little people, and they have raced quite a bit over the past few years.
Their relationship seems interesting. Collin speaks highly of Hughes; he actually learned about how close he was to the S6 records from Hughes. Hughes name also appears regularly in the Paralympic record books.
For a swimmer like Collin, the challenges presented during the high school season are completely different than the challenges he faces in Paralympic competitions.
The limitations of being a little person are more complex than you might think. For a little person swimmer like Collin, the fact that he has short arms and legs don't cause him the most trouble. Instead, it's the fact that his body density is just as high as a person of normal stature.
The comparison is that a normal swimmer has arms and legs twice as long to keep them at the surface and propel them forward. For a little person, it's much more difficult to maintain a body position high in the water, and even harder to move forward through the water.
In a 25-yard length, Collin could take three times as many strokes as someone else might.
What all this means is that it takes him much more energy to get from point A to point B.
During his first high school season, this difference was blatantly obvious. It was a common sight to see coach Pete Meinberg jokingly screaming at a Collin sprawled out on the floor. He couldn't make it through much more than a 50, much the less make it through an entire practice.
Collin never gave up, though, and his team never gave up on him either. By the end of his freshman year, he was completing practices. He wasn't the fastest in the pool—he might have even been the slowest—but he was a member of the team.
WITI-6 (FOX), a Milwaukee news station, did a story about Collin in February 2010. It focused on how he was accepted by the HUHS team as just one of the guys.
Maybe that's the reason that he has improved so rapidly. In high school competition, all judgments aside, Collin is nearly out of his league. He knows that, though.
Often times, Collin's goal in races was to just beat someone. That was a lofty goal in itself.
In his junior season, though, Collin managed to beat two swimmers from other teams, feats that he's very proud of.
Paralympic competitions are much different than high school meets. At these, Collin will routinely take first or second place because there is very rarely a competitor with similar times. Even less often are times when Collin will get to compete with others in his class (like Hughes). You see, Collin will often find himself racing in composite heats with swimmers classified throughout the Paralympic spectrum. There isn't the volume of swimmers in Paralympic competition like there is on a high school or club platform.
Looking over the results from a Paralympic meet, there could be a two-minute discrepancy in a 100 between the time of the first and last place finishers.
It puts him in a tough position. On one hand, he loves having his high school teammates there to push him to get better; however, struggling to keep up during races takes a mental toll. Collin doesn't get any quantifiable reward for his high school experiences, he just gets to stand up before his next race and say, "I want to beat somebody."
On the other hand, he doesn't have steady competitors in the Paralympic meets. Even at the Dwarf Athletic Association of America 2010 National Games, there was never more than three men entered in an event; most events are empty altogether.
It's really an odd reward to win at some meets. "I could [go] my worst time [ever] and still get first place," he said.
"It's cool, but I want more…equal [competition]," Collin said. "Like [in] high school, everybody else can put themselves against somebody…[for me] it's more of ‘I just want to beat my own time.' I'm still racing, but it just doesn't really feel as rewarding because you're not beating anybody else."
"You're just swimming against yourself."
Collin's dwarfism has caused him trouble outside the pool, too. A rare case, Collin had bowed legs, which began causing him pain last fall. In the beginning, the pain only bothered him sporadically like in gym class, but progressed to a point where it hurt nearly every other day. Things like walking around too much at school could cause the pain to flare up.
"I dropped out of swimming because it hurt to do anything," Collin said.
Collin hasn't been in a pool since January; thus, his steady rise to the top got put on hold.
Working closely with his doctor, Collin had leg-straightening surgery March 1 to correct the problem. "We knew I was maybe going to need it for a while," he said.
He just hoped that it wouldn't come at this particular time.
During the six-hour surgery, doctors systematically broke Collin's tibia in two places and his fibula in another, and the bones were readjusted and bolted to external fixators so that they heal straighter. It sounds like a terrifying experience, but Collin just laughs it off and plays with the fixators under his pant legs. He thinks it's cool that he can touch the bolts and feel his bones move.
