Friday, August 31, 2012

Trading Families

It's good to get out, once in awhile. It's not that I miss picking up after the family (no way!), or making lunch, or doing laundry -- which is kinda like a dream job. But when I got the chance to be on the coaching staff of the Western Zones All Star team in Grand Junction, Colorado, I jumped. It was six days of coaching, small talk, meetings, nagging, chaperoning, bus and airplane riding, and lots and lots of waiting. It was six days of the world's worst food too, but eating to win wasn't quite as important for the coaches.

The meet is a competition between all the United States Swimming All Star teams located in the West. There were over a dozen zones present (California has several, while some other states combine to make one); I was with Pacific. The host team Colorado won, beating us narrowly, 1,543-1,536.5, due to their superior altitude lungs (Grand Junction is 4,593 elevation). I was in charge of Pacific's 13-14 boys, a hardy subgroup of humankind that eats vast quantities of anything on plates, napkins and/or carpeting, and loves superheroes and the thought of girls -- but not actual girls.

I spent a little of my free time going from Zone to Zone, recruiting for next year's Maccabi Games in Israel -- where I am also coaching. That is a meet for Jewish athletes, and more about that in another post. But I'd go up to all the coaches from the other Zones and ask if they had any Jewish kids that were fast, who would consider applying to Team USA. Let's just say pickings were slim. One lady from Utah (in retrospect, that was a longshot) actually knew a Jewish swimmer, which made her quite pleased. So there were no Jews, no non-Whites except for us, and no Peet's Coffee. I was the only married coach from Pacific and the only one with a teenager. My roommate just graduated from college.

Grand Junction was very hot and surrounded by the beautiful uplift known as Colorado National Monument, though we were inside at Colorado Mesa University. We got a few short tours of the area by our bus driver, a budding and yet terrible tour guide named Charlotte. Other days we got the near-toothless Crazy Man bus driver, who on the last day hugged all the kids while I watched horrified from afar, like seeing a car go through a plate glass window. Colorado is also one of the big "swing states", and we were blanketed with advertising for both presidential candidates. A Romney bus was parked in our hotel parking lot a couple of days, but I'm pretty sure it was just filled with staffers, because even one bite of those eggs would've brought his campaign to a quick end. Obama also flew into town while we were there, delaying the Crazy Toothless Man bus.

Like most of Pacific Swimming (and team Hawaii), my group was predominantly Asian. Living in the Bay Area and teaching at Laney College, it felt normal. All but two of my daughter's friends are Asian, and except for her current obsession with all things British, she is a future Asian history major (sigh). My group of boys was super-Asian, as they all could do all the things that one ever sees Asians excelling at. Swim fast -- check. Build computers -- check. Play Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven -- check. Take pre-calc in 8th grade -- check. Rubik's Cube under a minute -- check. Quiet on the outside, party on the inside -- check. Those are so my-kind-of-people I could just weep.

On All Star teams you get a pile of free clothing which you wear in a rotating order, like attending an incredibly fit Catholic school without having to roll up your skirt. We'd go to breakfast wearing the shirt of the day, where we'd see the same "eggs" in the chafing dish, and then gather in the lobby before boarding the bus to the pool. On the way to the lobby was a baby grand piano where, on the red-shirt day, one of my boys sat down and whipped out the first movement of a Mozart concerto. As we walked to the bus I asked him if he'd studied the Suzuki method, as my daughter had when she learned to play violin. He said not for piano, but he did with the violin. So that's nice that he can do both. And be at the freakin All Star meet.

The next day (blue shirt) saw the same eggs and same walk to the lobby. The junior Mr. Rubik sits down and plays something equally majestic. However, he doesn't also play violin. In school he sits first chair clarinet. On white-shirt day yet another kid sits and plays equally amazingly. He's the one in pre-calc. He finaled in all his events. To be fair, I did have a couple of non-Asian kids, one of which was a budding frat boy inside a 6-2 frame, with phenomenal good looks, and the other two were loveable dorks. But the quieter kids are just easier for me to relate to.

