Sunday, January 10, 2016

Swimming is my Drug

Like a drug addict changes his life so he can shoot, snort, or smoke his drug, I change my life so I can swim. A drug addict might be homeless, they might be poor and hungry, they might be dirty and smelly, they might even be rich and fancy, but no matter their state of life, they figure out how to live their life with their expensive drug.

Like it is impossible for a drug-addict to clearly explain their addiction to another person, it's almost impossible to clearly explain my addiction to competitive swimming.

But unlike drugs, swimming is healthy both physically and mentally. That's why it's a perfectly ok thing to be addicted to. Yes, I set my priorities in life: God, family, and school, and if I have to occasionally miss a swim practice to take care of one of those, I do so. But at 4:30 each day almost every day of the year, I am on the pool deck, cap and goggles, ready to swim.

I do not know if I will ever stop swimming. I might swim myself to death just as a drug-addict can drug themselves to death. But I do know this. I will one day stop training the way I do now. I will train until I reach my max potential. I will love it. I will savor it. I will live in each amazing moment. But once I know I am there, I will stop training. I will then become a swim coach and use my energy and my time to help others reach their max potential. Because the only thing more beautiful than reaching mine will be helping others reach theirs.

But at the end of the day, I'll hit that water. Because I will never be able to give up the feeling of water through my fingers and the smell of chlorine on my skin. I will never be able to give up having my breath taken away.

I didn't find swimming. It found me. It snatched me up in it's net and forever holds me helpless in it's trap and it's freedom.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Letter to Allie

Dear Allie,

Coach George and Summir asked me to take you under my wing in swimming, but the truth is I already did before they asked me to. The second I saw you swim with George for the first time, I saw myself. When I came onto the team, I was soooooooo slooooooow compared to the other swimmers. You started late too. I started later than you, but we are both still effected in the same way. Both of us came onto the team with little to no athletic background or abilities. We came in and joined one of the hardest sports that exists.

I am here to tell you how much better you have gotten. Instead of putting yourself down, look at where you were a month ago. You are not slow compared to that. In fact, here is a link to an article I wrote as a guest writer for the Kiefer swim blog. You should read the whole thing through.

As late swimmers, we have extra strain on our bodies and minds. In a few months, we are expected to accomplish what other swimmers take their entire childhoods to accomplish. But don't see this as a bad thing. It's actually beautiful. It shows how though we are. This short course season, I am just beginning to dip my toes into the fast lane. Just the other day, I was swimming in the fast lane, and we were doing 50, 50s on the 55. We were supposed to be tapering with our heart rates at 140. But actually my heart rate went up to 180. See just to accomplish the same thing as other swimmers, we have to send our heart rates up higher because we are still building that aerobic base they built when they were little. We get tired more quickly, but we know how to push through and keep going anyway. That's what makes us so tough. We have to rely on our mental strength and toughness because we are still building that aerobic base.

You may look at me and think how much faster I am than you. Stop looking at me like that. Look at me and think, "that is where I will be." Whether you get there sooner or later, you will get there. I am not like the other swimmer who swam their whole lives. I am the results of a late swimmer who worked their tail off. You can be that too. It's like climbing a rock cliff. But when you reach the top, you have a beautiful view. You look down and see what you climbed, and you can say, "I did that!"

So here's what I want you to do. Come swim in the fast lane. Those slower lanes are jam packed full of kids. In the girl's fast lane, there are only three to four swimmers. Most of the time, we have the same send-offs. If we have the same intervals, it's actually better, because where in the slow lane, you get run over twenty times, in the fast lane, you get passed only a few times. And you get passed by swimmers who know how to politely pass without running you over. They are more accepting and encouraging because they are more mature. The younger swimmers are still learning.

Lastly, become a fire. Let your accomplishments fuel you. Let your high heart rate power you. Love it! Soak it up! When you drop time in a race, yell and cheer. Don't look at swimming as something someone is forcing you to do, look at it as an opportunity to become something great. Look at it as a chance to prove wrong everything you ever told yourself you couldn't do. Let swimming help you grow not just as an athlete but as a person. Let swimming motivate every part of your life.

Your teammate,


Saturday, October 10, 2015

He Will Be Loved Forever: Gregory Ivar Menton

I want to draw a picture of Gregory Ivar Menton, but the only one I can find is the one carved onto a plaque over the drinking fountain at the pool.

I swim on the Chehalem Swim Team and lifeguard at the Chehalem Aquatic Center in Newberg, Oregon. Today, I was lifeguarding and an older couple came onto the pool deck. They were in their street clothes. They walked around, looked in the display cases filled with trophies for the water polo and swim teams, and looked at the record boards for the teams. They took some pictures.

Being the person who loves to talk about my swim team, I walked over and asked them if they had any questions. They said no. Then we talked a bit about the records on the CST board. I told them that some of the records had been broken by some of our current swimmers, but they had never been posted.

"Do you have kids who were on the team?"

