I started swimming over a year ago and last weekend — October 1991 — I swam in my first meet.
I took swimming lessons like many kids in grade school, but I could never quite master the whole “rhythmic breathing” concept. So I became, what I considered, a quite accomplished “head out the water” front crawler.
Last year, after a couple of quick lessons in an apartment pool, I went to my local YMCA and tried to do a few laps. I learned that oxygen is not a privilege, it is indeed a gift. After swimming 25 yards, I was amazed to find how vitally important doing the breathing part was. I wasn’t relaxed, so it was hard to do. Unfortunately, there are all these people swimming everywhere. Wow, what a pain in the neck they were! “Hey, I’m just learning how to swim here, quit making waves and stop splashing water on me.” I wondered how many times Janet Evans whacked her hand on those stupid lanelines when she was just starting. Once I even gonked heads with someone who just pushed off the wall.
After this auspicious beginning, I gave up my dream of being the next George Plimpton and racing Matt Biondi at the Dallas World Championship Team Camp. Instead, I turned to technology. I turned to the scientists at the International Center of Aquatic Research.
After hours, I climbed into the Flume that had challenged the likes of Biondi, Jager, Evans, Spitz. The chamber was left open. I wanted to train with the rigors of altitude.
It was fun splashing around in the water, but then those wacky Flume Interns took over at the controls. The water was going about 1:55 minutes per 100 meters. In layman’s terms, that was really, really slow. Then the interns turned the dial all the way up to 11 or whatever. Laughing hysterically, I was pinned to the back of the Flume, unable to move.
Having been Flumed, I began wearing a Speedo to the Y. The chicks were digging me. Ah, the life of a swimmer.
The next logical step for me was to have my stroke analyzed by Jane Cappaert, the Flume’s crack biomechanist. (Again, it was on our own time. It wasn’t like the Stanford Swim team was standing around waiting for me to finish so they could use the Flume.) To analyze the stroke, I had to be filmed in the Flume. Sounds easy enough. She had the Flume water at 130, which is incredibly slow for anyone else, but was way too fast for me.
Jane took the film and digitized my stroke for the computer. A printout showed where my power and propulsion were stone or needing improvement. My stick figure showed that I was generating a serious amount of power at the initial phase of the stoke, but that power was not propulsive. In other words, I was pushing down instead of back. Well, that’s easy to explain, I was trying to keep from drowning. I was trying to keep my head above water.
In October, I drove up to the breathtaking Evergreen, Colo., a mountaintop suburb of Denver, where the altitude is 8,100 feet. I went to watch some of my friends, who train at the Y, swim in a Master’s meet.
They didn’t have a fancy scoreboard. Well, how in the world am I going to find out the times? You mean they’re timing the meet by hand. ‘Welcome to the real world, Charlie,’ I thought.
The meet was run 200s, 100s, 50s, break, 50s, 200s, 100s, 50s, relay, so you could tailor-make your schedule, swimming any stroke you want. My friends made out their entry cards and away we went. This was fun. It was the first swim meet I ever just watched; I always work swim meets.
When my friends swam, I had good fun, yelling ‘hup’ a lot and waving my hands, like a maniac swim coach.
During the break, I filled out the order of the Colorado Springs YMCA Pool Hogs 6 x 50 relay, but there were only 5 Hogs in the house. They begged, pleaded and cajoled me into being the anchor. I said no.
“I don’t have a suit,” I said. “We’ll find you one,” they said.
“I’m not a registered swimmer of U.S. Swimming”
“I didn’t pay the entry fee.”
“I have a sore extender muscle on my right leg.”
“I haven’t warmed up properly.”
“I haven’t carbo-loaded.”
Next thing I knew I was tying up a pair of shorts borrowed from some guy named Lou.
“These are going to fall right off of me,” I said. “Well, just tie them real tight,” they said.
“I can’t he’s got knots tied in here.”
“Well just untie them.”
“You can’t untie another guy’s knots.”
I borrow goggles from one of the Pool Hogs. They’re pink. Well, isn’t that special? It’s go time. Time to race. It’s time to stand up and swim. Time to swim hard or go home. Or in this case, swim hard and then go to a nice brunch.
I’m anchor, the Matt Biondi. The object of this race: just win baby. I’m the sixth swimmer on the relay. You must swim down to the end of the pool, drink eight ounces of beer, and then swim back. Sounds easy enough. But, I’ve never dove in with goggles on before. That will be the first challenge. I get some expert coaching on how to keep your chin in and your arms out over your head; that will keep the goggles on. It’s my turn. Everyone is cheating except for us and the team in lane two. We have met the enemy and they have a sizable lead in lane two.
I dive in. Picture-perfect. I’m thinking, ‘well the goggles stayed on, this is great. I might as well start swimming now.’ As I begin to tilt my head up to start swimming, the pink goggles are pulled down around my mouth. Like a gag.
I’d hate to say I got disoriented, but I did try to start my stroke while I was still completely submersed. I kept swimming after I yanked the ping goggles down around my neck. Like a noose.
At the end of the lane there’s some guy named Lonnie taking pictures of everyone drinking beer. Although I’m a bit discombobulated from swimming 25 yards with my eyes mostly closed, my vanity kicked in and I was able to wipe the snot from my mustache prior to picking up the beer. Ah, the life of a swimmer.
My heart was beating hard, not from the swimming, but from nerves. Usually, drinking beer is my strong suit when it comes to swimming, but most of the beer ended up being poured down my chin and chest. I whipped the goggles off and do an impressive backstroke the second 25.
Everyone is screaming. I sense I’m approaching some sort of American or World record … for the slowest 50 yard sprint in history. At the YMCA, I do the backstroke all the time and I know exactly where the wall is. Here in Evergreen, I haven’t a clue. I pass the flags and do a couple of strokes. Then with the fear of gonking my head into the side of the pool, I stick my left arm out, kicking hard, waiting for the wall. “How far IS the wall?” Finally, I fling my right arm around to get a better look and slap the wall. It’s over.
We finished third. My anchor split – a staggering 47 seconds. And I’ve been swimming for a year now. If I were to have a biography in a U.S. Swimming Media Guide, it would read, “Every relay he has have ever anchored has medaled.”