Due to a weird bit of scheduling I was on different flights in and out of Oakland from my 13-14 boys. Who wouldn't like to report to OAK at 3:30 am? And sign me up for the fabulous 10 pm return flight, when my real family and I were leaving for vacation 11 hours later. I didn't have any laundry to do when I got home (red, white and blue Pacific Swimming shirts were not so valued on vacay), but I had to water the plants outside in the dark, check the home answering machine, and make up some quality cat time for a few hours. Did you need to save all the junk mail for me, really? And the rubber bands from the morning paper?

In Hawaii I did miss the 13-14 boys a little, though I was glad to be back with my real family. We did take the bus around the island, but no toothless crazy man was at the wheel. The only sign of politics was the bobblehead Obama doll wearing a lei and beach clothes, giving us the hang loose sign. No one can sit down and play piano concertos in my real family, but the breakfast was way better. And it's back to the home team.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is That a Scythe in Your Backseat or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Much of my time parenting a teenager is spent thinking of her feelings, empowering her to speak up for herself, and trying to replace the word "no" with "yes" whenever possible. HAHAHA! Help me, I can't get up -- my side has split from laughter and my spleen is rolling down the stairs!

No, most of my time is spent embarrassing her (okay, often accidentally), teasing her, and nagging at her to do all the things any reasonable human being would do, if they only had hygienic standards equal to those in a refugee camp in Sudan. And it's really easy for me to embarrass her because it's so fun. I mean, who doesn't love doing the arm movements to Y-M-C-A, while singing along? On BART. I'm not completely insensitive, you know. I'm there when she needs me, blah, blah, blah. But when you've got an overachieving kind of kid, I consider it my duty to make sure she doesn't come off as a know-it-all, and change the benevolent dictatorship (which seems to work quite well) into a tail-wagging-the-dog family dynamic.

Which leads me to the scythe in my backseat.

Among the many things in my late father's house are vintage tools. There are woodworking tools, blacksmithing stuff, machining equipment, and farm implements. He was born on a farm in South Dakota, before the Great Depression, and so I guess he collected the scythe as some sort of memory-inducing device. The other tools he probably actually used, as his hobby was restoring antique cars. But the 6-foot scythe, with a 24-inch blade -- not so much. I'd been walking around it, carefully (cue rimshot), for over a year, and decided it had to go.

I knew the perfect place. My wonderful Masters team, MEMO, swims on Sundays at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, and afterwards we often go out to eat as a group. We found a great breakfast/lunch place near the lake called Jim's. After only a dozen or so times of eating the restaurant down to the foundation (open water swimming appears to increase the appetite), I noticed all the antique tools nailed to his walls. This would make Jim's look even toolier.

So the last time I went to my dad's house (with one of my Masters swimmers, Jane, who unbelievably seemed to enjoy seeing all this stuff), I took it home. Of course it sat in the car for a week because the handle was too long and the blade was too well packed under the passenger seat to remove it and then put it back in. So I drove my daughter around for a week with a scythe handle sticking up in the backseat, like some sort of Grim Reaper Convention attendee. We went to swim practice (careful of your bag, honey -- watch out for the scythe!), my job (where I hid the handle under newspapers, as not to be surrounded by the Oakland SWAT team), the grocery store, the gun dealer (more things from my dad's house, but best left for another blog), Target, Michael's, the Post Office, etc. It was always easy to find my car.

Of course my daughter was mortified that the scythe was always in the backseat. Weird things seem to bother 15-year-olds, I guess. Photoshopping yourself into a picture with the members of the band One Direction and then posting it on Instagram, however, is really cool. She sat in the front seat with me for the week, headphones on, trying to make herself invisible while I cheerfully explained the Story of the Scythe to anyone who parked next to me at lots all across the Bay Area.

