Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Hairless Wonders

I know there are a lot of people in the swim world who think that British sports journalist Craig Lord singlehandedly brought about the banning of high-tech swimsuits.  But, as I watched Mr. Coach watch his athletes with more trepidation than usual this past week, I realized there are other people who may bear responsibility for the demise of those full-body flotation devices.  And that would be Messrs. Schick and Gillette, followed closely by Mr. Band-Aid and Mr. Neosporin.  With the loss of the high-tech suit, we have regained a commitment to hairless bodies gliding through water, and I am sure these other gentlemen are very happy about that.

It’s been a few years, I’ve also realized, since the buildup to conference championships brought with it a nervousness that goes beyond hoping that everyone hits their taper correctly.  It’s a nervousness that had Mr. Coach monitoring Facebook the night of the boys’ big shaving party for embarrassing photos and reports of uncontrollable bleeding.

Of course there are no such worries with the girls, but I don’t want to turn this into yet another “Differences Between Coaching Girls vs. Boys” blog.

Oh, who are we kidding, of course I do. 

Difference No. 582:  Girls can shave their legs without cutting off their legs. 

Difference No. 583:  Girls may come up with a lot of strange excuses for socializing (decorating baked goods for major holidays, scrapbooking, and discussing the moral failings of entire fraternal organizations) but removing hair from their bodies usually is not one of them.  Shaving down is just one more of those purpose-driven activities with girls, so they tend to hunker down and “git‘r done” without the benefit of pizza or homoerotically-charged bonding rituals.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  Some of my best friends have been men who shave their bodies and wear spandex, sometimes even latex, all year long, and they’re not even swimmers.  It’s just that when they are swimmers, there’s an increase in giddiness and a decrease in fine-motor-skill control that makes their coach very, very nervous. 

But you know what?  It’s kind of nice to be buying Band-Aids in bulk again.  As they say on those road signs on the way into Maine, it’s “The Way Life Should Be.”

* * * * * * *

And on this vivid note, I’d like to take my leave of the Mrs. Coach Chronicles.  I never really thought I’d do this for as long as I have, but I also promised myself that I’d stop before I ran out of things to say.  All I set out to do in the beginning was create a record of my family’s experiences in this sport, and I feel as if I’ve accomplished that and then some.

I’d like to thank everyone who has found the site and especially those who have come back every week for more.  If you’d like to drop a line and say hi and introduce yourself, I’d love to hear from you (there’s an email link in my profile).  It’s been an absolute delight to look at the site’s traffic reports and see some of the locations around the globe where people are logging in from.  But if you don’t, that’s OK, too.  Just know that I appreciated your taking the time to read. 

And don’t worry – I’ll be leaving the site up as an archive.  I’ve had some very kind suggestions to get this whole thing published as a book, but honestly, I don’t know of a publisher who’d go for something as specific in topic as this.  But if you do, by all means, send them my way. 

In the meantime, I hope that swimming and all that surrounds this crazy sport continues to enrich your lives the way it has mine.  And think of these stories as having been my little Valentine to the world of sport.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blame Australia

So here’s a really dumb new swimming problem I’ve discovered that I have:  my flip turns.

See, I first started getting somewhat proficient with this swimming thing about six years ago when the whole family decamped for Australia where Mr. Coach was doing his teaching sabbatical.  He was working long hours at the Australian Institute of Sport there in Canberra (it’s like one of our U.S. Olympic Training Centers but with a looser dress code and more beer).  The kids were young so I wasn’t able to get out for daytime runs very much.  But I was able to go for lap swimming at odd hours like 10 or 11 p.m. because that’s how it is in Australia.  They are not kidding when they say swimming rules Down Under.  We were living in a city of about 300,000 people:  Canberra had only one running track (at the AIS behind locked gates) but at least seven 50-meter indoor pools that were open to the public no less than 18 hours a day.  So just for the convenience alone, I was doing a lot more swimming than I had ever done before, and the habit has stuck with me ever since. 

Fast forward to Florida and six years later.  For the first time since Australia, I’m having to share a lane with more than one person.  At my home pool at Mr. Coach’s university, I rarely have to share a lane and when I do, it’s only with one person and we just each take one half of the lane.  (And I’m not telling you where this pool is because I don’t want you showing up, thinking you can get a lane to yourself.)

So there I am, tucked in with my kids and the college kids, eight or nine to a lane, and I come flipping off the wall…and nearly plow right into whomever was behind me.  This happened several times until I figured out how to either swim far enough ahead of people or far enough behind them that it didn’t matter.  And of course it’s a towering testament to my swimming inexperience that I couldn’t figure out what the heck was wrong until a week later when we got back home.  (I didn’t want to bug my husband with it because he had enough on his plate, dealing with a sociopathic bus driver and the daily onslaught of strained pinky toes on the team).

