Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Here's Looking at You!

To say I'm a competitive person is a little like saying that Raiders are kind of off their game this season. It's probably why I have such a hard time posting this blog with any regularity, because I really need the time to focus without distractions. And my life is all about the distractions. In fact, I'm not sure I'm living a life, just little pauses of silence between distractions.

My latest competition was against all my other fellow alumni at my high school class reunion last weekend. They didn't know they were in competition with me, which was just as well. If they had, they probably wouldn't have been so happy to see me. I trained with Olympic fervor, jogging and swimming and aerobicizing weekly, till I was actually able to overcome an elderly Chinese man wearing Dockers and a buttoned shirt, while doing my lap around Lake Merritt. Man, that felt good!

I like my Pilates class and my general exercise class too, because I can look in the mirror surreptitiously and see how coordinated I look except for those rare 20-30 times/class when I fall off the damn Bosu ball. I really enjoy competing and can't understand when people tell me that they like to just do the workouts and never compete. Seeing measurable progress is what keeps me going.

So I figure out ways to compete in Pilates. Besides counting the number of times I fall off the stupid ball each day, I check out all the other women in the class. I see who has the heaviest weights, who leans into the stretches the farthest, and who has the best posture. These (almost all women) classes at the club are supposed to be about shared community goals, but I can't help it. When I walk out of there I want to say to myself, man -- I totally kicked their ass today!

Some people just love the addiction of fitness, never getting out of shape and trying new challenges. While I enjoy being in shape, it's just too hard to do now with all my distractions. I'm on a ridiculous number of committees and boards, mostly having to do with swimming. Stop me before I volunteer again. And I've got a daughter that never says no to any new activity. So I compete wherever and whenever I can. Sometimes it's in the pool, sometimes around the lake. Sometimes people don't know it, but they're about to get crushed in aerobics. And sometime soon, the Bosu is going to hide when I walk in that room.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My New Reality Show

So You Think You Can Swim!

Well, you're soooooo wrong! You think swimming is moving . . . in water. Any way at all.

I don't. I think it is side-breathing, putting your face all the way in. Owning goggles. Not being exhausted from warmup. Not getting out to fix your cap, cough, or rest. But most of America doesn't see it that way. The people in my swim classes at Laney College are REAL swimmers (at least they are now, after we all went through hell together -- mostly my personal relentless, blood-pressure-spiking hell) But each semester I have at least three or four who think they can swim but have absolutely no freakin idea what that means.

They swing their head side-to-side, out of the water. They borrow goggles the first day. (That's my deal-breaking question to see if they belong in my class!) They swim as fast as they can -- the first lap. They say they are good swimmers, except "for breathing." Red Flag!!!

I don't even like the way people swim on those Senior Citizen medicine ads. Denture cream, Viagra, Celebrex. You name it, if old people need it -- they show happy soft-focus active seniors swimming laps, wearing ginormous goggles and sensible suits. But they can't swim! Really, if they wanted good senior citizens could you please just come to a Masters National Championship and pick like anyone! I'm just offended.

We got back from vacation at Pinecrest Lake a week ago. It was just a beautiful, perfect swimming lake. Water temp in the low 70s, clean and clear, all fish scared away from my daughter's futile attempts to reel them in, and uncrowded. People trooped down to the shore from their cabins, townhouses, or camp sites each morning. They were dressed like swimmers and carried the gear swimmers might need -- but when they got in, they were so delusional I thought I was at a Republican Empathy meeting. A few people tried to make it out to the lane line which designated the swimming area -- and had to hang on in exhaustion after . . . 25 yards.

One dad, who swam heads-up like Tarzan in the early movies -- except that Johnny Weismuller was an actual Olympic Champion, and this guy was a idiot -- actually tried to teach his son how to swim. It was all I could do not to get up and slap him silly. Must read magazine. Do not look up. People come up to me all the time and ask me "how to swim," like I can tell them that magic thing in five minutes and voila! How do you land that Space Shuttle again? Oh, okay -- got it!

Mark Twain wrote: "Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid." And that was this dad. Loud. Insistent. He went on and on about how to move your hands, how to kick, where to look. All wrong. Every word.

