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.