Monday, October 13, 2014

True Grit

Near the end of the 2010 sequel True Grit, Rooster Cogburn (played by the Dude, Jeff Bridges) rushes dear Mattie to the care of a doctor after being bitten by a rattlesnake.  Time is of the essence.  His own horse shot by the bad guys, Rooster gets on Mattie's beloved horse Little Blackie and throws Mattie atop.  It's far, and Little Blackie runs a full gallop for hours and hours.  With no water breaks (which doesn't really make big-picture sense, but whatever), the horse breaks down, heartbreakingly.  Rooster shoots the horse (pretty much ratcheting down Mattie's will to live, but whatever) and carries Mattie in his arms the rest of the way to help.

My MEMO team was that horse last weekend.

Oh they got plenty of water.  But swimming four events and four relays in one day was pushing it.  Some people actually swam seven events and ten relays in the course of the meet, which was the maximum possible.  Everyone suffered the same misery, as I had all hands on deck swimming relays that were either immediately preceding hard races, just after hard races, or just after another relay.  Sometimes all three.

It was hot:  86, 90, and 94 on the three days of the meet.  I missed watching many, many swims.  Mostly I was distracted rearranging relays, and then rearranging them again. And again.  I had to readjust relays when people didn't show up, when they begged out of butterfly, when they couldn't flex their ankle, when they had to go winetasting, when their kids were having a meltdown, and when they texted me the morning of the meet.  And sacrifices were made by everyone.  Breastpumping happened in the locker room -- how relaxing that must have been.  Spouses left at home had to take kids to soccer, watch babies, and generally hold the fort down for absentee swimmer parents.  Maybe even worse were the spouses that came to watch the meet.  It's pretty darn hard to sit for 10 hours for five minutes of action, in 90 degree heat.  I suppose it could've been raining or we could've been hit with locusts falling from the sky, but it was still a long, long weekend.

Occasionally I had to leap in the water to swim a relay leg.  When you haven't been in great shape for 20 years, reasonable shape for 8 years, or a shape you recognize as your own body for 3 years, that was a little humbling.  But I can just let that go now, along with the fact that I can't remember pretty much any scientific law (after majoring in Biophysics -- sorry, Cal), half my passwords, or how to use my turn signal.

But what fun it was!  Hanging out in the tent is the best.  We train each day only knowing (and occasionally exasperated by) the 3-5 people in our lane, and we shower with another third of the team (trust me, the math is correct).  But at meets everyone is together -- even people no one has ever met before.  Sometimes people even I've never met before.

And while times mattered to some of us when we were younger, they don't as much now.  Bettering one's times from last year is often good enough.  Trying a new event, scoring lots of points for the team, and braving the first swim meet in your life are really satisfying things to do.

We all fail, and that doesn't matter much either. Team MEMO totally hit for the DQ cycle this meet!  We miss our event because we don't check in, miss it because we're busy "visualizing" said event, jump in the wrong heat, leave early on the relay, don't leave on our back in backstroke (not like I've never FREAKIN' SAID THAT!), miss our leg in the relay, flutter kick in breaststroke, quit in the middle of a race, and sometimes just don't want to leave the dang tent.  And that's not counting all the DQs I saw that the officials missed.  Which is also a lot.

Satisfaction and near whole-body-failure both came to poor Alex, fresh out of college, who wrote me a couple of weeks ago about getting back into swimming.  One guy short, I asked him if he'd consider swimming a relay on Sunday.  He was game, and after I Googled him and saw that he was a backstroker in the day (hahahaha -- in the day, to a 22-year-old!), I penciled him in.  He had a pretty beautiful 75 backstroke and a reasonable last lap.  Then, needing another body in the next relay, a rejuvenating 8 minutes later, I pencilled him in for the 100 fly.  Man, that first lap looked good!  By the fourth 25 it was T-Rex butterfly, like watching the Ironman girl crawl across the finish line mixed with a dose of helmet-to-helmet wooziness.  I hope he comes back.  And doesn't sue me.

But we all got to really laugh at ourselves.  Besides forgetting to check in for the 800 free, I was too hot to wear shorts and looked like Queen of the Dorks in a swimsuit and polo shirt by the third day.  I also had my 40th high school reunion on the evening of the second day of the meet.  While meaning to apply teeth-whitening gel to my smile for five days in a row, I again hopelessly failed.  Getting in the car Saturday morning, I q-tipped a gob on and drove out to the pool grimacing ferociously while attempting to keep lips away from teeth.  I had to cover my mouth every time I came to a stoplight or merge point, to keep other drivers from becoming terrified.

And it all worked out.  The reunion went great, and MEMO took second place for the second year in a row.  We scored 1306 points, after just 833.5 last year, which was pretty amazing.  Every single swimmer earned points for the team.  And even the people who couldn't make it helped us, by helping the people who were there train harder in workout.  But that "help" is a one-time pass.  Next meet, you're in for real.

I'm so proud of my team.  I'm so happy.  True Grit, by everyone.

Monday, March 17, 2014

I've Turned Into That Weird Guy With a Clipboard at Safeway

I've been spending the last several weeks emailing, and texting, and posting, and chatting up all my current students and past students and teammates, in the hopes that they will enter an upcoming Masters swim meet.  I'm getting tired of hearing myself at this point.  But it's just amazing to me that people don't want to compete.

I know, ex-swimmers.  It's been years and years, and you've moved ON.  I hear you.  But for those I am trying to seduce, coming back as a Masters swimmer is all of the fun with none of the pressure.  People don't warmup, they scratch events, they go out drinking during the meet.  They buy an expensive racing suit that they squish into after missing every other practice for a month, and every other month for a year; or they don't even bother and wear any old suit that's hanging on a doorknob or on the shower curtain.  They bring their distracting kids or spouses to the meets, they lay in the sun between events to catch some rays, and they even get disqualified because they haven't paid any attention to the rules since 1988.  And no one cares!

Imagine going to school like that -- miss the first five weeks of the semester, then wander in late during a test and just draw pyramids in the margins and write A-B-A-B-A-B in the answer key.  The teacher invites you out for a beer after Section 1.  You go!  You can't recite the book from heart, but you are in the Top 2 percent and everyone thinks you're Neil Degrasse Tyson because you're cool and smart and just know stuff.

That's what it's like now for experienced swimmers.  It's like the sport you know, but with 6-foot baskets.

But for the inexperienced swimmers it's a total terror.  There are whistles going off, men and women in blue and white with clipboards to disqualfiy you, heats and lanes to remember, stroke rules that must be adhered to, and waiting and waiting and waiting.  People

are watching you, staring at you all the time you're swimming -- they're either laughing or crying with laughter.  How many laps in a 200 again?  Do I have to dive?  Why do I have to go to the bathroom every 10 minutes?  It can't be 10:30, I've finished my lunch already.  When will this hell be over?

I get it.  But it grows on you.  Oh some people bang out an email or five on their phones, some can't wake up early on Sunday and just pass.  But after a few meets you learn to enjoy the slow movement of time, interspersed with moments of action like it is when you watch a baseball game.

The ex-swimmers have moments where they can't believe their once-proud physique has been reduced to a shapeless blob, and the days of fitting into a 28 are so long gone that one leg would need a good greasing just to accomplish it.  But hearing the sounds and the laughter, and the cheering from their teammates brings them back to a happy time.  For the ex-swimmers it was when they were young and strong.  For the new swimmers, it's a chance to challenge yourself with a new skill.  You WIN ribbons, rather than get handed a finisher's medal.  That is pretty dang impressive.

And everyone can agree that a beer and some food sounds really, really good after it's over.