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.

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