And surveys come out saying that 39 percent of Americans are afraid to put their head under water. This guy must have considered himself one of the ones who Knew How. So many people think that if they can get through 25 yards or put their head completely under water, they can swim. Once again, I'm offended. I admit it, I'm a swimming snob. But please learn from a real coach. And stay out of my lake, it ruins my vacation. And I worry about you.

p.s. first picture is GOOD; second picture is BAD. Duh.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mr. Perimeter is Back

Did you ever turn to your favorite newspaper columnist to read "Favorite Columnist is away, but we're running one of his old columns in his place" -- well, I'm trying that. Some people may not have seen a series of guest columns I did a couple of years ago on an online swimming site, but now that I'm training again I think it's relevant. Plus, I just saw Mr. Perimeter again. Good to know some things never change. Read below, it is updated as needed.

Laney College pool is awesome, but I never actually swim in that pool. I never train there because people would bother me too much. I like to go to a small club that my family belongs to near our house. Almost all the swimmers there wear really dorky goggles and put in their 20 laps before calling it a day.

Training there also makes me look like Marcia, God of All Swimming – which is nice. The pool has faded targets and a black line on the bottom that is light grey, but there is a hot tub and nice showerheads. Unfortunately the pool is kept at 82 degrees, which always feels good when you first get in, but about halfway into your main set you feel like your head is just going to fly off. I can only swim well in the morning, because in the afternoons there are always beachballs flying in and out of my lane, and the sound that really makes me look for a ledge: “Marco . . . Polo.”

And, did I mention the current?

Being a distance swimmer I’m used to the first lap feeling really good, but not acting on the impulse to sprint like a nut. But here, it feels re-e-e-ally good because it is two strokes less on the odd laps then the even ones. Some pool-construction genius directed the incoming water pipe from the pump room down the side of the pool and heading towards the far end. I’m thinking it was probably aftermarket. It’s good, I guess, that I get used to overcoming adversity on the final lap (not to mention every other lap), but it’s not something that, say, Teri McKeever at Cal probably has to deal with. You know, not that I would want her job.

Anyway, yesterday during my workout the water was its normal balmy temp, but because the morning was overcast there was only one other person in the pool. Unfortunately he was on his back, sculling at his sides and doing some sort of bicycle kick that was one notch up on the exercise-meter from lying on the couch watching ESPN. Did I mention he was doing perimeters? Just scooting around the eight-lane pool, backwards, ducking under lanelines about as fast as syrup oozing across my kitchen table. (Ha. As though my daughter would spill!) Every lap I lived in fear that I wouldn’t see him in time and come flying into his gut on a flipturn a la NASCAR as he was meandering on his way. He said he was doing his “mile.” Glad I caught him at the end.

And then when I got out I think I cut myself drying off with the pool towels.

You know how everything is getting bigger? Not just food portions, but towels too have also jumboed up. Washcloths now are the size of hand towels; hand towels are the size of bath towels; and bath towels are the size of spinnakers. Except at my little club. We’re allowed to take two towels each day, but the first one doesn’t even fit around my hair. I have to use it as some sort of large headband. The second one has to dry only one limb at a time, but they are so sharp that you have to rub really slowly unless you’d intended to exfoliate. Down to the bone.

What the heck, less laundry for me. And I didn't hit Mr. Perimeter. It wasn't Laney, but it was okay.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And this is Marcia, my . . .

Outside of the pool, my swimmers have a hard time describing me. No one feels right saying "this is Marcia, my coach," because most of my students don't really think of themselves as professional athletes. And not too many are sure enough about calling me "friend" because in my job it's not really a give-and-take relationship. I give orders and they take it. It's a little like the exchanges between me and my 12-year-old daughter at home.

"Get in!"
(Swimmer: silence)
(Daughter: silence)
"Let's GO!"
(Swimmer: fiddles with goggles)
(Daughter: fiddles with iPod)
"I don't have ALL DAY!"
(Swimmer: slowly puts on cap)
(Daughter: slowly puts on shoes)

That's just not how most people talk to their friends.

Having a coach is a little weird when you already have another job and are over the age of 22. But I love it -- it's a sweetly charming thing to say about me. Personally I would be embarrassed to say I had a Personal Trainer. It's just a little too bourgeois. Plus, no great swimmers would dream of having a personal coach. Maybe for a little technique work once in a while, but since racing is what it's all about, having an empty pool just means you never learn how to do that.

