Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gone Fishin'

I’m going to take a little break for the holidays now.  And when I return on Jan. 10, I promise I’ll have new adventures in swim-coach spousing to share!

In the meantime, just to make life easier for you all, here are links to what I’ve found are my most popular blogs.  Most have made their way to this list because people obviously have a deep and abiding interest in water-based gender warfare.  (I also have well-visited blogs because some people also have a deep and abiding interest in using search engines to find Internet content about MILFs and “boys in showers.”  I have chosen not to spotlight those particular blogs.)

With a few others I’ve listed, it’s because they are also my personal favorites.  Whatever brings you to this site, thank you very, very much for reading.  I hope you all have a great holiday season wherever on this planet you are, and I’ll see you on the flip side of the New Year!

“Coaching Girls vs. Boys” – when this one first debuted on “another Web site” back in August 2008, it ignited accusations of sexism (I chose not to transport those comments when I set up this site in March 2009).  Obviously the accusers have neither coached nor parented both genders. 

“Coaching Girls vs. Boys, Round Two” – the evidence was piling up, so it was time to download some new observations.

“Coaching Girls vs. Boys, Round Three” – since this one ran in October, our hungry young man has added another entrée to his shower menu:  pomegranates.  You might think he’s just messing with us, but clearly you haven’t met Max.

“Are You There, God?  It’s Me in Last Place” – this is probably my personal favorite.  I live in a state that is arguably the buckle on the Bible Belt, and rarely a week goes by when I don’t thank God (or your Higher Power) for making Sister Caroline Mary a part of my education.

“Just Look at the Parents” – I wish I had transported the comments when this one first ran on “another Web site” because I heard from a swim club in Chicago that really had tried to recruit the oldest Obama child to compete for them after she aced their swim lessons.  It’s a small world after all.

“Spouse Coaching” and “Spouse Coaching, The Return of” – these two have been visited quite a bit but the visit that gave me that heart-swell of authorial pride was the one that came in on the Google search term “coaching a paranoid spouse.”  Likewise the visit (from Italy, no less) that came in on the search term “get your own damn dinner.”  When you see that your words have gotten stuck inside someone else’s head like a cockle burr sticks to a sock, then you know you’ve made your mark in this world.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Most coaches are going to tell you they love to work with intelligent athletes, but most athletes will tell you that the competitors they fear most would flunk a CAT scan in search of brain activity.  Why the seeming discrepancy?

Well, in the case of the coach, I think it comes down to a simple matter of communication.  Who would you rather spend a 22-hour bus ride to Florida with?  Egbert who brought the complete boxed set of “Arrested Development” with him and wants to analyze the influence of “Monty Python” on that TV show’s writing?  Or Dortmund who’s been reading the same comic book for the last 275 miles – upside down? 

Intelligent athletes are usually a dream to work with in practice situations.  Maybe they ask a lot of questions but as long as you can drum up a reasonable answer, they’ll buy in and work hard.  Toss in a research journal article with graphs to back up your answer, and they’ll work even harder.

But, as most coaches know, when it comes to competition, that’s where things get a little dicey.  Egbert might have a sky-high IQ which is useful in the classroom but does him no dang good in a race.  In races, it’s AIQ – Athletic Intelligence Quotient – that counts and a lot of very intelligent athletes don’t have a very high one.

In college, I’ll admit that I was an athlete with a solidly average AIQ.  But I knew enough to know that the competitors who had trouble blinking both eyes at the same time were the ones I should take most seriously.  And I studied them zealously, hoping to figure out what was different – besides the blinking thing.  I can’t say as that I ever did figure it out.  Some things you’re just born with – or without, as the case may be.

You see someone like Egbert – or me -- gets to the starting blocks.  His brain has been rifling through the 3,578,913 different scenarios he has calculated could unfold during the upcoming race.  He’s scanning his mental hard drive for his competitors’ previous best times.  There’s a penny on the bottom of lane 5 and it’s really, really bugging him.  He steps up to the blocks and the race is already over because, bottom line, Egbert’s brain doesn’t have an off switch.

Dortmund, on the other hand, steps up to the blocks.  He doesn’t have an off switch either, but that’s because he also doesn’t have an on switch.  Or at least no one’s ever found one.  Dortmund can’t spell the word “scenario,” let alone envision one.  And the only way he’d notice his competitors is if they walked up in high heels and blew him air kisses.  All you do with Dortmund is tell him to go as fast as he can and, chances are, he will.  Dortmund’s AIQ is through the roof. 

Thankfully Mr. Coach, like most coaches, has learned how to work with the full spectrum of AIQs.  You distract the Egberts with shiny mental objects (i.e., math equations) and you enjoy the Dortmunds for what they are. 

And if anyone ever figures out exactly what that is, please tell me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Poppies in the Stands

Last week, for the first time in many years, I got to actually sit in the stands and watch an entire age-group meet.  I watched every heat of every race, jotted down times, chatted with a couple of mom friends, dealt with the Loudest Family on the Planet, suffered a mild case of heat prostration, and fought to get my heat sheet back from some free-loading loser who parked herself near me and asked to look at my program and then didn’t give it back until I demanded it back.  It was all wonderful.

See, for the last eight years, I’ve had to spend most of my time at these meets “in camp,” where the kids wait to get summoned for their races.  As I explained to one of my mom friends who wanted to know why it took me so long to get out of camp, it’s partially because I grew up near New York City.  I assume the worst of everyone when it comes to my children’s safety.  I also don’t have very high expectations of their ability to get to the bullpen or blocks by themselves.  We used to get rid of our daughter for hours inside the house by sending her off with instructions to bring back a (fill in the blank).  That didn’t work with our son.  Even if you gave him a list of 14 things to fetch, he would fetch them all in about five minutes flat.  But Little Mr. Coach would and has consciously chosen a Pokemon-card trading battle over an A-final.  So in camp I stayed.

But now our youngest child has arrived at the 11-12 age group and he is showing signs of, well, some would say maturity, but I would say it’s just a Machiavellian feel for what he’s got to do if he’s going to get what he wants (either more games for his Nintendo DS or a later bed time).  So at his first indoor meet this year, I decided I was ready to sit in the stands. 

And I have to give myself props for how it went.  I have come a long way in my ability to tolerate loud swim-parent behavior.  It’s been an issue because I’m not a screamer.  I find that if I yell during my kids’ races it short-circuits something between my eyeballs and my brain, and I end up not really seeing or remembering their races.  So, you say, just videotape them.  Not really a videotaper either.  So I watch pretty quietly and that way I can absorb what I’m seeing.  And I’m not alone in this regard, though I have to cross the Equator to find other parents like me.

A few years ago, when we lived in Australia during one of Mr. Coach’s sabbaticals, our kids swam for a club there.  I’ll never forget the meet where I was sitting on the edge of the pool as my daughter swam by in the backstroke.  Because I was right there and she could see me, I figured I better say something so I leaned over and, at a volume that would be considered conversational at an American age-group swim meet, I said, “Go, honey!” 

About a dozen Australian parent heads slowly turned as one to look at me.  Then they all slowly swiveled back to reaffix their gazes on the pool. 

“What did I do?” I whispered to one of my new Australian friends.

“You cheered for your own child,” she whispered back.

“OK?” I said.

“You don’t do that,” she replied. “TPS.”

There are many things I love about the Australian nation -- their desserts and dairy products probably foremost -- but their swim parents rank way high up there, too.  TPS, as I found out, is what they call “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”  Tall poppies are “made to be cut down.”  In other words, you and your swollen pride are just asking for trouble if you publicly express a desire to see your child do well at something.  You can – and should – cheer for other people’s children, but you don’t cheer out loud for your own.

Call it superstition, call it unrealistic, call it a bit too much humility, but I think it’s a great concept.  And you can’t criticize a nation of swim parents who, when their children make the Australian Olympic team, don t-shirts with the acronym POOS printed on them (which stands for Parents Of Our Swimmers).

So, ever since I got back from Australia, I haven’t felt bad about being a non-screamer.  And this time, my first time back in the stands for an entire meet, I sat there, cheered a little bit at a conversational volume for my son, and I didn’t get riled up about other people screaming.  It felt good to be a short poppy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Running vs. Swimming

Before I was immersed in the swim world [yes, Kevin, that is a pun], I was part of the running world.  It’s the sport my body was bioengineered to do and if it weren’t for the fact that bodies wear out, it would still be my only sport.  But I’m trying to be smart about this wearing-out stuff, so a few years ago I finally jumped into the swimming pool [not so much a pun as a metaphor] and have since learned more about this sport than in all my preceding years of my marriage to a swim coach.

