I haven’t done one of these in a good long while.
Back in the 80s I swam competitively for the town club, the Peace River Porpoises. Other than dodge ball this was by far my best sport. I was never Alex Baumann good, but I was good enough not to embarrass myself. Even at the meets I rarely came in first, but I often placed and I made it to provincials one year.
I liked the training though far more than the meets. Training started in the springtime with dryland. Aerobics, flexibility and cardio exercises in the MacGrath gym for two weeks. It was amazing how even during school and riding my bike to a fro each day how out of shape you’d be after winter. Dryland taught you that. The highlight of dryland was the final day cross-town run leaving the gym at the far north of town and running all the way to the swimming pool located about 5 blocks from my house on the south side of town and then back again. his part was great. The aerobics always had the drawback of feeling a bit like a Jane Fonda exercise tape, but the run was awesome. It was always my goal to come in first during the run. No small feat since many of the club were far older than I.
The swimming pool I grew up with was an outdoor pool at the edge of downtown Peace River. Two diving boards, a deep end and a shallow end and a lifeguard chair perched halfway down the side as the deep end started. It was built without regard to competitive swimming so it was a bit shorter than 25 m, but it had six lanes across when roped. During meets they brought out starters blocks from which to dive, but during most practices (except days with diving drills) it was just six lanes and the water.
We swam rain or shine. Thunder was necessary to drive us from the water. There were endurance drills, speed drills, strengthening drills and form drills. We swam warm ups and cool downs. Unless there were sprint drills, you rarely needed to get out of the water. At the end of your lane (lanes were normally divided by age class) was the list of drills to perform and you just worked your way through them. The team coach would wander up and down the sides and met kids at the ends to give pointers or advice.
This was the part I really dug. You’d start with 10 or 15 lengths to do and one by one you’d reduce them to nothing. Learning to breath during the frontcrawl. Counting stroked from the flags to the pool end during the backstroke. Grabbing a flutter board and sprinter with only a flutter or frog kick up and down the pool.
If you miss behaved you were pulled from the pool and made to do bummers. A bummer was like a push up, but humiliating. You got in a push-up position, but then raised your bum until your body made an inverted v and then lowered it again. Beside being very funny to watch they were actually also tiring as they did work your core wen you did 50 of them on a row.
I didn’t have to do bummers that often. I was a good kid so I only did them when the whole club was punished for not working hard enough. But there were still other little embarrassments. Most worrisome was the fact that I was at the age where ever once and a while I wouldn’t want to walk to the pool or emerge from it because of uncontrollable tumescence. I’m not sure how often it actually happened – emerging from the water and grabbing a flutter board or holding my hands in a fig leaf, but it was a constant worry. Swimming was awesome – the transitions were terrifying.
My other hurdle was diving. I was a late diver. I was pretty convinced that my hands wouldn’t break the water and my head would enter hard and snap y neck. I think my entire first year I competed without diving. I’d stand on the blocks and when the gun went just jump into the water and then try and make up ground on the rest of the kids.
Once a week or so the coach would pull me aside for personal diving lessons on the edge of the pool. I’d hold my arms over my head, crouch down and roll into the pool. I wouldn’t jump or straighten so my knees normally hit the water first. You needed to jump in order to get your head in first and that meant commitment. I wasn’t going to commit to a face smashed into the water. I remember the day I first successfully dove. The coach stopped the whole club to give me a round of applause. Like any fear once conquered diving became both easy and fun.
There were other hurdles to over come. My strongest stroke was the backstroke (like Baumann). I had a pretty darn good backstroke. But it meant a wall approach that was unseen. 6 strokes before the wall (or five or four depending on how strong you were) there were flags overhead. You saw the flags and began counting. Just before the wall you did a reverse summersault. Nowadays the backstroke turn is actually done on your stomach, but back then it was all done from your back. You hit the wall with your feet and twisted as you came to the surface, your arm beginning its first stroke. A well done turn was very fun, but they were hard. Miscounting meant you slammed either your wrist or your head into the edge of the pool if you waited to long. If you went too early the wall would be nowhere to be found and you’d push of nothing (and get DQd in a race). The flip itself often resulted in a nose full of water. It was the most technical part of the stroke and I was never great, but it was something I improved at every year.
My eyesight was my final hurdle. I had near sightedness since the 2nd grade. But you didn’t wear glasses to the pool. This led to a number of issues from spotting the pool end, seeing the flags to reading the drills assignments from the board. I normally had to wait for someone else to tell me what they were or get out of the pool and run to the board and back again. I also had a bad relationship with the garment bags at the pool. I lost numerous glasses and watches in those things over the years. They were coarse and green and had a voluminous appetite for my possessions.
But the oddest impact was to my starts. I was always last off the blocks and I blamed my eyesight. I couldn’t explain it because I also would have sworn that I dove when the gun went off. However, I must have been, in part, taking my cue from the sense of movement on the blocks to either side of me. You were supposed to look at the point where you wanted to enter the water, but I didn’t have a clue where that was. It was only a blur. I was always the last competitor off the blocks.
So my folks bought me prescription goggles. When everyone else got to the edge of the pool for a breather and a chat, they flipped their goggles up onto their forehead. Not me. I left them on so I could see who I was talking to. My ability to judge distance became much better. Sight is awesome. I highly recommend it. And they did help my starts as I said they would. Yay!
I’ve spent a lot of time on little issues with swimming, but I want to be clear. I loved the water. I liked the smell of the chlorine and the brittleness of my hair after two hours in the pool. I liked the exercise. I loved the feeling of going fast during the backstroke. I liked the satisfaction of pushing hard and being the first to finish the drills. Or of slacking off and being the second last to do so (not last though – that earned bummers).
I liked swimming in the sun and getting a burn until you developed a tan. I liked swimming in the rain and wanting to do another drill just to stay warm and not get out into the cold and the wet. I liked competing against the club members who were better than I. I wasn’t a huge fan of meets, but I liked doing well. (Meets were two hours of driving at 5 in the morning to get to the neighbouring town and then a day of sitting around being bored until your six heats came up one at a time. Winning was great, but losing meant that you could sometimes go home early…I never wanted to lose, but it wasn’t a horrible consolation.) I loved a reward of a popsicle or creamsicle from the vendor who often hung out in the parking lot.
And I just liked swimming. Good times!