This surgery was highly necessary, and you might think that there aren't any cons to a procedure like this, just by putting into perspective the pain that Collin experienced because of his bowed legs. Well, there's just one little problem that came up because of the surgery.
Picture this: you've laid an arc of string on the floor. Now, grab the ends of the string and stretch them taught, so that the string is now in a straight line. What happened to the length of the string?
It should have gotten longer; it's basic geometry. Well, Collin's lower leg was no different. After the surgery, Collin was about one-half of an inch taller than when he started. On a 4-foot-5 frame, most little people would love to gain half an inch.
The caveat is that Collin was already at the maximum height allowed for a little person S6, which means that this extra half-inch will likely bump him up to the next category, S7. You could liken this to any other swimmer aging up from the 11-12 age group to the 13-14 group.
The competition is a lot faster in the 13-14 age group because it's the age at which a lot of children begin to hit their growth spurt, and their times drop off because of it. Usually, this isn't a debilitating shift just because even the late bloomers will be able to catch up eventually.
Collin's change will be different, though. Yes, while it's possible to "catch up" in his situation, he'll never hit that "growth spurt" that made the other kids fast. His catching up will be a continual process of improving his training, just like before the surgery.
There is a huge difference in times between the S6 and S7 category, too. To give a perspective, consider the current S6 record in the 50 SCY free, 34.95. The S7 record is over eight seconds faster, currently standing at 26.79. As the distances increase, so do the time differentials. If you get up to a 200 SCY free, for instance, the record for S7s is over 44 seconds faster than the S6 record.
If you want a cross-sport reference point, think of a single-A minor league baseball player getting moved up to the majors. The potential for him to succeed is there, but he's still in a different league.
That's the half-inch difference. That's why Collin wants to be shorter.
It's not that he's looking for an easy way out; that's not the case at all. Collin has known all along that he might have gone over the cutoff height just through natural growth.
The timing of it is what's most unfortunate. Next year is the Olympic year, which means that it's a Paralympic year as well (the Paralympics are held a few weeks after the Olympics in the same venues). If he was going to have a shot at making the U.S. Paralympic Team as an S6, it just became a lot harder as an S7.
It will probably be July before Collin can even get back in the pool again, which gives him less than a year until the qualifying meet next spring.
All he can do is try though. He knows he's still young, and this won't be his last chance. Again, he's only been swimming for less than three years. Some of the feats he's accomplished would be nearly unheard of for a swimmer of normal stature.
The story of when he broke the American record in the 100 SCY freestyle sticks out in coach Meinberg's head as the most impressive. It's Jan.17, 2010, at the Wisconsin Little Ten Conference Championships. Collin had a normal event load of two individuals and two relays.
Collin's 100 freestyle was clicking that meet, not individually, but on the 4x100 freestyle relay (the final event of the meet). On Meinberg's watch, Collin swam faster than the American record in the 100 free. The touchpads failed during that heat though, and no split times were recorded. No backup timers recorded the split either, because it was a relay. It was a situation created by unfortunate timing and terrible luck.
He wanted another try, though. Considering the circumstances, the officials allowed Collin to time trial the 100 free following the awards presentations at the end of the meet. This time, there were no malfunctions. Collin set a new record with that swim, going even faster than he did on the relay earlier.
Meinberg couldn't believe it. "I wouldn't expect a fully able-bodied swimmer to be able to accomplish what [Collin] did [on] the fifth swim within a two-and-a-half hour period."
And then there's the story of the 2010 Great Lakes Regional Games. Collin arrived late to the meet, missing all but the last five minutes of the warm-up period. Even without warming up, he still managed to set American records in the 50 SCM free, 100 SCM free, and 100 SCM back.
He is eager to get the fixators off so he can get moving again. He is an active person, and hates being limited by the fixators. While he may not have been swimming whole-heartedly during this junior season, he vows to return this summer with a greater intensity than he's ever had before.