And what does this all have to do with my Swimming Life? Not that much, really. But embarrassing my daughter is a little like how I act when I'm coaching. I just try to make all my swimmers laugh. I tease them like my daughter, in hopes of making them feel recognized; I nag them to improve their strokes and work harder. I do this not because I don't want them getting big heads, but because it's pretty hard getting up at 5:30 every morning and driving to the pool. It's got to be entertaining; it's got to be be fun; and you've got to feel good about yourself afterwards. Helping people to get a great workout is fine, but it's more than just designing clever sets and correcting strokes. Coaching adds the little bit of parenting that most people want. Young man, young man, are you listening to me? Young man, young man, what do you wanna be? Not the grim reaper, for sure. Just happy to be swimming.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Cup Runneth Over

I was filling out my daughter's application for the North American Challenge Cup last week, a big international all-star meet for juniors that happens each year in early August, when I realized that forms just aren't what they used to be. Long gone are the days when a scribbled index card in your best imitation of mom's handwriting could excuse you from Algebra. Not that I know that from personal experience.

There were at least 20 pages in the damn thing, and it included consent to have their picture taken, consent to have their name published in the results, consent to travel, signing of USA Swimming's Honor Code, complete medical history, order form for swag, food preferences, passport info and photocopy, times achieved out of our "zone," coach's cell phone, emergency
contacts, photocopy of insurance card, and finally, notarized signatures from both parents. Why you need to have this notorized signature is baffling, considering that only a saintly parent who spent many hours in labor agony would sit there for three hours filling out these forms in the first place.

So up and down the stairs I went, printing out times that were swum in Southern California, digging up the passports, finding phone numbers of relatives, dentists, doctors, and her swim coach, making copies, and rooting around for the immunization log. Of course once I find that log, I then have to google (again) which abbreviation means tetanus because there are like three diseases that could possibly be it. Then it's on to checking on sizes of all clothing, and figuring out which clothing is still the correct size because it has totally stretched out and which is really legit. I thought I totally knew the gimme question, sandwich preference, until I found out that sometime during the last year "nobody" eats turkey.

So then it was time for my daughter to sign off on her pages, me to sign after her, (print name, sign name, date), and then the notary to drive the stake in the overkill machine's heart. And just to make it even more complicated, when I was filling this stuff out my husband was a couple days post-surgery for a repair to a hole in his eye's macula.

The surgery itself was quite clever, where a gas bubble was inserted into the eye to squish the hole closed, like a bandaid keeps a cut together until it heals tightly. But the macula is in the front of the eye, so the bubble needed to be in the back of the eye at all times, until the hole had a chance to heal. Whatever you do, don't google the macular hole eye surgery video unless you are well past dinner time. Trust me. The point of this digression is that my husband had to recover completely face down for seven days and nights, 24/7. He had a special chair with a massage table head-holder and a tray to look down onto. Also from Vitrectomy Rentals (talk about specialty businesses), was a double mirror to watch TV.

So husband spent most of his time face down, with a silver patch over one eye, looking into a double mirror watching every "guy" movie available at our local library. World War II, Westerns, Steve McQueen, and any comedy where someone farts or gets hit in the crotch were big hits. After another hour spent googling mobile notaries and getting nothing, I had the inspiration of calling our neighborhood realtor, who graciously came by with his notary book to help us out. He walked in only to find a house in complete chaos (a decline from our normal 70 percent chaos), a man with an eyepatch staring face down into a mirror, machine guns going off through the speakers, and a dining room table overflowing with papers, printouts, vaccination records, copies, and eyedrops. Welcome to our home!

Doing an extrapolation back from the face down man before him, whose parrot had obviously just flown away with the bottle of rum, to the picture on my husband's driver's license went more quickly than I thought.

Then it was bundling everything up, writing a check for our share of the trip, and driving down to San Jose to turn it all in because it was too late to mail as I had neglected to read the page about the notary before I began filling it out. And now it's wait till Wednesday until we hear if this has all been in vain.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Time is on My Side, Yes It Is. No It's Not.

Well, this ruined my morning. On my Swimming News wire came a story about a man who decided to make it a goal to "swim" in all 50 states. And not just a hotel pool, no ma'am! He was going to swim in lakes, and go to actual workouts. Ooooh. So freaking challenging. But the kicker was that he was a lawyer and Washington lobbyist.

