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?'"