Meinberg maintains his thinking that Collin can make the 2012 Paralympic team. Collin will not be heartbroken if he does not make it though. He assumes a long career still ahead of him, and just can't wait to get back in the pool.
- A Musical Survey of Swimmers -- May 16, 2011
Feature by Tyler Remmel
PHOENIX, Arizona, May 16. MUSIC and swimming have an intimate and long-standing relationship. We hum tunes in our head at practice, we hear songs pounding in warm-ups and between finals heats, and most swimmers swear by their iPods and headphones in the minutes preceding a race.
To most, it's more than just a form of entertainment or a way to pass the time. Music has the ability to convince a swimmer that it literally affects performance. In championship meets, a top qualifier can be heartbroken when meet management picks the parade song. Behind the blocks, some struggle to hear those final few seconds of "their song" before the starter calls them up. Playlists are pre-queued, and taking out the ear-buds is as habitual as putting on a cap and goggles.
Of course, music use is not universal. Everyone doesn't need it to perform at the highest level; in terms of a physical need, it could be argued that no one needs it. Yet, those who listen to music need it like a drug. They swear by it, and worry that not listening to their pre-race playlist will result in a poor swim.
The universality of music stems from the customizability that it offers, and how that can translate in music's ability to function in such a wide variety of roles. For one swimmer, a track that will get heartbeat and adrenaline levels up will suffice; another person might look for something that will calm the nerves. Some swimmers also say they need a light-hearted melody to shake the seriousness of the race, a song they can get up and dance to.
Music transcends societies, even in the swimming world. Human beings connect with music. We have favorite songs - songs that "speak" to us. We have times when we listen to a lyric and think, "Hey, that's talking about me!" or "Hey, I wish that was talking about me!"
This infatuation that a swimmer has with music is fascinating, and in an effect to quantify it, I decided to ask swimmers: What do you jam out to?
Questions in the survey included asking for the title and artist of a swimmer's "top pump-up/motivational song," why that song works and if they would select that song to walk out to in finals.
Even in a diverse survey sample (where there was an equal representation of male-to-female, and at least 10 percent of the sample hailed from another country), there was a repetitive tendency. Because an open-ended question like why a song works as motivation before a race can result in an infinite number of unique responses, I developed a list of 12 key words that attributed a song's motivational ability to its physical, emotional, and/or spiritual appeals.
Now, it is important to note that it has not been proven that music has a positive effect on physical performances in the pool. That said, the mental impact of music cannot be denied.
It seems that music affects the brain in a way similar to how tech suits did; if you believed that your suit was better than what the person standing next to you was wearing, it was an advantage. If you believe that music puts you in a better mindset, it will.
Thus, if you believe that your music is an advantage to you, then you will have that same sort of edge over your competitor that the suits gave—blissfully ignorant of the fact that your competitor probably has the same thoughts circulating through their head, but which doesn't actually matter that much.
BEAT, RHYTHM, BASS, HEARTBEAT, BUILD (Physical response keywords)
The word beat came up in the why responses almost twice as often as the next most common word, appearing in 58 percent of all responses. That said, it is apparent that the belief that music causes a physical effect could not be denied.
Swimmers believe the beat and tempo of a song has a direct effect on their heartbeat (heartbeat itself appeared in six percent of responses).
Ashland University swimmer Hueston Holder picked Hollywood Undead's "Undead" as his top pump-up song. "It's an upbeat song and is just something that will really get your blood pumping."
Bass correlated well with beat, and explains why 10 percent of the songs noted fall into the up-and-coming genre of "dubstep." Based on the concept of re-mixing songs, dubstep uses a lot of deep bass sounds and repetitive percussion phrases with a high tempo. Essentially, dubstep has all the elements that seem to be most important in a physical response to music.
For some, this physical reaction was based on more than just the beat or bass. The tendency for a song to build, especially in its introduction, was noted as a reason for high personal connection to that song–an emotional connection.
