Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Modest Buoyancy Proposal

While others debate the legality and morality of LZR and other new-technology suits, I have a more practical idea. I say who needs new technology when you can just go organic! Work with what you already have – your body! As long as you’re not planning to have children some day, the sky’s the limit!

For starters, let’s think creatively about the issue of buoyancy. Many athletes have the buoyancy of granite because of their low body-fat percentage. (Some people might call that "too skinny," but I personally prefer the term "adipose-challenged.")

So what do you do if you’re adipose-challenged and you want to improve your buoyancy but the blueseventies are on back order until 2010? Lipo-augmentation!

Lipo-augmentation is the reverse of liposuction, but this way, you put the float right where you need it and there is not an official in the world who’s going to go poking around to see what’s real and what’s added once it’s on the inside of you. Heck, if I could inject a pull buoy under each one of my butt cheeks, I would!

Furthermore, plastic surgeons would probably be willing to perform the procedure dirt cheap because the floundering economy has decimated their cosmetic-surgery revenues.

But why stop there? How about a little help for the genealogically challenged? You know who we’re talking about here – those poor athletes who, through no fault of their own, are not descended from Helga, the grape-stomping pride of the Rhine Valley with size 15EEEE feet (and mitts to match)? How wrong would it be to surgically widen those feet and hands? Maybe even get a little webbed-skin action going there between the digits? FINA would be hard-pressed to prove it’s wrong when you figure all we’re doing here is evening the playing field.

And besides, as long as you crank out a few records first, and the Amalgamated Surgeons Guild drops a few contributions in the right coffers, by the time everyone starts howling in protest, we'll be able to say, "Oh, that train already left the station, it's too late to bring it back."

Finally, who really needs their head to swim? Hydro-dynamically speaking, a skull can be a major drag through the water, not to mention the problems it causes when an athlete thinks he or she should think.

And if the entire head can’t be removed, perhaps some of it can be harvested for lipo-augmentation elsewhere in the body! After all, the fat heads of the swimming world deserve a chance, too!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Are You There, God? It’s Me in Last Place

When I competed at track in college, I had a teammate who was very religious. Now I’ve been a church-goer all my life, so having a very religious teammate wasn’t, in and of itself, a big deal. Besides, the school I went to was a Catholic university, so a quick Sign-of-the-Cross before or after a race wasn’t unusual for anyone.

But this teammate was religious in a way that took that whole "Spread the Word" thing a little more seriously than most. Beth liked to hang out near the finish lines of races, hand out prayer cards and invite people to her Wednesday-night prayer meetings. But she didn’t hand the cards and invitations out to the runners who won. Beth was smart: She went after the folks who came in last, or close to it. That’s because she knew there’s nothing like getting your butt kicked hard to make a lifestyle change that doesn’t generate lactic acid seem more attractive.

Mr. Coach’s school is affiliated with the Methodist church, but they attract people of many different faiths to the school. I’ve modified more than one dinner menu for religious or philosophical reasons, and that’s cool. Food is a great way to learn more about how and why other people live their lives the way they do.

So Mr. Coach runs a swim team with plenty of room for spirituality on it. The only time he gets nervous, though, is when a kid suddenly discovers God (or any kind of Higher Power) in the middle of a season that hasn’t been going so well. It has been Mr. Coach’s experience that mid-season conversions rarely take – although if a kid is eating right, sleeping right, showing up for all the practices, getting good grades and then decides to start speaking in tongues, then that’s a spiritual awakening he can live with. But finding religion while short-cutting around the earthly obligations usually means somebody is just looking for the on-ramp to Miracle Highway.

Which reminds me of my fourth-grade teacher, Sister Caroline Mary. Before every test, Sister Caroline Mary would have our class repeat a prayer that she dictated to us.

"Dear God...," she said.

"Dear God...," my classmates and I repeated.

"I pray that I...,"

"I pray that I...,"

"Get what I deserve on this test."

Sister Caroline Mary would have made a great coach.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Past the Point of No Return

There comes a point in many workouts beyond which the brain stops functioning but the mouth keeps going. Many people, in the throes of an anaerobic delirium, will start jibber-jabbering about all kinds of things.