I have lots of professional people in my swim classes at Laney College, but few of them even know what their lanemates do outside of the pool. I do, just because I chat with people in the two minutes before they get in each day. But unless you share the Locker Room Experience with someone, it's hard to get to know a lot of details during workout.

Do we really need to? It's so wonderful that we're all just judged on ridiculous criteria like:

Can/Can't Do Breaststroke
Non-lethal/Dangerous Torpedo Sculler
Goes Out Too Fast and Dies Like a Pig/Smart

One of my students recently received her PhD and I got everyone to sign a card for her. The best comment ever was "Congratulations, Matt (Lane 2/3)." Gotta love Matt, who identifies with his lane. At 6 a.m., that is often all some swimmers know about each other.

Everyone is begoggled, most people have caps on, and there aren't many people wearing suits that aren't black. When someone tries to describe another swimmer to me -- whose name they don't know -- it is often "She's got a blue cap and swims over there" (vague gesture north or south). What they WANT to say is "She is the worst kicker I've ever seen, never knows what the set is, and I can totally kick her ass on the 4x100s." But of course, we're too nice for that.

So I think saying your lane is completely appropriate. Marcia is "the coach," you're "Lane 2" ("Lane 3" when none of the good people come.) That settles it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

In Your Face(book)

I'm Marcia and I have a problem: Facebook. Too much of it. Too often. Laugh too hard. Can't stop commenting. Quizzes. Lists. Befriending. Seeing which of my classmates looks oldest. Which of my former students is employable. Which friend of my daughter is the most inane (tie -- ALL OF THEM!). Who has the weirdest profile picture. Causes. Groups. Apps. Bejewelled Blitz -- damn you to hell, you haunt me everywhere I go. Wall. Info. Religion. "Less" of that person, please. Fish Wrangler, please go away and quit sending messages to me through this aluminum foil.

But . . . I like it so much.

My husband and I, along with out daughter, went to a Bat Mitzvah party of one of her classmates last weekend at the Faculty Club on the Cal campus. It is a gorgeous Craftsman building designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1902, with interior beams carved into the shape of animals, antlers over the stone fireplaces, stained glass, and a lovely view of a freakishly green lawn in a wooded glen. The parents are rarely invited to these parties, but the Bat Mitzvah's parents were beyond generous and wanted to commemorate this meaningful day as something they could remember always.

And there I met Allyson. I first met her husband, Brent, at some religious school thing and befriended him on Facebook. From there, it wasn't long before I connected with his wife. Allyson and I took every quiz in the book, made every list anyone asked us to, and compliantly blabbed about anything you thought was interesting enough to post. Even when it wasn't. I never really knew Allyson before Facebook, but over the weeks she came to be one of my funniest friends.

When I finally saw her again at the Bat Mitzvah party (I think we had seen each other once or twice before), we laughed and laughed until milk came out our noses (or Cosmos, whatever). Her Irish name is "Bad Tipper" and for some reason I just found that hysterical. We hung on each other, doubled over in laughter for at least a half hour, until we drove both of our husbands away and cleared a wide circle of strangers as well.

I'm just about a Spokesperson for this social networking site, and have gotten almost my entire morning workout at Laney College connected to each other as well. I just ADORE hearing people comment on today's workout (especially when they think it is hard), and love the fact that so many of them feel the need to explain their absences. It's like the messages I leave with my daughter's middle school, except funnier. Please excuse Fabian from workout this morning, he was completely drunk all weekend. I know more about my morning friends than I ever could have in our daily two-minute conversations.

What do you do for friends when you're out of school and in a job with moronic co-workers? I'm lucky I teach at Laney, because I always have someone to talk to where I share the love of swimming. But I have lots of friends from elementary school through high school, a few from college, parents of my daughter's friends, and parent-friends of her religious school class that I don't keep up with as well. I don't even do much with my relatives, except for once a year. I have swimming friends from the old days, tons and tons of former swim team athletes (I'm amazed that lots of them look back fondly on the days I was coaching them -- because I was not as calm as I am now), and gobs of former students from the days I taught high school. I have Kelly, the Supreme Hair Commander of the Universe, to gossip with. But until Facebook, I didn't stay in touch the way I wanted to. It's not deep, but it's always there.