So now I get asked which sport I like better.  And the answer is, duh, the one I’m naturally good at.  But once that’s established, people move on to the question, “What’s the biggest difference between the two?”  Besides the water thing, there are plenty of differences, I say.  Track and cross-country meets take way less time than swim meets -- fewer events and they go faster.  For that matter, so do practices:  Running is way more efficient at destroying the human body.  And when you run, you can get filthy dirty in a supremely satisfying way.  I have never seen anyone leave a pool caked with mud [speaking of caked with mud:  My alma mater team, Villanova, won its 8th women’s NCAA cross-country title last Monday!  Go, Wildkittens!]

But the biggest difference has to be the people that each sport attracts.  See, with running, you’re lucky to get one genuine character per team.  You know, a real nut job who’s only allowed to talk to the media with heavy adult supervision.  Usually it’s a pole vaulter who’s missed the mat a few times [that’s not so much a metaphor as a medical fact]. 

But other than your one token character, a track team runs heavy [OK, that is a pun] on the side of serious intensity.  I had this one teammate – one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet when she wasn’t kicking your butt in races.  One semester I sat next to Joanne in a class.  She would press her pen down so hard taking notes that a notebook page filled with her writing would curl up and away from the pages beneath it.  I once tried duplicating the amount of pressure it took to make that happen, but couldn’t.  Joanne could hide the intensity in everyday conversation, but not when she was taking notes. 

I’ve met a lot of people like Joanne in track.  In swimming, not so much.

With swimming, at least 25 percent of any team is visiting from another planet.  And that’s a conservative estimate.  I honestly don’t know why this is.  I’ve hypothesized it has something to do with gravity.  Running is completely beholden to the effects of gravity and it just beats the snot, poop and fun out of you.  With swimming, though, you create this illusion that you’re defying gravity because you’re horizontal all the time, so maybe that loosens up the screws.  Or maybe it’s just the chemicals in the water killing brain cells.  I really don’t know.

As for which type I prefer to be around, well, isn’t that obvious?  I mean, you don’t see me married to a runner, do you?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Disease and Dismemberment

It was about this time last year when I wrote a blog about the spectre of illness that starts visiting swim teams right around American Thanksgiving time.  I think the topic bears revisiting because, let’s face it, this year’s visit has already begun.

And this year we have the added hysteria of the H1N1 virus.  Few of the college swimmers have been able to get vaccinations for it yet.  One girl on the team was smart enough to catch it during the summer so that’s at least one athlete we can count on for conference.  Another girl was diagnosed with H1N1 just the other week and then, after that, she developed a sinus infection, strep throat and an ear infection – in both ears.  After the last diagnosis, while she was still leaking from every cranial orifice, she asked Mr. Coach if she could get back in the water.  Once the penicillin kicks in, we’ll know if her brain got infected, too, or if it’s always been that way.

But it isn’t just illness.  It’s the dumb accidents that are on the upswing again.  The other night, I was driving with Mr. Coach and he gets this phone call.  Here -- and I am not making ANY of this up -- is his side of the conversation:

“So is it broken?...No, if the kidney was sliced, she would have seen blood when she peed…Well then the kidney’s fine…Oh, they recognized you from this summer?...Were they still mad?”

One of Mr. Coach’s athletes had tumbled off the wide, concrete natatorium stands when she was doing some kind of dryland exercise.  One of the seniors had taken her to the emergency room and was calling Mr. Coach from there.  As it turned out, the tumble-down athlete had a bruised rib and the senior chauffeur got to re-meet the E.R. staff.  The last time he met them – which they remembered quite vividly – was after a cycling accident he had and he was not a “good” patient. 

As for the tumble-down athlete, Mr. Coach told me, “She’s not exactly a land animal.”

“Are any of them?” I felt compelled to ask.

But, to end on a happy note, the tumble-down athlete still competed in their meet that weekend, bruised rib notwithstanding, and she swam close to a P.R. in her best event.  Before conference championships, we’re going to drop her off a cell-phone tower and hope for a world record.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Here’s a random topic that’s piqued my curiosity recently:  the issue of supplements, dietary and otherwise, in sports.  I’ve always found the search for those extra little (legal) advantages interesting.  In college, I had a coach who gave us Vitamin C tablets to chew all winter.  I’m pretty sure all that did was wear down people’s tooth enamel and enrich the sanitary sewer system with citric acid.  And there was a scary period when this same coach (who eventually got fired) gave a few of our teammates something called DMSO.  It was actually a lotion that was supposed to facilitate workout recovery but we also heard it was made from petroleum by-products and it gave those who used it garlic breath for no apparent reason.

Holy crap.  I just Googled DMSO and it’s short for “dimethylsulfoxide.” It’s a by-product of paper manufacturing and is now used as an agent for administering chemotherapy drugs and other “substances.”  And one of its side effects is a garlic odor.  Suddenly I feel a lot better about never having been a favorite of that coach.

Anyway, Mr. Coach hasn’t pushed it much with supplements.  He’s had enough of an uphill battle teaching his student-athletes how to eat right, period.  All the creatine in the world isn’t going to make a dang bit of difference if Trevor’s idea of dinner is four family-sized cans of Spaghettios, two boxes of Ring-Dings, and a liter of Diet Coke.  Or if Buffy’s idea of dinner is a side salad without dressing, a carton of Eskimo Pies, and a liter of Diet Pepsi. 

But I’ve always been a fan of the quick calorie after a workout.  I’m all about the banana, granola bar or bottle of Ensure Plus – though not in the shower, I hasten to add (seriously:  there is not one single woman I know who read that blog and could believe that guys eat in the shower.  Not one.). 

Anyway, lately I’ve been using this newish PureSport stuff (disclaimer:  I’m not getting freebies here, nor am I looking to.  Now Cheese Jax?  That’s another story.  I would give away naming rights to my children for some free Cheese Jax.).  You’ll like my reasons for trying PureSport.  See, last winter when Mr. Coach and the team were in Ft. Lauderdale for winter training, they did the city’s Ocean Mile competition.  Reps for PureSport were giving away samples of the stuff – in the most adorable little pop-up plastic bottles, by the way.  Mr. Coach brought me back the bottle but he was less than enthusiastic about the sample he had consumed. 

“It went down OK,” he said, “but there was something wrong with the aftertaste.”

I was incredulous. 

“No one is going to sell a product that has something wrong with the aftertaste,” I said.  “That’s just insane.”

So you can imagine my excitement when the product popped up in our local grocery store (remember, I’m the woman who voluntarily sniffed my husband’s sneakers when he brought them home, reeking of his English Channel adventure). 

I bought one in every flavor, determined to find out if the aftertaste on any of them was “wrong.”  They were NOT.  All I can figure is that the batch Mr. Coach got must have been sitting out in the sun too long at the beach that day.  Maybe I’ll try leaving mine out in the sun sometime, just to see what happens.

But I’ve kept using these powder mixes because, even though they make me pee like a racehorse, they do seem to have an analgesic quality.  Better yet, they don’t make me smell like garlic nor, as far as I know, are they a by-product of any industrial manufacturing process.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Great Moments in Age-Group Swimming History

As the indoor season for all my little 10-year-old and under friends begins, I find myself thinking fondly about all the good times I’ve enjoyed because of them.  It’s like I sometimes say to my own children, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m laughing near you.”  And so it is with these swimmers as I record a few Great Moments in Age-Group Swimming History which have happened near me.

1)  The Who Knew DQ:  The first time Little Mr. Coach swam a 25-yard backstroke, he was disqualified -- for walking.  He was only 6 years old at the time, so I wasn’t expecting much.  But by that point, I had already been through five years of his sister’s swimming and she was a backstroker, so I thought backstroke DQs at that age were pretty much limited to turning over to look for the wall at the end.  It wasn’t like the breaststroke where raising an eyebrow at the wrong time can get you disqualified.  Well, Little Mr. Coach not only turned over, but he also decided to take a stroll.  And somebody has taken the time to formally enter it in the rules books that walking (during any race for any stroke) is a crime against the aquatic gods.  I learned something new that day.

2)  The Domino Effect:  During one meet this past summer, a chain of wrongful starts began and could not be stopped for several heats.  It started in the 6 & Under freestyle when a kid from the following 8 & Under heat got confused because there was no one in his lane for the 6 & Under heat, so he dove in when the 6 & Under race started.  Despite the best efforts of several coaches and parents, the wrong-heat starts continued through all the heats and both genders of the 8 & Under kids before order could be restored.  It’s just the siren call of the empty starting block.  Kids cannot resist it.