And that just meant it was another of those stories, ubiquitous these days, about people with too much free time and way too much money doing an "every" goal and then writing a book. Cook every one of The Joy of Cooking recipes. Run a marathon on every continent. Play golf every day on a different course. Climb every 7000-meter peak/the highest peak in every state. Have sex every day for a year. Go to every Major League ballpark. Save every piece of garbage generated for a year. Walk every inch of the continent north-south/east-west. Eat every meal at McDonalds/the Chronicle's Best 100 Restaurants. And that's not even counting the people who don't write books about this stuff, but just post every day on Facebook to irritate me: those folks who take a picture every day (worse if it's themselves), write a poem, do crafts, feel grateful, or write in their journals (blogs, of course do not count and are considered a community service).

Who has free travel and tons of vacation time, besides Washington lobbyists? Really. The only people I know who have that much time are unemployed, 88-years old, or on bedrest prior to giving birth. Everyone else can't romp across the continents or states or golf courses. We can't spend all day cooking, much less shopping or cleaning up, or even muster up the energy to explain what French foods are, translated. It's like grilled cheese, you'll like it. Tell me, who with kids could possibly have sex every night for a year?

And who has that much money, besides Washington lobbyists? Between mere day-to-day existence, any extra monies accumulated around here go to things like gum, sponsoring every friend's disease triathlon participation (another column on THAT), and every third new product made by Apple. Home improvement has slipped to now include pillow fluffing, and landscaping has plateaued at Live and Let Live, unless it dies. Flying to Antarctica to run a marathon? Oh, sign me up!

I'm happy to do any one of those things, except the saving garbage stuff. Most people I know just put one foot in front of the other each day, and find joy in their family, friends, work, and surroundings. I do. I've got the greatest job in the world; my little city has the fewest number of ridiculously hot days and the least amount of pollen (okay, kinda high on the dumb people percentage); and my family and friends seem to tolerate me well, considering. That's about every thing I want.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holy Smokes!

Today I got a call from the head of the USA swimming delegation for the 2013 Maccabi Games (kinda like the Jewish Olympics, only no one knows about it unless you read really small print every four years). He said, "Hi Coach," which is what old guys usually say to me because they can't remember my name. But because he wasn't an old guy, what he was really saying was YOU WIN THE FREAKIN PRIZE, as he congratulated me for being named to the coaching staff of team USA.

Whoa. That's pretty much the biggest accomplishment I've ever received in my career. I've had a pretty good year, having my MEMO team do well at the Pacific Masters Championship; being selected to speak in the 2012 Pacific Coaches Clinic; and being named as one of the All Star Coaches at this summer's Western Zone Championships in Grand Junction, Colorado. But this is international -- wearing the gear, walking in the opening ceremonies, hearing "U-S-A, U-S-A," and coaching some really fast folks.

Okay, it would help if I'd ever dreamed about this. It's not the same as my day job where I remind people to keep their "eyes on the sky" in backstroke. The only time I've ever been named Coach of the Year was in 2006 on a display plaque at the local trophy store. They needed to show off their new eco-friendly sustainable wood model and so I suggested my name. It really wasn't a tough sell, as it was going to be either John Smith or Bud Weiser.

I've toiled in the trenches for 20 years, and am still amazed that anyone picked me. Usually coaches are named to big teams when they have lots of their own athletes qualify for that same meet. Someone works with kids for 12 years, getting them from DQing every race to Top 10 in their age group; then that kid goes to college and improves the same percentage that everyone else there does - and the college coach has rose petals thrown at her feet as she flies off to the Olympics. The developmental coaches (we have a name now) are pretty much forgotten, and are generally considered to be inferior. Granted, the high-achieving athletes are high maintenance. But at least they know what an interval is and how to read (not to mention actually see) the clock. I am on my 15 millionth time (next Thursday) of saying "streamline."