So you know whose fault my inability to flip-turn without giving myself a hernia was?  Australia’s.  I remembered that I had learned how to flip turn down there and come off a wall -- in a clockwise direction.  Which is how they circle-swim in shared lanes in Australia.  You flip over, push off and hang a right.  And that really works well for me because I’m so dominantly right-handed.  In the U.S., however, you need to hang a left coming off the wall unless you want to do a corkscrew to get yourself over to the other side of the lane (hey, I’ve met swimmers who like to get dizzy doing corkscrews). 

OK, so you who have been swimming since you were toddlers are right now saying, “Ah ha ha, that dumb Mrs. Coach!”  But you know what?  You probably never thought about this until I brought it up.  You learned how to do your counter-clockwise flip-turn when you were 3, and that was that.  Granted, it’s not impossible to make the switch but, just like learning how to drive on the other side of the road, it’s a skill where I can’t just zone out and let instinct take over.  I’m always going to have to remain ever so slightly self-aware and remember to turn left and not right.  And that’s just ridiculous because I’m American and I am programmed to flip-turn like an Australian. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bonus Round Friday!

If you've ever wondered what Mr. Coach and his erstwhile English Channel swimmers look and sound like, this is your lucky day!  They're the stars of some NCAA On Campus In Partnership with CBS College Sports TV thing this month.  So have a peek and then say to yourself, "Yup, they sure do like they could use a new pool there."

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dwayne the Pool, Mama, I’m Dwowning!

It’s that time of the year when little things mean a lot.  One of Mr. Coach’s swimmers not too long ago posted on his Facebook page that pre-taper makes him feel like he wakes up with a hangover every day.  Discounting the fact that this particular athlete wouldn’t know a hangover from a hangnail, he does have a point.  During this part of the swim season, the athletes’ bodies are acutely sensitive to any stimulus. 

We recently stumbled upon a new and unintended stimulus.  Owing to an exceptionally dysfunctional relationship with the university’s maintenance staff, Mr. Coach walked into the natatorium a few days ago to find that about a foot of water had been drained out of the pool.  Without warning, the maintenance staff had decided that this was the day they would fix a lane-line anchor they got a repair request for about 18 months ago.  (I am not making this up.)

Well, it was what it was.  Practices had to go on.  But when your shallow end is only three and a half feet deep to begin with, that takes flip-turn precision to a whole new level.  And when they were able to start refilling the pool, that also meant the water temperature was going to drop a bit.  I came by afternoon practice just to see what it looked like.  It was really weird how a different water level affected everything.  The acoustics were different, the air temperature was different, seeing all the pool-length markings that are usually underwater was different.  But, most importantly, the athletes were different, too.

Mr. Coach and I stood there and watched them, doing their warm up.

“I’m thinking this might not be such a bad thing,” he said while we watched the team, chattering giddily as they did their kicking.

“How’s that?” I said as one of the athletes did a turnaround at the wall near us and shouted up, “This is so weird!!!”

“They were really dragging an anchor last practice, which is normal this time of year,” Mr. Coach said, “but now….”

We watched as a bunch of them were jumping up and down in the really shallow end and some of them were repeating flip turns against the really shallow end’s wall.  

“Now they have energy,” he said.  “I might have to do this on purpose in the future.”

Consider yourselves warned, kids.

[Incidentally, the photo up top was taken on this particular day when the university's PR department, with whom Mr. Coach has an equally dysfunctional relationship, decided that they needed to take a publicity photo of some swimmers for a cancer-research fundraiser (notice the pink caps?)  The drained water was about half-way refilled when the photo was taken.]  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Everything You Ever Needed to Know about Mr. Coach…

…you learned playing Risk with his son.

This is for Mr. Coach’s swimmers who were so very kind as to teach my son how to play that classic board game Risk when we were just down in Florida.  I don’t think it took them long to regret that.  No one likes to lose an entire continent to an 11-year-old. 

But as tempted as I was to feel sorry for the guys, I realize this was probably a valuable learning experience for them.  That’s because Little Mr. Coach is, in many ways, a carbon copy of his father.  The swimmers can complain about every last curve ball that Mr. Coach throws at them in the pool -- the unusual workouts, the strange time-trial distances, the unexpected applications of PVC tubing and the second law of thermodynamics -- but at least now they know there’s a genetic component to the insanity.

You see, not long after Little Mr. Coach learned the basic rules of the Risk game – you roll dice, you acquire troops, you take over the world – the college-aged swimmers were complaining that he was hard to play against because he was so “unorthodox” and “unpredictable.”  And your point would be what exactly, guys?

But what else did you learn about the Coach family males through the game of Risk?  Well, you learned that the Coach boys refuel early and often with peanut butter and apples.  And they’ll share what they have to eat but you better be prepared to share what you have -- even if all you have is a promise not to attack them in any Asian territories or to swim the 400 IM without whining.

You also learned that ADHD is not so much a learning need as it is a lifestyle choice.  Now there are some people in today’s world who do consider uncontrolled energy and a fragmented attention span to be liabilities.  I say they’re only liabilities if you think the ability to sit still and focus on one thing at a time is an asset.  And last I checked, sitting still and focusing on one thing at a time was not in the job description for swim coaches.  Or global domination.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Body Language

Part of being in a “beachy” part of the world is that physical appearance seems to become much more important to people.  Don’t ask me why, it just does.  Whether people are stripping off the clothes or slapping on more makeup, it’s all about how they look.  And that was definitely the case in Fort Lauderdale this winter.