3)  “If Two Trains Leave Their Stations…”:  This was probably my all-time favorite Great Moment in Age-Group History.  It happened this summer in an 8 & Under freestyle relay.  Two boys (OK, let’s be real here – Great Moments almost always happen with boys) were poised on either end of the 25-yard pool.  Boy #1 was swimming lead-off.  Boy #2 on the opposite end was the second leg.  The race starter gave the command, “Swimmers, take your marks…BEEP!”  And in went Boy #1 and Boy #2. 

It took a few seconds before the crowd realized the two boys were swimming straight at each other, and then the screaming began, trying to stop them.  They never heard the crowd.  But miraculously, the boys somehow managed to not collide and they safely reached the opposite sides of the pool and then the whole relay was disqualified. 

Someone said to me, “I wonder what they thought when they went past each other.”  I’ll tell you what they thought.  One of them was thinking, “I hope they haven’t sold out of sloppy joes at the food stand yet.”  And the other one was thinking, “Maybe if I promise to eat a baggie of grapes first, Mom will let me get the Sour Patch Twizzlers.” 

You know I’m right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pool Polling

Every election season we read all about the polls being taken on the candidates and issues.  And we all stop answering our phones so as to avoid being polled.  I have a little advice for the pollsters:  If you want to get accurate information for your polls, hang up the phones and come to a swim practice.

It didn’t take long for Mr. Coach and me to realize that age-group swimmers, and even most college-age swimmers, are mirrors (and mouthpieces) for their parents’ political opinions and voting activities.  You are not going to find many seven-year-olds who vote differently than their parents.  If they could vote.  Which they usually think they can.  And you get to hear about it because a lot of talking goes on in a swim practice. 

I can’t tell you the number of times Mr. Coach has come home and said, “You’re not going to believe who’s a Democrat.” 

We live in a very politically conservative part of the world, so it’s always a surprise when you find out that someone’s a Democrat, although usually they’re a closet Democrat.  Well, until their kid tells everyone in her lane. 

As for politically extreme households, a really solid indicator of that is when a grade schooler knows about various issues on the ballot.  Your middle-of-the-road households, whether Democrat or Republican, tend not to have strong opinions, at least not that they’re discussing in front of the children, about issues like casinos, smoking or even state-constitution amendments to beef up farming regulations.  But your households that would say they “strongly disagree” or “strongly agree” about a ballot question do discuss these things in front of the children, and little Windchime and Thatcher will be more than happy to tell the Level 3 Mudskippers exactly how to vote on those issues.

I tell you all this not to make you more nervous about sending your kids off to swim practice.  You’ve got enough to worry about with the bat hangs and other breath-holding drills.  But if there are any hot political topics that you don’t want the other families on the team to know your opinions about, then you might want to be careful about discussing them in front of the kids. 

Oh, and don’t worry, Mrs. Postlethwaite, about the Level 2 Lungfish knowing what your credit rating is.  We had the coach explain it was just your age in dog years.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting In: The Regression Analysis

For a coach, there is nothing more annoying than waiting for your athletes to get in the water.  Most coaches can guesstimate pretty accurately how long it will take each athlete to get in.  I think we can do better than guesstimation.  I think we should run a regression analysis on this one.

When I was in grad school, I took a course on quantitative analysis which introduced me to the concept of regression analysis and it was love at first sample collection.  Basically, it’s a tool of statistics which uses a mathematical equation to figure out how much influence various factors (independent variables) have on a particular outcome (the dependent variable).  You can use it to figure out things like what demographic factors (age, gender, even eye color) best predict someone’s buying behavior.  You collect as many samples as possible that measure the factors and outcomes, then plug the sample data into the regression equation and “run” the equation.  The results tell you how significant each factor is to the outcome.

I took to using regression analyses for more useful things like predicting when a certain classmate was going to wear too much perfume (Thursdays, cloudy weather).  I really impressed my classmates, though, when I used a regression analysis to break up with a boyfriend. 

I told him I could build a regression analysis that would predict the next time he’d behave like a total farking icehole.  Just the threat of running a regression was enough to finish off the relationship (which was the intended outcome), but a rough run of the numbers did find that proximity to an exam period had the best p-value (i.e., it was the most statistically significant factor).

Life with Mr. Coach has not yielded as many opportunities for constructing regression analyses, mostly because he’s something of an open book when it comes to his behavior.  That’s nice for the health of our marriage, but a little boring for my Inner Statistician. 

However, over the last year I’ve realized I have a prime opportunity to create a regression analysis with “getting in the water” behavior.

We have access to a wide range of swimmers in our life -- college, high-school, masters, age-group -- and they come loaded with juicy demographic information like gender, age, time zone of birthplace, birth order, are they more of a linear thinker (math/science/business) or an abstract thinker (arts/humanities), are they romantically involved with anyone also in the vicinity of the pool, what events/distances do they swim, what’s their grade point average. 

The idea is to see which factors have the strongest link to the amount of time it takes for a swimmer to get in the water (as measured from the moment at which the swimmer appears within eye sight of a coach already on the pool deck). 

Based on experiential evidence (because I have been fine-tuning this during the last year), I’m going to hypothesize that the factor profile on the swimmer who takes the least amount of time to get in the water is going to be either a 10-year-old female, oldest child IMer who gets straight As in school or else a 56-year-old male science professor who drives a fuel-efficient sub-compact. 

Paradoxically, I predict that the athlete who takes the longest to get in will be a 20-year-old male middle child/linear thinker/sprinter who has been romantically involved with two or more people also in the pool vicinity.

Let the sample gathering begin!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How to Save a Pool

So you remember my cousin TJ, right? The one who flings cats into pools to see if they can swim?

Well, he asked me recently if I’d feel comfortable using my blog to publicize a fund-raising event he’s involved with to renovate and re-open a pool in his northern Colorado community. And I said, “Heck, yes! There are days I debate using this blog to sell my children if I thought I could get away with it.” So helping my cousin do something that’s both legal and would benefit his community is a no-brainer.

And, almost even better, is the fact that the way TJ and his Loveland Swim Club compadres are raising money is crazy. Not like a little crazy. Like a lot crazy. They aim to get 3,942 individuals to each swim one length of a 25-yard pool in relay fashion in 24 hours or less (that’s an average split of 21.92 seconds per leg of this erstwhile relay).

Why 3,942? Because in January, 3,941 South Africans did it, and thereby got themselves into the Guinness World Book of Records (TJ’s a little fuzzy on the yards/meters differential, but he says their short-course yards pool fits the criterion). Anyway, if the community of Loveland can get this record back, I think it would do a lot to erase the sting of that 2004 Olympic victory by the South African men’s 400 free relay.

That plus it would help raise money to renovate the Loveland High School pool which has been shut down since 2002 when some authoritative agency deemed it “unsafe” because of its age and condition.

The Loveland High School pool was built in 1965. I would love to walk this authoritative agency through Mr. Coach’s current facility which was built in 1954. This should be its last year because the walls are going up, even as I type, on the new natatorium.

But a few missing tiles, a sinking foundation and a roof that lets in more air (and rain) than the actual ventilation system are no reason -- at least in our town -- to shut down a 55-year-old pool before a new one is built. Heck, there’s this one faculty member’s wife here who was complaining recently that she won’t swim in the current pool because the environment there is “completely toxic.” All of us who use the facility on a regular basis were like, “…and your point would be?”

(Actually I should never complain about people who refuse to swim in the current pool. Less people = more lane space for me.)

But in Loveland, they would probably love (no pun intended) to have too many people in a lane if it means they’ve gotten this particular pool renovated and back up to code. So what can you do to help? Well, if you’re within shouting distance of Loveland, fire up the snowmobile and get yourself over there to swim your length on the weekend of Nov. 6-7 at Mountain View High School’s pool. Conversely, if you’re already snowed in for the winter, then consider making a donation to this worthy cause.

For all the information you will ever need about this event, you can visit Loveland’s Web site. Tell ‘em TJ’s most fabulous cousin sent you.

Incidentally, the photos here were taken in our current facility by Marisa Obuchowski, one of Mr. Coach’s student-athletes, for a photography class. Isn’t it amazing how beautiful crumbling concrete and rusting radiators can look at the right shutter speed?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

To Breathe or Not to Breathe

With Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin’s participation on the TV dance competition “Dancing with the Stars,” a certain touchy subject has reared its head in the Coach Family household. And that would be breathing.