But, lest anyone think I want that, I've got to say that this is the place for me. This is the job that I was made for. I've coached a high-powered high school team for five years and was consumed by their training and their problems, both in the water and out. I assisted at San Francisco State for five years, refereeing so many personnel battles that I could get a great job with the WWF. In my years coaching the women at Laney College I've coached workouts with only two people and then had to seperate them because one had stolen the other's boyfriend. But I've found my niche in Oakland. I've found my team with MEMO. But it's great to get out once in awhile.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Meet Me at the Meet

Yesterday was the final day of the Pacific Masters Short Course Championships,held in Moraga at Campolindo High School. Campo is just your typical high school -- with a 50 meter pool, two extra 8-lane pools, a riding stable, and manicured fields that look like the cover of Turf Illustrated.

I had 11 swimmers entered in the meet, along with four extras that just swam relays. We also had a nice entourage that included two swimmers that I currently train (or train occasionally) who are registered on other teams, two spouses, a curious but dry teammate, and six kids.

My team, MEMO, ended up 11th in the Medium Team division. When having 11 registered swimmers makes you "medium" I think our organization needs to do a little more advertising. But we did score a lot of points, which means that we were competitive even among the large teams. The high point of the meet, besides picking our MEMO team colors (brown and turquoise -- now working out a big deal for replica jerseys) was watching the thrill of several swimmers participating in their first-ever meet.

Thrill may be too strong a word for some. Terror (pre-swim) and Relief/Coach Hatred (post-swim) might be more appropriate. Several of my old hands really love swimming in competitions, but by the large number of people who resisted my persistent pleas for signing up for the meet, not all people do.

I'm one of those people who just LOVE competing. I have personal best times for all my swim events, of course, but also the "run" (see previous blog) around Lake Merritt, and the drives to all points in the Bay Area. I even know my workout bests, my workouts when I'm out of shape, workouts when I have my orange suit instead of the black one, workouts when the pool is under 80 degrees/over 80 degrees, workouts with an illness, and workouts after 1 p.m. I also have a PB for writing this blog, which will not be broken today due to its low quality and the many distractions outside the window.

And yet despite all the things I measure, it's really the meets that keep me going. When I don't have a short-term goal it's hard to motivate myself to get in the water. When the Masters World Championships were in the Bay Area I never missed a day of training, as with the Masters Nationals we traveled to in 2007. But I'm more content these days to spectate at my daughter's goals. When she heads off to college in two more years (pause for uncontrollable crying), I'm sure I'll find something.

And so I'm more than satisfied watching my novices conquer their fears and get up on the blocks, and seeing my veterans' pride when they do everything they've been working on and it comes up great. It's not easy standing up there on the starting blocks, all alone, with all eyes watching you. The quiet before the starting beep is so thick with anticipation that the only relief is how way too short it is. Then those novices fling themselves into the water (so cute -- kind of like a dive, but not exactly) and churn off. All the other MEMOs are at the turn end of the pool cheering them on, and every one of the new swimmers weakly raised a triumphant arm after their big race.

In my daughter's meets, the mainly lunatic parents are at the other end screaming at the top of their lungs giving pathetically technical advice to kids that aren't listening at all. At Masters meets, the spectator swimmers are all positive screamers at the other end, with no idea what advice to give. It's much nicer. Even cuter are the kids who yell "go daddy" and aren't affiliated with the Internet domain registrar.

And now that this meet is done for the year, we all have great memories to look back on. The swim meet Swimmer's High is even bigger and more satisfying than the workout Swimmer's High. If we could just work on those dives a little more.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Running into a little trouble

I pretty much suck at running.

You'd think someone with knees that are virtually fresh out of the box (having avoided jogging since high school gym class), and someone who can swim laps of Shadow Cliffs Reservoir would at least be an average runner. But today, at lovely Lake Merritt in the heart of downtown Oakland (cue sirens, helicopters, and distant gunfire), I saw my shadow and it wasn't pretty.

Oh yes, I can pass all the people walking, but getting passed by really slow runners is a little depressing. I do have small triumphs, as when I am able to overtake elderly Chinese men wearing Dockers. But today an elderly Chinese man wearing denim shorts and crew socks blew by me like I was in a lane next to Michael Phelps. But at least I passed the guy doing tai chi.