And it's fun. Even if your Redneck name is Betty-Sue Beaver.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Passover or Pass Out: Decisions, Decisions

We observed the first night of Passover last Wednesday by having a seder at the home of my childhood friend, Jack. Though Jack has moved to LA, he returns nearly ever year to have this nice family-oriented (vs. synagogue-oriented) holiday at home. Jack's parents are both deaf, and Jack and his brother interpret for us when we can't figure out what's happening. My sign vocabulary includes the numbers 1-10, the alphabet, and about ten words (which include the names of the swimming strokes, which is generally not useful during dinner).

There are lots of nice things about Passover and many silly ones. Participating in traditions which have been happening for over 5000 years is generally cool, but Manischewitz wine is really nasty stuff. You are supposed to drink four cups of this stuff during the meal. We settle for four sips at the appropriate times. Jack and his family actually PREFER this winelike beverage, when there are actually wonderful kosher wines available -- even a winery in Napa. We start the meal with bowls of matzah ball soup. And that reminds me of a joke:

A Texan non-Jew came to New York for the first time, having never tasted Jewish food. On the recommendation of a friend, he went to the Lower East Side to eat at a real Jewish restaurant. He looked at a menu, but everything on it was strange and new and he simply didn't know what to order. When the waitress came, he pointed to a dish on another table and asked what it was.

The waitress replied, "That's matzo-balls".

"OK," said the Texan, "I'll have that."

He got his dish, and was finishing it with relish when the waitress came back again. He looked up and said: "Ma'am, that was truly delicious. I never had anything like this before. Tell me, do you serve any other parts of the matza?"

Seders generally go on and on and on, with the story of Passover read collectively in a booklet called a haggadah. There are songs, prayers, even questions to discuss, all relating to the departure from Egypt of the Israelites.

The hard part this year was that the first night of Passover was on a Wednesday. Seders are most commonly held on the first night of Passover (or several nights, if you can take it) and the next day was a work day for me. Getting home at 9:30 and then herding the family to bed (one bathroom for all of us) meant that I didn't get to sleep until almost 10:30.

I was wiped out the next day at work. I feel so lucky that my students come when they're tired because it really is almost inhuman to wake up that early day after day. And I know that many of my students are tired all the time. I have new parents, insomniacs, people who work late, students with homework, shift workers, and even problem-free people who just want to see a little TV.

When I was training hard and that alarm used to go off four mornings a week at 4:30 a.m. it was just as hard. Now this is my job, people depend on me, and I feel completely dedicated to not letting my morning crowd down. Back then it was just my decision, the coach and the other swimmers on my team would be there with or without me. I started calling 4:30 a.m. my "Championship Moment." Answering that call was what made me a champion, regardless of the effort I put out that morning in workout.

As a swimmer I was almost overwhelmed with worries around Taper Time, the immediate couple of weeks before the season's "big" meet. I worried about my preparation, my mental toughness, the pain-to-be, the fit of my suit, the timing of the events, what to pack and eat, how much sleep I could get in before I left, the weather, disappointing my coach, everything. But having had my "Championship Moment" and pushing through that always gave me comfort.

I thought about that when I woke up on the night after the Seder. It wasn't exactly the same circumstances, but it helped. If it's true that 99 percent of life is just showing up, it is even more work for those of us who have to show up before dawn.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Won't That Leave a Mark on Your Chest?

My daughter is the Pacific Swimming, Junior Olympic, Short Course, 11-12 Girls, 2009, 1650 Champion!

Despite slacking off the middle 500, terrible foot-placement on all 65 flip turns (where I had to steady myself repeatedly not to jump in), and a left hand extension that just causes my eye to twitch -- she beat all comers last Sunday, and proudly wore her medal all night. Wouldn't it be nice if we all could show our happiness so proudly?

I guess there's an age limit for that kind of joy. When adults do things like that everyone thinks they're completely deluded. I know a woman who is a PhD and constantly refers to herself as "Dr. Beth." Please, spare us all. You're either a professor or a therapist, and either way it's fine but just not worth bragging about.

We go every year to the Santa Clara International Invitational Swim Meet as spectators. Michael Phelps, Natalie Coughlin, etc. are among the regulars. Shortly after each race they have a medal ceremony for the first three finishers. After the official pictures are taken those three can't get their medals off fast enough. It would be a source of unending ridicule if they were to walk around with that medal still hanging from their necks. Put it away, if you want to know how I did just check the results. That's what cool is for me.

