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.