In some ways, I’d say, this attitude has actually gotten more prevalent down there.  I hadn’t been on the winter training trip to south Florida in a few years, so I was curious to see what had changed.  All it took was one afternoon spent at a local arts festival to get my answer.  As we pushed through the crowd, past the booths of artist vendors, I was dumbfounded by what I saw all around me.  In fact I made a mental note to check the newspaper later and see if there was a “Salute to Dysmorphia” convention going on in town because I have never seen so many women (and more than just a few men) whose faces had been artificially altered.  And not in a good way.   Their faces were unnaturally smooth with big, blubbery fish lips and tiny, taut eye slits, but the rest of their bodies were naturally saggy and speckled, just as you’d expect from anyone in their gravity prone years.  It was so bad and there was such a critical mass of these people stumbling around in bedazzled jeans and stiletto heels that my own children had to tell me not to stare. 

At the other end of the extreme are the folks for whom it’s all about their bodies.  I’ve long noticed an interesting phenomenon with some masters athletes:  For each item of clothing they remove, their posture improves by about an inch.  By the time they get down to the near-bare essentials, their heads are in the clouds and their abs are in your face.  I definitely saw a few of these people strutting around the pool deck there at ISHOF.  I never actually saw any of them swimming, but they definitely spend a lot of time wearing swim suits. 

Of course with those who have a more functional relationship with their bodies (i.e., college swimmers putting in 10,000+ yards of swimming a day), appearance is not much of an issue.  In fact a sure-fire way to tell if someone isn’t swimming enough is to gauge how much effort they’ve put into getting dressed.  If there isn’t at least one greasy pizza stain on the sweatshirt they’ve been wearing since they got there, then you know they’ve got another 2,000 yards in them.  Conversely, when they show up wearing some portion of the pizza, then you know it might be time for an easy day. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Road Trip

So the Little Coaches and I went to Florida with Mr. Coach and the college team this year.  Every year, all across this fine North American continent, swim teams of the college, high school and club variety head some place warmer (in theory) during their school breaks to train hard, work on their tans and spend waaay too much time together.  By the time the 10-14 day experience is over, you know more than you will ever want or need to know about your teammates’ diets, deviated septums, dysfunctional love lives, and personal hygiene issues.  On the plus side, though, you will find out that the kid from Wisconsin is an accent savant and does an Australian Christopher Walken that has to be heard to be believed.

I know this because, just to make this year’s journey a truly authentic experience, I decided that the kids and I would travel with the team.  On the bus.  In the past, I’ve always flown but this year, as I reviewed my options, I realized that every time I’ve flown during the holiday season, it has been an unmitigated disaster.  It doesn’t matter where you go but if you entrust your carcass to an airline anytime between roughly Dec. 21 and Jan. 8, I can guarantee you will have a terrible experience.  It doesn’t even matter if you’re a mother traveling alone with two small children:  The airline agent will cover her monitor and attempt to convince you that you were booked on the previous flight.  You’ll get bumped.  You’ll sit on the tarmac for five hours of de-icing.  You’ll spend the night in an airport you got re-routed to because of bad weather at your destination.  You will regret ever leaving home, no matter how cold and ice-ridden it may be.

So I made the executive decision that the Little Coaches and I would join Mr. Coach and the team on the bus.  And I don’t regret my decision in the least, especially not after reading that on a flight that I might well have been on the day we left Florida, some idiot stood up and announced he wanted to “kill all the Jews.”  Who needs that, I ask you?  Certainly not me.  I’ll take 20-plus hours on a bus with two cases of intestinal disorders, six varieties of upper-respiratory disease, a “Jaws” DVD and a bus driver who may or may not have been part of a witness protection program over a bag of honey-roasted peanuts and the Second Coming of Hitler. 

And it was a great trip, colder-than-usual weather notwithstanding.  We went to the International Swimming Hall of Fame complex in Fort Lauderdale where the 318th edition of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America winter training forum was taking place.  Part of the deal was that the Little Coaches and I also had to swim.  Not a problem.  There is something very empowering about walking around the pool deck there in Fort Lauderdale as a 20 mile-per-hour wind and 57-degree temps buffet your soaking-wet body, especially when you realize that most people in your demographic are, at that very moment, dry, fully clothed and doing something to earn money.  (You say “clinically insane,” I say “empowering.”) 

I also put a dent in my open-water phobia by going coral-reef snorkeling in 10-foot swells.  It was awesome and I know the divemaster dude thought I was crazy for sure when I asked him what the water temp that day was, and he said, “About 73 degrees,” and I said, “That’s perfect!”  He replied, “That’s not what I would have said.”  And I said, “You obviously haven’t been in my husband’s pool during the high-yardage part of the season.”

I’ve got other interesting experiences to share in my next couple of blogs, but suffice it to say, it was an excellent experience.  Although if I never see another Transformer movie, I will not complain.