Apparently Natalie has problems remembering to breathe when she dances because she has spent most of her life reaping the rewards that go with not breathing. That’s because in swimming, when the going gets tough, the tough stop breathing.

Now those who are familiar with my heroic attempts to become a better swimmer know that I initially went into this swimming thing thinking that with my background in running, two of my most transferrable assets would be my lungs and my legs. As it turns it out, my best asset has been my cheerful disposition.

To be fair, I have made my peace with the kicking thing. Despite the handicap presented by my tragically narrow feet, I do not suck at kicking. And Mr. Coach has been extremely prudent to credit my genes for our kids’ excellent kicking cadences (they got his gun-boat feet, though).

But the breathing. Oy. I’m better than I was when I started but I still can’t comfortably breathe on both sides (unless I’m swimming with my pull buoy, Rodrigo – what? You don’t name your pull buoy, too?). Anyway, it’s better but I still can’t do an underwater 25, let alone a 50.

But everywhere I look with swimming, it’s all about cutting off the oxygen supply. Parents of football players may worry about the effects that repeated blows to the head will have on their children. I worry about the lack of oxygen.

My son, Little Mr. Coach, has great affection for one particular drill that he and his age-group buddies do. They call it a “bat hang.” They hook their legs over the pool gutter then lean backwards into the water and hang there, upside down and holding their breath in increasing increments of time. Like bats, hanging from a rafter. Except this rafter hangs over water and the bats aren’t breathing.

I sometimes cover family-court cases for my newspaper. If a parent did something like that to a kid at home, you can be sure the judge would have that kid in foster care by sundown. But within the context of a swimming pool, it’s all good!

So the next time the judges hassle Natalie about not breathing, I almost wish I could drag them to a pool and make them do bat hangs. If they’re not going to give her a 10 on dance merit alone, then a bat hang or two might shake a sympathy 10 loose.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Coaching Girls vs. Boys, Round 3

Here is an anecdote which I think pretty much says it all about the sports-based differences between girls and boys. (You may recall this is a topic I have plumbed before, and those two blogs – here and here – are the ones that people return to most often on this site, according to my site traffic reports. Go figure.)

Anyway, the anecdote: Mr. Coach came home the other evening, proud to report that he had beat up good on the team that day. In fact he had beat up on them so good that afterwards, he said, he found one of the guys sitting in the shower eating an ear of corn.

Now a guy might read that and say, “Mmm, corn on the cob, that’s a good idea.”

Whereas a girl -- which is what I am -- would hear it and say, “People eat in the shower!?”

And a girl like me would be even more stunned to hear Mr. Coach reply, “Yeah. Guys eat in the shower all the time. What do girls do?”

To which I said, “Shower?”

And even that isn’t exactly true because -- and ladies, feel free to back me up on this -- a lot of women don’t shower in public after their athletic workouts. They will go home to their dorms, apartments or houses with that flesh-eating layer of chlorine or grime on their skin and shower up in private. And even if you do shower in public, there’s not a whole lot of social interaction that occurs. Women may be champs at multi-tasking, but in the shower, we tend to be very purpose-driven.

But apparently there’s a whole other branch of the food-service industry going on in men’s showers. Now I knew about chairs being dragged in, because I had heard about that years ago (again, never seen it happen in a women’s shower and probably never will), but I never realized the chairs are sometimes there to accommodate food consumption.

But corn on the cob? Now, to be fair, Mr. Coach said that was a first for him, too. Usually, he says, it’s things like apples, bananas and granola bars, but an ear of corn is a food choice he applauds (mostly because he really likes corn, too).

However I hear that and I’m thinking this wasn’t like a random “open the fridge and eat the first thing you see” food choice. This took planning. And transportation. And then storage for a few hours in -- what? A locker that hasn’t been disinfected since the Roosevelt administration. The first one.

So to sum things up here:

Girl + shower + corn on the cob = No. Just no.

Guy + shower + corn on the cob = Where can I get me some of that?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Lane Matters

Aristotle was onto something when he started categorizing the hoo-ha out of every living and non-living thing. It’s only human nature to assign ourselves categories and if you need proof of that, all you have to do is look at a swim practice. The urge to sort themselves out by lane is primal with swimmers. You have these nice little slots to put yourselves in, so naturally you put some effort into deciding who goes in what slot and why.

Now, granted, most of the time it’s the coaches who decide who goes where. But for warmups, warmdowns and less structured workouts where you can choose your own lanemates, this is serious stuff. It’s like picking a fraternity or a sorority, except the workouts make it seem like the hazing never ends.

Lane selection can be competitive, sometimes even judgmental, and a certain type of prejudice called “lane-ism” can develop. I know of some high-school teams in the area who get rather hoity-toity about who gets shunted to the outside, slower lanes. To be a “Lane Sixer,” in one team’s lexicon, is a terrible thing. I don’t know, but if I were them I’d be afraid of the kids in those outside lanes. I’ve usually found the outside-lane dwellers to be intelligent and sarcastic. Show me a bright smart aleck who has found a reason to work hard at a sport they never win at, and I’ll show you someone who’s going to be signing Lane Three’s paychecks some day.

But with Mr. Coach’s teams, I’ve noticed that the swimmers mostly sort themselves out by communication patterns. Gloomy whiners (the “Eeyores, ” we call them) like to whine to each other. Dumb-joke specialists flock together and are ignored by the lanes on either side. Chirpy Pollyanna types are happiest together and no-nonsense masochists (often your distance swimmers) are unhappiest together. And Mr. Coach has identified a subspecies he calls the “Meek Tweezlies” who go wherever the Alpha Males or Females in their lives tell them to go.

Many lanemates develop bonds outside the pool as well. One group of Lane Four swimmers, past and present, will go out to dinner at local restaurants together and apparently are quite strict about not letting non-Lane-Four types dine with them on these occasions. Another recent group dubbed themselves “Lane Fun” and they’ve been quite aggressive with the recruiting. But that’s OK because they help each other create a happy water home.

The only type of lane you don’t like to see form is a Loveboat Lane because that always ends up being more like a Titanic Lane. Nothing sinks an aquatic romance faster than sloppy kickboard skills and fart bubbles. So if your coach tells you that you can’t swim with your GF or BF, just say thank you and go find yourself another lane. You’ve got plenty of options.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Last weekend, Mr. Coach had to make a choice: He could either attend the American Swimming Coaches Association World Clinic in Ft. Lauderdale or head back to his alma mater, Illinois State University, to attend a men’s swimming and diving team reunion to honor their old coach. It was a no-brainer.

(Besides, he’s done South Florida in late summer before. Nobody needs to do that twice unless they’re trying to lose weight from sweating.)

So Mr. Coach talked Little Mr. Coach and me into coming along with him, and we had a jolly time of it. There’s nothing like walking into a room full of balding or gray-haired guys and being able to still see exactly what kind of people they were back when they fit Size 28 Speedos.

Even scarier is asking someone what their event was and their answer is pretty much exactly what you would have guessed. 200 fly guys have a pensive look to them, like they’re still looking for the wall. Backstrokers are wired kind of loose, although a couple I met had swerved in a more introspective direction. Divers – still neatly tucked and pressed. Sprinters – still loopy as all get out. Interestingly I didn’t encounter any breaststrokers, which I guess means they’ve either become hermits or have a short life span.

The reason why the group was balding or graying was simple: The ISU men’s swimming and diving program was among the earliest casualties of the misapplication of Title IX. Though the Act of Congress indisputably created much-needed opportunities for female athletes in the U.S., unfortunately some schools chose (and still choose) to balance out their male and female athlete numbers by cutting sports like men’s swimming, diving, gymnastics and wrestling. ISU lopped off all of those in the early 1980s.
But these guys weren’t there to dwell on that, which is admirable. They were there to honor their old coach with equal parts affection and insults. You’d have to know their old coach to understand why. And a lot of people do.

Archie Harris is a well-known figure in U.S. and college swimming. If you don’t know him from when he swam, you know him from when he coached. If you don’t know him from his amazing work with the Easter Seals Foundation, then you know him as one of the tall old guys who have run the College Swim Coaches Forum in Ft. Lauderdale each winter for the last 128 years. Archie wasn’t the tallest of the Old Farts (as Mr. Coach affectionately and bravely dubbed them), but he was easily the loudest. And they all have an unerring sense for figuring out who the most authority-fearing and nervous member of a team is – and then going after them for imaginary infractions. They tried getting me once for bringing a glass juice bottle into the facility. OK, they were right, but they didn’t have to be so loud about it.