"Greg Menton," the lady said.

My eyes almost fell out of my head. I knew of Greg, though I was only a few weeks old and several thousand miles away when he died. I knew of him from the plaque over the drinking fountains, and from a health class I took where the instructor told us of him.

I just recently pulled up some articles of him online. He swam and played water polo for the Chehalem club teams and for the Newberg high school teams. He went on to play water polo and swim for the University of Massachusetts. He was the first full-scholarship recipient at UMass, and he held several school records in the 100 back and 100 fly, and a few more in water polo. He also has several records from Newberg High School swimming and water polo. His swimming records from '93 still have not been broken. They are displayed up on the large blue board, and to be honest, I hope no one ever beats his records. In my opinion, he deserves to have those up there forever.

On the plaque at the Chehalem Pool, it lists his achievements. There are so many more that I cannot even remember all of them.

On January 10, 1996, he collapsed on the pool deck at a UMass swim meet. He died an hour later from cardiac arrest. There was absolutely no signs of this coming. He had checkups several times a year and seemed healthy as ever.

"I have only heard of him, and he was an amazing person," I said.

"He was," his mother said.

I am writing this not just because he was a great loss to the world of swimming and water polo, he was a great loss as a wonderful person. I may not have known him, but he holds a place in my heart, especially because we both share the love for water sports. I am sure he is greatly missed by his friends and family.

To his parents, he was not just a great athlete, he was their son. His parents knew him from the moment he was born. They were there for all the moments in his life. They raised him and loved him, and still love him, and will love him forever.

He may have passed away almost twenty years ago, but that plaque over the drinking fountain will share his legacy and memory with others forever. Other swimmers and water polo players will be able to look up to him for inspiration; even athletes fifty years down the road. I see swimmers and polo players read his plaque all the time as they stand at the drinking fountains filling their water bottles.

Even though we are getting a new pool, he will live on forever. I swear that as a swimmer for the Chehalem Swim Team and an employee for the park district, I will make sure his plaque gets hung at the new pool. I will even ask Jim to hang it in a more grand place than over the drinking fountains. Thousands and thousands of more races and more water polo games will be played in front of his plaque.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Best Place to be a Leader is in the "Slow" Lane

swim in the slow lane. My coaches refuse to call it the slow lane, because to them, none of their swimmers are "slow." Personally, I don't think any of us are slow either, but with the exception of three swimmers, most of the swimmers on the team are slower than at least someone else on the team.

George's training group has three lanes. The left lane is the fastest: swimmers that can go about 25 seconds or less in their fifty yard freestyle. The middle is everyone between 25 and 29 seconds. The right lane... Well that's the lane I'm about to tell about. Our fifties are about 30 seconds or longer.

When I first started swimming on the team, I swam in the slow lane. A year and a half later, I still swim in the slow lane. Where I used to be literally the slowest swimmer, I am now one of the fastest in the lane. But I'm not here to boast or claim that I'm awesome or anything. I'm here to say that I've found myself in a leadership position. That's right, in the slow lane.

A lot of leaders and inspirations to the slower swimmers are in the fast lanes, but some of the most effective are the ones that are in their own lane. That's because we are right there training with them. They are the ones chasing us across the pool during sets. The leaders are the ones pushing them to be their best.

One girl in my lane always complains that she's slow. She down talks herself a lot. When I hear her and and watch her, I don't have to go back very far to when I was in her shoes... Or should I say flippers?

I know how destructive it is to down talk yourself. I know how hard it is to be in the back, get lapped during sets, and quickly fall behind. I know how easy it is to say, "I'm so slow!"

But I look at this girl and I see that, one season in, she is way faster than I was my first season on swim team. I see it as my responsibility to be a leader for her, and anyone else in our lane who needs some positivity. "Come on, girl! Work your hardest. That's what's going to make you drop time and get faster. Give it everything you have!" I tell her where I used to be. I tell her that George used to time my 200 free with a calendar... One day, two days, three days... 

She has gotten a million times better over just a few months. She already moved up two training levels. When she first joined the team, she could barely do breaststroke, and she didn't know the first thing about butterfly. Now she rocks at butterfly. Look at where you were, and where you want to be. Not where you aren't.

You never know when one day, you suddenly find yourself in a leadership position, and an inspiration for other swimmers, even if you aren't the fastest. Being a leader and an inspiration is extremely rewarding. Leaders encourage others, and it boosts their own confidence in return.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

That Thing

I don't know what it's called...

