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.