As an interesting side note, beat was not only contributed to increasing the heartbeat, but also decreasing it.
LYRICS, FOCUS, DANCE, CALM, HAPPY, BUILD (Emotional response keywords)
Developing an emotional connection to a song seems to stem primarily from the lyrics of the song. Thirty-two percent of respondents mentioned lyrics in their reasoning for selecting a particular song, the second-most popular keyword that appeared in the survey results.
This poetic connection also epitomizes the appeal that music has to a wide audience, causing reactions that make a swimmer feel like a song relates to his or her particular situation or life.
Played before every New York Yankees home game, Nelly's "Heart of a Champion" is a popular song played at sporting events of all kinds, swim meets included. Ashland University swimmer Julie Widmann picked it as her top motivational song. She said, "It only has positives to think on."
More superficially, the lyrics of a song dictate how easy it is to sing along to, which also was noted as the reason for picking songs in the survey. As the results showed, females tended to pick singable songs much more often than males. Songs that were easy to dance to were also popular among female respondents.
This ability to alter a swimmer's focus was widespread as well, being mentioned explicitly in 13 percent of responses. Interestingly, focus was used to describe a song's ability to increase focus as well as its ability to act as a distraction. This ambiguity again points to why music is so popular and listening is widespread.
DIFFERENT, MEMORY (Spiritual response keywords)
In the most rudimentary definition of the word spiritual, spiritual appeals also affected motivational song selection.
A song's tendency to be different was a draw for 10 percent of respondents. The word different has such an abstract definition, which was reflected in the ways that it was used in responses.
University of Northern Iowa swimmer Natalie Johnson picked "Machine Gun" by Noisia as her top motivational song on the basis of the superficial meaning of different.
"It's a bunch of different guns remixed with techno music," she said. "What's more [awesome] than that?"
Canadian swimmer Larissa Ruiz connects with "Chelsea Smile" (Bring Me the Horizon) on a much deeper level.
"I don't usually listen to screamo, but ["Chelsea Smile"] is something different," said Ruiz. "[It] just seems to channel an alternate self."
Then again, a spiritual connection to music can also be superstitious.
Former Ashland swimmer Allison Morgan picked Fort Minor's "Remember the Name" because of a personal superstition. "I had the meet of my life listening to it," she said.
Spirituality can even appeal to a song's ability to invoke memories. Buffalo swimmer Tracy Vogel remembers picking "Let it Rock" by Kevin Rudolf as her first finals walkout song.
"Since then, listening to [it] brings back good memories of that 200 fly," she said.
As it turns out, the ambiguity of music is its greatest strength as a motivator; in total, the songs mentioned in the survey fell into seven distinct genres. Oh, and if you're looking for a new song to put into your pre-meet playlist, here's a list of what came up in the survey:
"Amazing," Kanye West
"Blind Faith," Chase & Status
"Can't Be Touched," Roy Jones Jr.
"Chelsea Smile," Bring Me the Horizon
"Cities of the Future," Infected Mushroom
"Crazy Train," Ozzy Osbourne
"Don't Stop Me Now," Queen
"Fire Fire," Fannypack & Mr. Vegas
"Firework," Katy Perry
"Go Hard," DJ Khaled
"Heart of a Champion," Nelly
"I'm Me," Lil' Wayne
"It's My Life," Bon Jovi
"Let It Rock," Kevin Rudolf
"Lights Remix," Ellie Goulding
"Love is on Fire," ItaloBrothers
"Machine Gun," Noisia
"My Girl," DJ Khaled
"My Time," Fabolous & Jeremih
"Pon de Replay," Rihanna
"Remember the Name," Fort Minor
"September," Earth, Wind and Fire
"She Takes Me High," We the Kings
"The Recluse (Nero Remix)," Plan B
"The Time (Dirty Bit)," Black Eyed Peas
"Till' I Collapse," Eminem
"Undead," Hollywood Undead
"We R Who We R," Ke$ha
"What the Hell," Avril Lavigne