My husband is an Administrative Law Judge. Those judges are not in the Judicial branch of the State of California, but rather in the Administrative branch (duh). Because of this classification he is not officially able to do such genteel duties as perform marriages, etc. He can however, take away your license to do business and thus make a living (you pathetic losers) or deny you a license in the first place.

But like all citizens, he may purchase a license to serve as a marriage official for one specific day, between only one previously named couple, in one particular county in California. Which he did last weekend. He officiated at the marriage of his nephew in lovely Carmel-by-the-Sea (note the foreshadowing of the three ridiculous hyphens). After consulting with one of his co-workers who had performed many such ceremonies, he found vows that were agreeable to all. When it came to the question of his attire, the wedding couple asked him to wear his judicial robe.

His co-worker said that in all of the ceremonies he had ever performed in his life, he had never received that request. I think the nephew and wife wanted it to look more show-offey. Here's a real judge and we are related! (Don't look too closely at the one-day permit in his briefcase!)

There are things I'd like to have, but I just never got into the status style of living. Don't want a better house. Don't crave fast cars. Same with purses, little purebred dogs, expensive wines (but don't forget: "Buy one bottle, get the second for 5 cents!"), fancy kitchens, and vacations to places in the Indian Ocean (when you're asleep on the beach, is it really that much better than Hawaii? Or Capitola?).

What makes it okay for my daughter to show off her medal but not the swimmers at Santa Clara? Why do we laugh at Dr. Beth who signs off on her carpooling emails like she's submitting her CV? Why do we roll our eyes at the wedding couple? What's the cutoff age for bragging? I think my daughter will just know when. I hope so. Then I'll get a chance to wear that medal around the house.

MEET SANCTION NUMBER PC9-033 03/20/09 THRU 03/22/09
F I N A L M E E T R E S U L T S =========================================================

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the I'm-Just-Here-For-The-Exercise

Sometimes I think I've just seen it all.

I had the psychic with three-foot wings tattooed on her back; I had the observant Muslim woman swimming while completely clothed. I had an endangered brown pelican swimming in my pool and two rats (one dead, one alive) and a field mouse. I've had parolees, deaf students, transgenders, doctors and judges. I've coached doulas and flight attendants who both leap out of the pool when their phone goes off; lawyers and MBAs who cut class when it's going to be a hard day, and diabetics, epileptics, and asthmatics galore. I've had every variation of spelling on the names Megan/Meaghan/Meagan and pronounciation of the name Tara (Tar-uh, Tare-uh -- unfortunately both in the same class). I currently have a Daniel, Danny and Dan on the rollbook. I have two students in their 70s and two students who I coached in previous decades, who now have two children of their own.

But I still feel bad when someone has a bad day.

Daniel had a bad day today. He couldn't hold his stroke together, and flailed around like he was shoveling desperately against a collapsing sand cave. My daughter had a bad swim on Sunday, breathing every stroke for two laps of her 100 freestyle.

Excuses? Daniel stayed up till midnight, so he's got that going for him. Unfortunately his lanemate completely kicked his ass, which made it even worse since they compete every day. My daughter? I told her to remember that the 100 free (and the 50) are sprint events -- almost not the same stroke as her distance events, though of course they're both freestyle. She has to get used to breathing for distance and breathing for sprinting but she can't get it.

So I tell people that every day you either Look Good, Feel Good, or Try Good. If you don't "Look" or "Feel" at least you can "Try" -- right? Not always. I've given up correcting several people, who are just too hard-headed to change. I think they just like the way they are. Someone's buying all those self-help books, right? Don't want to learn new things. Nod politely then go back to the same old same old. I'm just here . . . for the exercise.

Why don't you just stab me in the heart? It's insulting. Do you go to Farrallon and ask for a grilled cheese sandwich? The Mazarati dealer and ask for an in-dash cassette? Breathe. In. Out. Okay, I'm fine.

It's too bad when people have a bad day, but then I really am reminded how much I love my job. It's easy to coach people when they're going fast -- everyone is happy. One order of hugs all around. When someone is slow, it's time to put things in perspective for them. You are not your swim. Just figure out what happened, and try to fix it. No one has a perfect swim, at least not one that can not be improved on later.

It's so much better to have a bad swim and feel bad than not to feel anything at all. Look at it this way, Daniel.