That thing that pulls me out of bed in the morning

Fries me two eggs

Throws me in the cold water at 5am

Makes my legs kick until they burn, then kick some more

Makes my face scrunch up into something fierce as I pour in every last ounce of myself

Picks me up from my desk

Puts my swim bag on my back

Marches me down to the pool to do it all over again

Crams me in my practice suit

Makes me do that next fifty when I swear this is the end of my life

When my heart beats so hard I can check my pulse without my fingers

Puts my hand in the water correctly even though my shoulder is almost broken

Makes me laugh and cry

Bonds me with my teammates

Makes me doubt and dream, fail and succeed

Makes me wonder how I got here, one year later

I don't know what it is, but I call it fire.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Throw Your Brain in the Trashcan: A Personal Experience Guide for Sprinters

This post is based off a situation that occurred just this passed Wednesday at swim practice. Just three days after a big meet, my coach had his swimmers racing hundreds off the blocks. The first hundred yards, we did freestyle. I dove in, did a nice strong hundred, and came out at a 1:21. My personal record was 1:20.05.

“You know, George,” I said, “I just have not swum my hundred at my highest potential. I mean, I know I can do much better than that with where I am at in my training right now.”

Looking at me over his glasses, he said, “You know what your problem is?”

“I don’t kick?”

“Well, yes, that, but it’s your brain. You keep thinking about what you’re doing.”

“Oh man,” I said, “I was that way when I took private lessons before I joined swim team. I was that way when I joined. Now I see I am still that way.”

“I know,” George said, “Get in that pool, swim your hundred as hard as you can, and don’t think about anything.”

“Ok,” I said. I nodded my head. I knew what George meant. See, when I first joined swim team, my muscles didn’t have the strokes memorized, and I mean down to the finest detail. They still don’t have everything memorized down to the finest details, but I came to the conclusion that my muscles were now good enough to swim a hundred yards nice and hard without thinking about what I was doing.

That evening, I learned an entire new mindset. I put on my goggles and closed my eyes. There was no nervousness or doubt present in my mind or body. I’m not sure if I even knew how to swim freestyle as I mounted the blocks. My thoughts were numbed. All knew was that I was in a pool of water. I put my mind in the moment.

I hit the water with a nice smooth dive. I hardly even remember what exactly happened in my race, but I do remember that nowhere in my stroke did I falter. Faltering usually happened when I let my mind wake up. Then a flood of thoughts, memories, and doubts began flooding my brain. Then they entered my bloodstream and pulsed through every vein in my body.

But none of that happened. I’m pretty sure I could have been hospitalized for how little brain activity was happening inside my head. I do remember one slight moment when my mind realized I had only on lap left. I quickly shut it out, and let my body dance to the fast beat I had created, adding even more fuel as I made my way to the wall.

I hit the wall and looked up at my coach. I know when I’ve done something remarkable with my swimming, because my coach turns red and gets this look on his face like he is the proudest person, and I am the best swimmer in the world.

He waited for the other swimmers to come in, told them their times, and then came over to my lane. He showed me my time on his stopwatch: 1.16.73. It was my first time breaking 1:20 in my hundred yard freestyle. That was a tremendous improvement in my one year and two months of swim team: a 28 second drop.

To all the sprint swimmers, before you head over to the blocks before your race, make sure to stop by the trashcan and drop your brain in much like Squidward in the picture below.

What Race?

I was just looking at a picture on Facebook of one of my former coworkers. It is a picture of her when she was little. She is covered head to toe in mud, is holding a soccer ball, and has an arm cast. It once again reminded me of how un athletic I was as a kid. I liked some games, but I was the kind of kid who'd rather sit and daydream. Those memories made me think about how I am now with my swimming. I am the most out of shape and un athletic swimmer my coach ever had. My coach has me go through about a half hour of stretching and core work a day to get my body more like how a swimmer's body should be. I was thinking about this all because I wonder why I love swimming so much when I was never an athletic child, nor did I ever have an athletic body.

I've come to the conclusion that its what's inside my head that makes me love swimming, or at least that was the original reason. Now, I don't just swim for my mind. My body loves it too. I don't just feel physically better and healthier, I am pretty much addicted to it. A couple days of no swim practice kills me and has me feeling like a slug.

Inside my head, I think I've always been a competitive person with everything in general. The reason it never really got me anywhere was because of how negative I was at the same time. I was really hard on myself and constantly compared myself to others.

Now, in swimming, that mindset has affected me tremendously. The one thing that is much much much harder than the physical part is overcoming the attitude and mental issue. I believe being athletic is more mental than physical. Train the mind, and the body will fallow.

I slowly got better as my swimming progressed. One of the largest breaking points in my mental progress was a few months ago at a big home meet. I swam a horrible race where my goggles fell off. It was my first time crying over a race. My coach had to have a talk with me about not letting my races get to my emotions. Though he made his point, ingrained it into my head, and taught me a lesson, he was empathetic and kind about it. My coach knows how to work with his swimmers personally and individually. He knows each one of his swimmers as a father knows each one of his children.

I did not get better instantly, but the situation educated my brain so that I was much more aware of the way I reacted to my races. Not only did a negative attitude destroy me, it made a bad influence on my teammates, especially the younger ones. It was contagious. My coach taught me to climb out of the pool after a not-so-good race, find out what I did wrong, how I could fix it next time, and then forget I even swam it. "If anyone asks about the race afterwards, just say, "what race?'"