I run because I'm so bad at it that it's a great way for me to lose weight. Swimming is so easy for me that I have to train really hard for a really long time to burn any calories, and there aren't many days that I have the time to do that. But a lap around the lake, even with periods of walking, is an easy way to get things done. It's just . . . I hate to look so bad.

I'm working on an idea for a t-shirt that says something like "I look much better when I'm swimming." That would empower me, I think.

I try to always wear swimming t-shirts (of which I have like 1.5 million), so that people can infer that I'm really an awesome athlete that is doing something else with her free time. I can only run on dry days because then I'd have to wear a rain jacket that would cover up my swimming t-shirt. And I can't run on really hot or cold days because wearing dryfit-type clothing would say to the world that I buy this kind of gear because I run in all conditions -- which is so far from the truth I just pulled my hammy.

The alternative is to throw sartorial caution to the wind (not that I feel much of a breeze), and hop on the treadmill at home. Overcoming the George Jetson vision of looping around and around till my husband arrives home from work to turn it off, I manage to climb aboard occasionally. But, dang, it's boring. I know people actually say that about swimming -- but they're just so wrong.

Swimming is the real deal. And it's what I look good at. Trust me.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Go the Distance!

My daughter is in Colorado Springs for four days, at the US Olympic Training Center, for "Distance Camp." This is a couple dozen kids from all over Pacific Swimming (Northern California and Nevada) who "like" the distance events (that may be too strong a word) and do well in those events. The sprinters do the 500 free, and the specialties move up to the 1000, 1650 and 5K/10K, with the 400 IM thrown in just for fun.

The workload is completely insane, with four different coaches supervising. Each workout the
coaches get into a virtual muscle-flexing contest (HA -- as though coaches still have muscles!), trying to make the workouts even more challenging than the last one. And at 6,000 feet elevation, that puts some serious hurt on the swimmers. The picture at right is of swimmers leaving the pool after their last workout.

The kids stay in the USOTC dorms, eat at the fabulous cafeteria (where the cooks are no doubt selected for their ability to remain calm as they read recipes that begin "take 24 dozen eggs . . ."), and mingle with the amazing athletes there from all over the country who are using the facility's other venues. There are fencers, triathletes, gymnasts, weightlifters, pentathletes, shooters, wrestlers, track and field, and various paralympians milling around, some in residence there. I'm sure there are some pretty ferocious card games at night.

My child-free four days was almost the complete opposite of what she's doing right now, except for the eating in bulk. I swam for half an hour (I did, however, look really good), had three beers consecutively last night, and kept it smooth but steady as I transferred clothes from the washer to the dryer. I've had months of training like she's doing, and I'm a little over it now. I appreciate the importance of the work, and I remember how proud I felt each day, but I have lost some of that need to do more, more, more. About 90 percent of the need.

I feel the same way about basketball, and I know how that happened. I spent five years as a high school Athletic Director. I hired the coaches, processed eligibility, collected forms and fees, ordered and inventoried all the uniforms, organized the meetings and banquets, and went to a jillion meetings where every person there was wearing brightly colored warmups, as though we could still rip off our jackets at any moment and throw down a monster dunk at the buzzer.

One of my jobs was working the gate at basketball games. At first it was fun; the action was fast paced and the crowd and loud buzzer made it seem almost professional. But after a few hundred games -- boys and girls -- it all became a blur. Too much, way too much. Can't watch another game ever. And that's too bad because the high school kids were basically good. It's not like the NBA, where the rosters are filled with folks that have methodically checked off all the categories of felonies on their bucket lists. I wouldn't go to an NBA game if you could peel off center court tickets on the back of my Cheerios box.

But I digress. So I'm glad my daughter is training hard, and loving to train hard. She's had a well-planned career (ouch! my hand got a cramp patting myself on the back) that's left her enjoying the sport and continuing to improve. She'll look back on those days in Colorado Springs one day and say -- what the hell was I thinking? -- but she'll be proud, as I am of her.