Archie is 86 now and he (and his wife Harriet) retired from running the Clinic about three years ago. My husband was very keen to have our son meet one of the most pivotal people in his own coaching journey. On the first night of the reunion, we gathered for a social at a hotel. Mr. Coach introduced our son to Archie who gently held his elbow and pulled him close.

“Do you say your prayers every night, young man?” Archie asked our son. And I got a little tear in my eye, watching my son nod nervously and I thought with just a hint of melancholy, “Oh dear, Archie’s finally gone soft around the edges.”

“That’s good,” Archie told him and he pulled him in even closer.

“Tonight,” he said, “when you say your prayers…I want you to get down on your knees and thank the Lord…that you take after your mother.”

Now, I ask you -- who would not want to swim for a guy like that?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lifeguard Cert

I realize that, north of the Equator at least, I’m a little off-season with a blog about lifeguard certification. Most people get certified in the spring before the high-demand outdoor summer season begins. But we recently made Little Miss Coach get certified, so it’s still fresh in my mind.

The critical verb there is “made” because, while I know my daughter appreciates the opportunity to earn money for herself, the reality is Mr. Coach and I have been waiting for the day when we could have our own personal lifeguard. We’re not the first parents in our university community to do this. There are others who’ve gotten their kids certified for the express purpose of having a backup lifeguard for those days when the assigned lifeguard doesn’t show up. At a small pool with a small community of daily swimmers, it happens. But there’s nothing like being able to say, “Oh, I’ll just call Herbert and get him over here. He’s only sleeping.” And then, about 15 minutes later, you get in to swim while surly Herbert sits and watches and prays that his dad goes under just so he can not rescue him.

And now we can do the same thing to Little Miss Coach! For her certification, she got tag-team taught by her father and his assistant coach who are both Red Cross certified lifeguard instructors. Boy, was she psyched!

And she should be. Mr. Coach is very highly regarded in local lifeguard-certification circles, and most especially for his victim skills. As part of the certification process, the would-be lifeguards have to jump in and rescue drowning victims. Mr. Coach has two specialties: One is the Victim Who Doesn’t Float and the other is the Victim Who Fights Back.

Both “victimizations” are brilliant, but other instructors don’t like to bring Mr. Coach in for just any group of would-be lifeguards. That would be like using a howitzer to go bird shooting. No, rather, they tend to hold him in reserve for their big strapping college guys (and a few gals) who are going for the open-water lifeguarding jobs where they’re more likely to encounter difficult victims.

Your municipal and country-club pool guards might encounter a modified version of either the dead-weight victim who goes right to the bottom or the spastic-meltdown victim who could break your nose in a panic. But for the most part, they’re only going to be dealing with unsupervised 5-year-olds in the deep end.

In the open-water situations, that’s where a guard could go down with the victim if he or she can’t maintain control of the situation. So if a guard can get past Mr. Coach, you can rest assured they can wrangle in a drunken 27-year-old who can’t swim but decided to wade out over his head to retrieve a Frisbee.

But, for lack of any other victims this time, Mr. Coach was deployed on his own daughter. He decided to go with the Victim Who Doesn’t Float which I thought was an audacious choice, given that Little Miss Coach barely cracks 100 pounds on the scale. However I can understand the logic: Her skull is just as titanium-hard as his and the two of them have given each other black eyes before with accidental head butts. A Victim Who Fights Back would just be asking for another black eye.

So she brought in her dead-weight father without mishap, earned her lifeguard card, and now will be at our lap-swim beck and call. Who said parenthood was all give and no take? Certainly not us!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Division III (a.k.a. "D3") swimming is a breed unto itself. For those not familiar with this term, it refers to a particular category of U.S. universities under the umbrella of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (or “NCAA” to those in the know… “NCs” if you want make it sound like you’re a college sports veteran.)

Anyway, the NCAA is divided into three divisions: Division I schools tend to be larger universities and, as long as they have the money (an increasingly shaky assumption), they can give out sports scholarships. Division II schools tend to be smaller public universities and they also can give out sports scholarship money, though not as much.

Division III is what I call the “Chariots of Fire” division: Its founding philosophy derives from ye not-so-olde days when sport was viewed as a lovely part of a well-rounded lifestyle for which monetary compensation was viewed with disdain (like in the movie “Chariots of Fire”). Where a student-athlete spent his or her day developing a research project to restructure a small East Asian nation’s debt load, completing a vigorous workout in the pool while discussing Emily Dickinson’s mid-career poetry between sets with the other sprinters, and then dining with local dignitaries on oysters, terrapin soup and roast duckling, whilst using the correct utensils.

There also used to be a requirement that coaches of Division III teams had to be academic professors. That died out a couple of decades ago, though there are a few genuine professor/coaches left, including Mr. Coach.

Division III as originally designed was a lovely sepia-toned vision of "mens sana in corpore sano” (that’s Latin for “a sound mind in a sound body”). But “D3” has pretty much gone Technicolor and High-Definition now in its pursuit of “citius, altius, fortius” (that’s Olympic Latin for “swifter, higher, stronger”). Consequently we’re left with a division that is peppered with programs where athlete-students don’t have the time to do anything other than eat, sleep, swim and attend a few classes.

But not all of them are like this. There are still a few Division III programs where you get an intriguing mix of overachievers who are determined to cram everything into their days they possibly can…and then some. About this time of the year is when Mr. Coach finds himself having many, many discussions about time management with his young charges.

“Do you think I can take four science labs this semester, Coach?” one will ask him as they sit in his office.

“Only if your goal is to have a nervous breakdown by Halloween,” Mr. Coach will reply.

“But only one of them overlaps with practice on Wednesdays.”

“Even if you weren’t swimming, you wouldn’t take four labs in one semester,” Mr. Coach points out. “If you do, then I have to notify Counseling Services.”

“OK,” the student-athlete will pause and reconsider. “How about three labs, one Habitat for Humanity house-building project on Sunday afternoons, and the first bassoon seat in the university orchestra?”

That’s when Mr. Coach reaches for the can of wasabi peas in his top drawer. It’s not easy, but somebody has to coach these kids.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wet and Dry

As I have exhaustively documented, the life of a swim coach’s spouse is nothing if not exhausting. And one of the biggest challenges I face each year, right around this time, is learning to identify the newcomers. Usually they’re freshmen, but occasionally you get transfers or upperclassmen who have sufficiently recovered from the trauma of a bad high-school or club swimming experience to give the sport a try again.

But this isn’t a matter of just matching a name to a face and a set of details that Mr. Coach has heaved at me (which usually goes something like, “He’s the one from Kansas…5:06 but never trained right…6’3”, 130…and, best of all, he put ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail’ down on the questionnaire as his favorite movie”; Mr. Coach takes great pride in his questionnaires. You can definitely tell a lot about someone from asking what their favorite color, workout, book and movie are. Or whether they even turned the questionnaire in. [Insert judgmental-raising-of-one-eyebrow emoticon here.])

But back to me. No, the hardest part with matching these names to faces is that I have to learn how to match these names to two types of faces – one wet and one dry. Most people look completely different when they’re dripping wet.

It’s not as hard with the guys. Thanks to the vagaries of male growth patterns, there’s enough variety in their builds to give me a running start on positive identification. The challenge is when your beanpole freshmen guys return from a summer of massive growth spurts and suddenly have pecs and facial hair. It’s like meeting a whole new person.

But generally it’s the girls who are hardest to sort out because they wear caps and sometimes I can go an entire season without seeing their hair until one day, Mr. Coach and I are walking in town and he’ll say hi to some bright-faced coed with an explosive halo of frizzy brown hair and, after she passes, he’ll be like, “That was Araminta. You know, the one whose mom brings soup to the home meets.” And I’ll be like, “Whaaaat?” because the Araminta I’ve met and even discussed soup stocks with does not have that much hair. And yet it is Araminta.

Sometimes Mr. Coach will bring in a batch of freshmen who, through no fault of his or theirs, all look alike. There was a stretch of about three years there which I refer to as “The Blonde Years” when every freshman girl had a round Caucasian face, shoulder-length blonde hair and no bangs. Some of them graduated without my ever addressing them by name because I wasn’t sure if I was talking to Blonde No. 3 or Blonde No. 14. I had to have stern words with Mr. Coach and motivate him to put a little more effort into the brunette and women-of-color department. Thankfully he has and I’m back on track. And now I’m back for another season of matching names to wet and dry faces. Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Pre-Season Panic Season

It is indeed that time of the year which we in the Coach Family household affectionately refer to as the “Pre-Season Panic” season.

