Monday, November 24, 2008

Swim Through It

In most parts of the U.S., we have turned the corner on outdoor-allergy season and are now embarking upon the upper-respiratory infection season. Nowhere is this more evident than in a pool. Or, to be more precise, in a pool’s lockerroom where half the team is gacking up a lung before and after swim practice.

The lockerroom is where you can really see and hear who’s got what and how bad. In the pool itself, it all sort of smears together and one can only hope that chlorine is killing most of it.

Some of this onslaught of disease will be due to what coaches call the "Thanksgiving Effect." Kids head home from college in late November to commune with family and friends, then they return to campus, carrying all sorts of new germs. Mr. Coach used to schedule a mini-taper meet for that first weekend back after Thanksgiving break until he realized that all he was doing was transporting 45 different pathogens across three state lines and back. Now he does the trip the weekend before Thanksgiving and then washes his hands – literally and figuratively – of the team for a week.

Most athletes, it must be acknowledged, will try to swim through illness. After all, half of them are used to functioning with limited lung capacity because of asthma, and the other half can’t hear out their left ear because of the chronic infections. And most of them are used to avoiding antibiotics as long as possible because they know that 10 days of amoxicillin has about the same effect on one’s swimming as donating a gallon of blood does, plus it makes you more susceptible to sun poisoning in Florida.

But there often comes a time when a coach has to step in and force a kid to go see the friendly folks at University Health Services. There’s bleary-eyed from pulling an all-nighter for an organic chem test, and then there’s bleary-eyed from the onset of mononucleosis. An experienced coach recognizes the difference. Usually it’s the inability to stay awake during kick sets.

An experienced coach also knows who can and can’t be believed when the symptoms for bronchitis, shingles or mad-cow disease seem to present themselves. Athletes would do well to remember this the next time a heart rate over 180 tempts them to feign cardiac arrest: You can pay now or you can pay later when you’ve got a goober geyser coming out your nose and 3,000 yards still to go.

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