Mr. Coach has one athlete right now who has earned himself the nickname of "Blackberry Pie." That’s because when his lactic-acid-to-blood ratio soars, he starts babbling about blackberry pie he once had on a trip to Arizona.

A lot of people talk about food when they reach this point in a workout. As a result, you can figure out which way they swing when it comes to food vices – sugar or salt. You don’t hear a lot about booze, though, thank goodness. The idea of alcohol just doesn’t appeal at that point.

Other people will veer in the direction of pop culture. They’ll hallucinate about hot actors, actresses, models and rock stars with whom they don’t have relationships but now imagine they do. Or they’ll start singing songs, usually badly. Random snippets of comedy routines or movie dialogue will pop out. My personal favorite is the Bill Cosby "Tonsils" routine which ends with the young protagonist gasping out, "Ice cream, we’re gonna eat ice cream," after surviving his tonsillectomy. To me, at this point, it makes perfect sense.

But, unfortunately, the direction that most "Point of No Return" babbling goes is straight into the intestines. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in reverse: Once you’ve eliminated (as it were) higher-order thinking, all you’ve got left are basic body functions. Mr. Coach, when he was training a few times for marathons, delighted in coming home after a 20-miler and telling me about all the stupid poop jokes that he and his tenured-professor buddies had come up with. As soon as the extra oxygen left his system, he had to admit the jokes really weren’t that funny but after Mile 15, he insisted, they had been.

College athletes, trapped in a pool, aren’t much better. The stuff that passes (as it were) for humor at this point in a workout wouldn’t even make the grade on the worst possible Funny or Die video.

Some coaches, of course, will insist on silent focus and commitment to workout purpose. Their athletes, of course, just shift to nonverbal language – the crossed-eyes, the tongue-hanging-out and the head-cocked-to-one-side expressions of exaggerated exhaustion and, of course, the soundlessly eloquent obscene gesture under the water’s surface.

Once released from their coach’s clutches, they’ll uncork the babbling in the locker room where it continues all the way to the dinner table. And with a few thousand calories back in the system after dinner they’ll regain control of their minds and mouths – until the next day when they start the journey all over again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just Look at the Parents

I can’t believe that no one else has noticed this, but I checked out the USA Swimming swimmer database and guess what? Neither one of the Obama kids is registered! OK, maybe they’ve just been doing summer park-league stuff so their results wouldn’t be showing up there, but if their parents haven’t gotten them in the water by now, then I think somebody needs to talk to them. Now.

Why? Well, just look at the parents! According to the dad’s Myspace page, he’s 6' 1.5" tall and he is clearly built like a butterflyer. Yes, we all know he’s into basketball because we’ve seen the pick-up game videos, but that guy has a wingspan and a half on him. And about 5 percent body fat. (Incidentally, I don’t care how you voted. Or even how I voted. This isn’t about politics. This is about swimming. Which, as we all know, is far more important.)

But speaking of more important, have you seen the mother? According to knowledgeable sources (on the Internet), SHE’s almost 5'11" and built like Dara Torres from the looks of it. Plus, according to those same sources, she’s got a 6' 6" brother. OK, so the brother’s into basketball, too. That just means the wrong coaches got to this family first. We’ve still got time on our side here. Plus a couple of other factors.

For one thing, basketball (along with most other sports) is a contact sport and that can’t be a good risk for the offspring of the leader of the free world. And while swim practice could be considered a contact sport, swim meets are not, so swimming would be a much safer sport for them to do. Even if their lane mates’ parents worked for the Bush administration.

And the relative safety of swimming should make life much easier for the Secret Service agents who will be assigned to protect these girls. Although seriously, wouldn’t you love to be there the first time another parent got all up in the coach’s grill because one of the Obama kids got her kid’s relay spot? Do you think the Secret Service agent would utilize one of those Mr. Spock death grips on the shoulder or just a stun gun on the crazy mom?

But back to the Obama girls and their genetic destiny. The bad news may be that they don’t yet have flip turns. The good news is they’re moving to a hot bed of swimming activity. And while everyone else has been fixated on which academic school the Obama girls will go to in Washington, D.C., the more important issue for the swimming community is which club should get them. The Potomac Valley Swimming LSC lists 38 clubs in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. By the start of the outdoor season, one of you better have those girls in the water.

And while you’re at it, see if you can slip the parents some info about masters swimming.