Typically it begins a couple of weeks after the calendar turns from July to August. The subject awakens one morning (or afternoon, as the case may be). A stomach-acid panic attack suddenly grips the subject when it spies the pile of luggage and empty boxes that the subject’s mother has dumped on the floor of the bedroom some time during its slumber.

The subject stumbles to the bathroom and steps on a scale – only to discover that it cannot see the numbers on the scale because of the bulge of flesh blocking the view. The subject sucks the bulge in, only to confirm that it now has less than a month to regain the fitness and physique that will enable it to “fool” its college swim coach into thinking that it spent the summer doing triathlons, hiking the Appalachian Trail and putting a new roof on the local convent like it said it would back in May. (When, needless to say, the subject’s main accomplishment that summer had been something that involved five wooden palettes, 12 yards of surgical tubing, one herd of Guernsey cows, and a Latvian au pair.)

The subject lumbers into the kitchen where its mother has already laid in a supply of rice cakes and protein shakes. The industrial-sized box of Sugar Bomb Oaties has been discarded. After a 14-calorie breakfast (or lunch, as the case may be), the subject spends the next half-hour in the basement, digging through boxes still unopened since May until it finds a pair of goggles and a swimsuit, both caked with mildew but otherwise useable. And then it’s off to the local pool where the subject puts in a brisk 8,000 yards of swimming (half of it with a pull-buoy because too much kicking too soon is bad for the…well, it’s just bad).

The subject does not swim for the next five days but does ingest the maximum allowable daily dosage of ibuprofen and rice cakes. And it does go bike riding once with its grandmother who dusts the subject going up that one hill. The subject feigns a groin injury then drives Granny back to the nursing home.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the subject maintains a scrupulous regimen of dwindling swim yardage, run-jog-walks around the neighborhood, more ibuprofen, and building a tan which would bespeak a summer of vigorous outdoor activity. By the time the subject returns to college, it has whittled two inches off a well-tanned waistline but gained an additional five pounds (all muscle, it insists). The coach takes one look at the subject, rolls his or her eyes, then says, “Open swim’s from 11 to 2 each day.”

Welcome back, kids!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Channeling Peace, A Story in 427 Parts

I realize that the most efficient way to finish telling you about the Channeling Peace Initiative of 2009 would have been to write it up and post it last Sunday. But that would have been to assume that Mr. Coach had already told me everything that happened such that the narrative of their adventure could just write itself.

But that would also be to assume that Mr. Coach thinks in narrative form. And he doesn’t. It’s more like bullet-point form. And there’s no telling what’s going to shake a bullet point loose. The other day, it was the smell coming out of the kitchen garbage can. Next thing I knew, he was out the back door and then back in again, carrying a pair of sneakers that had been sitting outside since he got back.

“Smell this,” he said, holding them up.

I know, I know. Probably not the smartest move, but seeing as how Mr. Coach is not the type to abuse the privilege of telling me to smell random things, I thought, “OK, what the heck.”

The shoe smell was a doozy, immediately summoning childhood memories of when our dog Bobo went swimming in the creek.

“That’s the English Channel,” Mr. Coach said proudly. The shoes were the ones he wore for David’s relay swim on Thursday, Aug. 6. They had gotten soaked but good, not during the 13 hours and 25 minutes it took to get to France, but on the 3-hour boat ride back. He had spent it on the back end of the boat, getting splashed by the waves. We agreed he could pitch the shoes and get new ones.

So little pieces of the story keep dribbling out. There’s been the story about running into a guy from Chicago who swam for him 10 years ago: They were all visiting Dover Castle at the same time. That was a little surreal. I’ve also heard about the meat pies and the hikes through the English countryside.

If you followed along on Facebook, where I was posting the URLs from GPS pings that David’s mom sent out every 15-60 minutes, you know that we were following the team’s progress across the Channel (they showed up as a little green arrow on a Google map). They started at about 9:30 a.m., their time in Dover (4:30 a.m. my time) and went until 11 p.m. their time (6 p.m. mine). The relay consisted of 21-year-old David, 71-year-old Stanley (founder of the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in Florida), Clive who is British and that’s all Mr. Coach is remembering right now, and Ann, another Brit about whom he also remembers little except she’s dreamed of swimming the Channel since she was a little girl (I wonder if that’s a British thing).

Toward the end, we noticed that the little green arrow started drifting south and further away from Calais, France, which is the traditional destination. Anne, a veteran Channel swimmer, was serving as our online expert analyst. She’s done several solo crossings herself, including a “there and back” double. Ouch.

Anyway, Anne explained to us online that currents and winds out of the ENE were probably pushing the swimmers southwest. They would be aiming for a small bit of beach just south of the lighthouse at Cap Gris-Nez called “Dragon’s Teeth.” If they didn’t make it, she explained, they’d have to either head further south toward Boulogne-sur-Mer to find land-able shoreline or wait until the tides change and double back around the Cap toward Calais. Either way, it would be another 5 or 6 hours of swimming if they didn’t make it to Dragon’s Teeth.

We watched online as the arrow finally righted itself and began heading due East toward the Cap. If you clicked on the satellite version of the Google map, you could see this was where the water color changed from dark blue to light blue, but you could also make out how rocky and steep the French coast was with one small clear spit of sand.

“now is where the swimmer must sprint to make land…if they pass Cap Gris Nez it will be a while…”, posted Anne.

And at that moment, Mr. Coach remembered a couple of days later, David was indeed sprinting across the strong current. He got them to within 400 meters of shore, and then in went Stanley who was the swimmer to make land. He picked up souvenir rocks for his teammates, tucked them into his swim suit and then rode the accompanying dinghy boat back out to the waiting Viking Princess fishing boat where everyone else was.

They ate scones and jam on the boat ride back (during which time the weather disintegrated). But David’s mom’s Dramamine worked this time and she was fine. Wet and cold, but otherwise fine. David was very sore the next day, but now Mr. Coach has something to heave in his face the next time he complains about fly day during the college season.

And Usman did his long-distance swim in solidarity with David, two days later in a 25-meter pool in Pakistan. He swam for 8 hours and was probably a babbling idiot by the time he was done. I saw what he was like, back in April, when he and David did a four-hour swim in the university’s pool, and it was not pretty.

It still doesn’t make much sense, why the British government wouldn’t issue Usman an entry visa to swim the Channel, but I'm not going to dwell on that. Instead, I’m going to dwell on the fact that Mr. Coach just told me that he thinks the university team should make this a biennial or triennial thing, to take a relay over and swim the English Channel. They want to keep the Channeling Peace movement going. That’s great, I said. I just want to know who’s going to pay for all the new sneakers.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Navel Gazing on a Friday Afternoon

So, I’m writing this on Friday, late afternoon. Mr. Coach is somewhere in England right now, making his way to an airplane tomorrow. I’ve pretty much made up the lost sleep from the two Channel crossing events of this past week. I cranked out a few stories for my employer, the newspaper. I fielded a few emails from parents of age-group swimmers who want to plan their autumn schedules. Now. I ran a few times. I swam a few times (until the university’s maintenance staff closed the pool without warning for repairs. Not that I’m bitter or anything.) I went to a swimmer wedding. I oversaw Little Mr. Coach’s preparations for a kids’ triathlon that he’s doing tomorrow morning. He’ll do it and when he’s done, I’ll entrust him to the care of Kevin, who will pick Mr. Coach up at the airport while I fetch Little Miss Coach from the week-long workshop she’s been attending for her school. That’s only an 8-hour round-trip drive. I do have plans to make sausage calzones tonight for Mr. Coach’s welcome-home dinner tomorrow. There’s nothing good on TV but there’s Leinenkugel’s Red Lager in the fridge.

In other words, it’s been a pretty normal week. You know, one of the things I was hoping for when I started doing this blog more than a year ago was that it would bring a few other swim coach spouses out of the woodwork. I figured we could commiserate with each other. But that hasn’t been the case. Though I’ve heard from lots of really nice people, I have never heard from any other coaching spouses. (Interesting side note: the “traffic reports” that I get from having this site on Blogspot tell me what the search terms are that lead some people to the site. Most of them are just “mrs. coach blog,” but there are others I’ve started keeping a list of because they’re just so…interesting. Like “coaching a paranoid spouse,” “national velvet gertrude english channel” and, my personal favorite, “boys in showers.” I’m probably not getting a lot of repeat visits from that last one. At least I hope I’m not.)

But I’ve realized, from a year or so of doing this, that 1) not a lot of women interact online about sports, and 2) not a lot of coach’s spouses feel the need to connect. And that’s OK because probably most of us are too busy being the air-traffic controllers in our family’s lives to have time to connect.

Although, I have to say, during my first year of marriage to Mr. Coach, I was taken out to lunch down in Fort Lauderdale by some of the other coaches’ wives, all of them in the 60+ year-old phase of life. Mr. Coach said they were softening me up so that some day we’ll agree to run the winter training camp down there. And as I sat there with the ladies, some of us face-down in our margaritas at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in December, I thought to myself, “You know…I could get used to this.”

But the truth is -- and this is part of why it's still fun even after almost 18 years -- is that you never really do get used to it. There’s always going to be some new challenge heaved your way, whether it’s a new pool that only took 17 years to secure funding for or a pair of athletes who decide they’d like to swim the English Channel. There’s always something new.

(Oh, and next week, I promise I’ll do a wrap-up on the whole Channel relay experience because I’ve got some seriously good stories to tell about that.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Once More with Feeling

Channel Swim, version 2.0. Around 9:30 a.m. (British Summer Time), David took off again, this time as part of a four-swimmer relay attempt to swim across the English Channel. If you have access to Facebook, please join the Channeling Peace Initiative group (it's an open group so it shouldn't require any administrating to join). I'm posting the "GPS pings" that David's mom, Tami, is sending every so often. It's a really fun way to "watch" the progress!


Edited to add at around 7 p.m., EDT: We just got phone calls from the boat, letting us know that after 13 hours and 25 minutes of swimming, David and his three teammates successfully swam across the English Channel. They made landfall about 11 p.m. BST near the lighthouse at Cap Gris-Nez. David was not the last swimmer who got to go ashore, but his teammate brought him back a souvenir French rock (or "caillou" for you purists). He also made a new friend along the way -- a seal who swam with him for a while in an epic show of inter-species solidarity. Now they are headed back to Dover on the boat, and are eating scones and jam! Thanks, everyone, for following along today!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Just Keep Channeling....

Right now it's getting on to supper time over in the U.K. My husband had said he was going to take a nap after this morning's attempt but I have a feeling he's been too adrenalized to do much sleeping. There have been a few emails with references to long hikes along the coastline. Dick got to swim a bit with David during the nearly four hours that it took David to go an estimated 10 kilometers (that's 6.2 miles to us Yanks), but I know all their brains are still whirling.

Copied below is Dick's first collection of thoughts on the attempt. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I did:

"What David did today was amazing and I am beyond proud of his accomplishment of swimming for nearly four hours in his channel-crossing attempt. He endured a physical challenge that most of us will never understand. This takes a very special type of motivation, one that not all of us possess. While David had some external motivators, his mom, Tami, the boat pilot, Andy, myself and even chocolate, none of these have the ability to drive someone to what David accomplished. To overcome what he endured and to keep going for the period of time he was swimming takes extreme internal motivation. Those of you who know David understand this attribute and yes it is even stronger that the promise of chocolate. The success in this crossing attempt is not in the completion but in the intended goal, process, experience and what is learned. We never really expected David to make this solo crossing but instead to swim as far as David possibly could in the conditions on that day. He did that and will take this experience with him the rest of his life.

I feel disappointed for David and Usman in that they will not get to do their Channeling Peace Initiative relay across the channel as originally planned. After what I witnessed today, I feel quite certain that they would have been successful. It would not have been easy, but they could have accomplished one of their goals in the intended endeavor.

It was not the intent of the Channeling Peace Initiative to have David attempt a solo English Channel swim. Due to some bumps along the path to the intended endeavor, when Usman’s visa request was denied, David and Usman agreed upon a backup plan. This new plan included a solo channel attempt by David and a virtual channel swim by Usman in his pool in Pakistan. We now anxiously await Usman’s swim in Lahore, Pakistan in the next few days. It is so wonderful to see the resourcefulness of these two young men when faced with a challenge over which they have no control. They have kept the real meaning behind Channeling Peace alive with their ability to adapt. And as Usman put it in the CNN article: "Even if I have to swim in a lake in Pakistan while David swims in the English Channel, it's still a powerful symbol."

"Symbols gather power not from the act itself but from the people who are supporting them," he said. "A lot of people around the world are supporting us and our message. As long as they support it in their hearts and minds, we have been successful." "

Off to Channel Some Peace

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the text message letting me know David took off this morning (around 4 a.m. Eastern US Time/9 a.m. British Summer Time) didn't toddle in for several hours. But he's off and we're trying to determine if Usman also was able to start swimming in his home pool in Lahore, Pakistan, at the same time. This was the Plan B we had hoped we wouldn't have to implement, but we did.

Here are the first and second GPS pings I have received from Tami, David's mom, on board the boat which is piloted by the able Andy King. The first was from 9:06 a.m. BST and the second was from 9:48 a.m. Looks as if the currents pulled him a little bit south but that sure likes he made a lot of "ground" quickly. The weather report right now from Dover shows that it's 72 degrees F/about 20 degrees C, partly cloudy with light winds out of the south.

I haven't received any other communications since then, so it's possible they're not able to send anything from out on the water. My husband's text said they wouldn't have email access out there as they had first thought they might. (We get so spoiled with all our instant communications, don't we?)

So, it's time for prayers and positive thoughts -- that's OUR part of the relay!


Not much later, I have just received this post from David:

Hello all.

I am sorry to announce that I did not make it across the Channel. Nevertheless I gave it as valiant an effort as I could.

The first hour went smoothly, making good time and breaking briefly for a feed. Half an hour later I threw up four times (unpleasant experience!). Over the next two hours I found myself throwing up an additional seven times and unable to keep down even plain water. Needless to say, after an additional half hour and still without fuel, my stroke had clearly deteriorated the pilot became concerned about how much I was shivering. Shortly there after, the decision was made.

While the result is not as enticing as the idea of reaching a French beach, all us here are proud of the effort made. There were a lot of unfortunate and unpredicted hurtles preventing our original plan of a relay with Usman and I. But we continue to try and make the best of the situation. Usman is in the process of planning his own long-distance swim in Pakistan, and David has been invited to participate in an additional Channel-swimming relay later this week. More updates will come for both of these, and as always, thank you, all of you, for your continued support!


Well, I don't know about you folks, but I don't think any of that is any excuse not to keep sending prayers and positive thoughts to the guys! Bravo!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Virtues of Slowing Down

Well, while we’re waiting for the Channeling Peace swim to get cranking (read the latest surprising news in the entry below; I’ll keep you posted here and you’re also welcome to join the Channeling Peace Initiative Facebook group), I thought it might be fun to pay attention to what’s been happening in the world of pool swimming.

As anyone who’s been following the FINA World Championships (of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming, open-water swimming and synchronized underwater ice hockey) in Rome knows, FINA -- swimming’s organizing body – has decided that the high-tech suits which have enabled the rewriting of the record books over the last two years will be banned as of Jan. 1, 2010.

It’s been an interesting two years, watching the suits creep into the world of competitive swimming. Mr. Coach was dismayed and opposed to them from the start when Speedo rolled out its LZR suit in February 2008. (Me too.) He called it when he said the LZR suits and every polyurethanic abomination that followed would quickly make their way into even age-group meets, would create more entry barriers with their exorbitant costs for underprivileged athletes and financially-strapped college teams, and would undermine the integrity of the sport because the suits made folly of basic technique and training wisdom. When he asked the other coaches in his collegiate conference to forgo the suits earlier this year, all he got was a chorus of crickets and one long-winded email dissertation from one coach that could be summed up in one sentence: The ship had left the harbor, so wave bye-bye.

Guess what? Last week the ship returned to harbor. Somebody must have discovered it had a rudder. So while the braying of Internet haters (nearly all of whom are suit lovers) will likely continue for a while, I hope the rest of the swim world embraces this return to pure swimming with positivity. I’ve always maintained that swimming, like running and wrestling, is one of the only pure sports, where all you really need to do it is your body. (That’s not to say other sports are impure. I just find this detail interesting.)

But there will be one significant obstacle that athletes will have to surmount now -- and I’m sure it will yield a couple hundred studies to be published in the "Journal of All Things Exercise Physiological and Polysyllabic" -- and that is: How will athletes deal now with going slower? How will they learn to accept slower times when they’re working just as hard, if not harder, than ever before?

To which I say: Welcome to my world! I know ALL about working hard and going slower. Actually anyone who’s ever gotten older (studies prove this happens to about 99.9 percent of the population) knows what it’s like to work hard and go slower.

It happens and somehow you find new goals and redirect your mind (and body) to them. That’s what these elite athletes are going to have to do as they kiss their personal records goodbye. They can organize the numbers however they want: pre-suit, during-suit, post-suit, whatever it takes. The sooner they let go of those during-suit numbers, the sooner they’ll get used to feeling – and enjoying -- the pure water on their bodies again.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Break in Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Please forgive this gratuitously personal interruption in my regularly scheduled programming, but a journalist is nothing if not timely with the late-breaking news.

Just a few hours ago, a story went out on the newswire about the Channeling Peace Initiative. I've written about this endeavor before on this blog, and just this past Sunday I packed my husband, Mr. Coach aka Dick Hawes, off at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. to get to the airport for his journey to England. Two of his Ohio Wesleyan University swimmers, one an American and the other a Pakistani, have been preparing to swim the English Channel for a two-fold purpose: one, to demonstrate the power of international friendship to create peace in troubled times; and two, to raise money for the Doctors Without Borders program.

Last Friday, we learned that the British government had denied Pakistani student Usman's application for a visa entry on the grounds that they could not confirm he was a student at an American university and that his sole purpose for entering the U.K. was to swim the Channel. They made this decision despite the fact that his U.S. student visa was attached to the passport which they reviewed and that his contract with the Channel Swimming Association also was included.

At this point, my husband, American student David and David's mom Tami are in Dover, U.K. Usman is still at home in Pakistan. Each day we all try navigating some new tack in our attempts to get Usman his visa to join them. A small army of alumni and friends from American and Pakistani communities have all been helping work the channels, if you will, that they have to various government agencies. The CNN article was written by the stepdaughter of David's high-school swim coach.

The young men's assigned window of time to attempt the swim opened on July 28 and will run through Aug. 6. Plan A remains getting Usman there. Plan B emerged just the other day -- when the guys weren't keeping themselves from going stir crazy in their respective locations by taking Facebook quizzes like "Which Victoria's Secret Angel Am I? (David is Allesandra Ambrosia and Usman is Heidi Klum). Plan B involves David attempting a solo crossing (with my husband pacing him) while Usman swims in either a lake or a pool in Pakistan at the same time. The two teams supporting them would be in touch via cell phone.

My husband thinks that David can pull it off if he has to. They've been training each day in the Channel since they got there. Dick reports that it's not the water that's tough to deal with. It's the "beach" you have to walk across to get into the water -- it's all jagged rocks and pebbles. And he says the "ice cream headache" from the slightly nippy water (low 60-degrees Fahrenheit) goes away pretty quickly. Well, isn't that comforting to know?

So I tell you all this to solicit your prayers and positive thoughts for the guys' success. It's more than just a little ironic that one country not feeling very friendly toward residents of another country is what threatens to undermine David and Usman's original plan to celebrate the power of international friendship. But it's more than just a little fitting that friendship will find a way to make something good happen, no matter what the obstacles are.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Bullpen (aka The Seventh Circle of Hell)

Until the last night of summer swim league championships this past Tuesday, I had thought, “Maybe I’ll blog this week about how much fun it is to sit and eavesdrop on the kids, as they hang out in the team camp, waiting for their events.” This is how I get caught up on all the latest high school gossip and on my Pokemon card-trading strategies (Squirtle eventually evolves into Blastoise who can pull water cannons out of his shell and has 100 health points. Who knew?).

But then the mom who rounds up volunteers came looking for people to work the bullpen on the last night of championships, and there went my peaceful evening of eavesdropping. Oddly enough, in all my years of swim parenting and coach spousing, I had yet to work a bullpen. Now I know what I’ve been missing and I have the aching back and roughed-up vocal chords to remind me, just in case I forget.

The bullpen, for those of you who know how to evade volunteer coordinators, is the place at a meet site where swimmers are corralled, sorted into events and heats, told they can pee in the water if they really have to go that bad but they cannot leave the bullpen for the bathroom now, and then marched out to a pool deck where, half naked, shivering and surrounded by fully clothed, screaming adults with video cameras, they have been conditioned to fling themselves into cold water when a buzzer is sounded and they cannot get out again until they are exhausted and disoriented by oxygen deprivation. It’s like a cockfight, only less humane.

But I wouldn’t know how the pool part of the evening actually went that last night because I was working the bullpen. We had 64 chairs set up under a tent, eight rows of eight chairs each. For a little while, it was only 63 chairs until we figured out that some woman (in a Hermès scarf, I feel compelled to note) had stolen one so she could sit and watch her little muffin swim in the kiddie pool. I sent the bullpen mom with the loudest voice to go get it back. It wasn’t easy but she got the job done.

We chased hovering parents out of the bullpen – also not an easy job. Yes, I realize that all this chaos could be emotionally scarring for little Dagmar or Robespierre, but two minutes before we ship them out is not the time to rethink your decision to sign them up for the swim team.

We stared down TWA (Tweens With Attitudes) and threatened them with disqualification if their eyes didn’t stop rolling in their sockets. We negotiated with coaches who insisted that “the other half of the B relay is here…somewhere…they just might not make it to the bullpen…but don’t scratch them.”

And we did have the heart-warming experience of being able to put one alternate into a race when a kid did not show up for finals. Those first and second alternates are the ones who tug at your heartstrings because they do show up and stand outside the bullpen, waiting patiently and hoping against hope that they’ll get another chance to swim. As with my beloved 6 & Under swimmers, these are the kids who remind me why an aching back is a small price to pay for inspiration.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Birthday Workout

I don’t know if other people are the same, but I put quite a bit of effort into planning my Birthday Workout.

This ritualistic homage to my own birth started when I was a high school runner. I decided that, since I was born at 6:33 p.m., I needed to be running at that exact moment every year on my birthday. And for many years I did just that -- until one day in my early 30s when I suffered a terrible realization. For all those years of birth-moment running, I had been living in the Eastern U.S. time zone – but I had been born in the Pacific U.S. time zone, which meant I had been running three hours too early every year. I should have been running at 9:33 p.m.

I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out. As anyone who knows me will tell you, details like that don’t usually escape me because my brain is a graveyard for minutiae. Need to know the N.Y. Yankees’ starting lineup for the 1978 World Series? It’s in there. The middle names and birth dates of all my grade school classmates? Yup, they’re still in there, too, taking up space that could be better devoted to remembering when I last changed the oil in the car.

And yet, this detail had eluded me and that irked me to no end. My slavish devotion to the moment of my birth was tainted by operational error.

Well, you say, just wait til 9:33 p.m. Look, I don’t know about you, but by 9:33 on the balmy summer anniversary of my birth, I prefer to be digesting a filet mignon, a twice-baked cheesy potato and a spinach salad with sliced strawberries and Catalina dressing. And I’d rather have a snappy little Shiraz, and not a cocktail of adrenalin and lactic acid, coursing through my veins. In other words, a 9:33 p.m. workout is not an option.

So it was back to the drawing board for the Birthday Workout. Over the course of the next few years, I expanded my workout repertoire to include yoga and swimming. With the Heavy Heart of The Deeply Disillusioned, I continued to do some kind of “special” workout on my birthdays, but I wasn’t feeling the love...until I hit 40 and stumbled onto a new Birthday Workout strategy.

Inspired by my husband’s triathloning, I decided to create my own Birthday Triathlon. That first year, it was 40 minutes of yoga, 40 laps of swimming and 4.0 kilometers of running. Each year, I’d add another minute, length or repetition of whatever I decided to do.

It was after my 44th birthday, two years ago, when I made the swimming segment 44 50s that I realized I had a potential problem. 44 50s wasn’t a problem now, but thinking ahead to, let’s say, my 95th birthday, it might be. I could just see it now: The EMT squad would show up to fish my corpse out of the pool. What would they write for “cause of death” on the official report? “Stupidity.”

So I thought, well, what if I keep adding minutes and repetitions til I get to 50 and then start subtracting them until I zero out on my 100th birthday (when you figure it’ll take the whole day anyway for my 104-year-old husband to serve me my Birthday Dinner)? But that felt too Countdown-ish to Death, so I quickly nixed that idea.

So that leaves me back where I started – working out at the anniversary moment of my birth.

I only have to make one slight modification: We’ll have to move to Hawaii.