Monday, April 25, 2011

Swimming History Revived

Technically speaking, I can say that I have swum for almost all of my 25 years of life. In fact, still technically speaking, I have competed in swimming for almost two-thirds of that time. However, I didn't get "serious" about swimming until the summer after my senior year of high school. That was when I joined the Woodland Hills Aquatic Team (appropriately abbreviated WHAT).

WHAT was one of the local club swimming teams--the cheapest and most accessible team, for me at that time. I had actually wanted to join WHAT much earlier in my swimming career, but when I first made my case somewhere around eight or nine years of age, my mother told me that I could either swim on the club team or I could keep my other extracurricular activities (which, at the time, included flute and piano lessons, tap dance class, basketball, and a once-a-week paper route). I chose the more well-rounded route.

Instead, I swam for my community team every summer starting when I was 8, up until I graduated from high school. I also joined my high school team swim team in my senior year because I quit playing basketball...that's a long story. However, the important thing is that by swapping basketball for swimming my senior year, I met the best coach I have ever had: G___. G___ taught me to love swimming and training and competing in a way I had never experienced before. He was the most motivating coach I have ever met, and when our season ended, I approached him and asked whether I could join the club (WHAT) team, which he also coached. He said yes.

Thus began what I consider my "true" swimming career. Rather, it could be considered more of an education in endurance training, since it ultimately set me up to become a long-distance runner, as well. But progression went as follows:

  • Summer 2004: Joined WHAT. Trained through the spring and summer--first time in a long-course (50m) pool.
  • Winter 2004/2005 (Freshman Year): Went to college at University of Rochester (UR). By happenstance, roomed with swimmer. Swam on my own during the pool's open lap times.
  • Summer 2005: Returned to train with WHAT, this time with the goal of joining the UR team.
  • Winter 2005/2006 (Sophomore Year): Given permission to "walk on" to the UR team by the coach, with the understanding that I could be there if I could/would do the work. I did the work. I was the only swimmer left behind when the team flew to Atlanta for the year-end meet.
  • Summer 2006: Trained again with WHAT.
  • Winter 2006/2007 (Junior Year): Discovered that I am a middle-distance swimmer; trained for the 100 and 200 free in particular. Only competed half the year because I went abroad in January. Found a pool in England and swam on my own to stay in shape for the summer and following year.
  • Summer 2007: Trained with WHAT. Received a call halfway through the summer from the head coach at UR, informing me that I would be "unable to perform at the level the coaching staff was now expecting" and that I could stay on as a "team manager" if I wished.
  • Winter 2007/2008: Took morning shifts at my job at the campus coffee shop to replace the time I had expected to be at practice. Swam 2-3 days a week with the community masters team (hosted at the UR pool).
  • Spring/Summer 2008: Graduated. Moved to NYC. Started running in lieu of swimming. Found city-subsidized pools and started swimming again.
  • 2008-2009: Taught my new 30-year-old friend how to swim.
  • Summer 2009: Met open water swimmers; started swimming at Brighton Beach.
  • Summer 2010: Competed in my second-ever open water race (NYC Aquathalon).
  • Fall/Winter 2010/2011: Formed Chelsea Chubs with other swimmers at public pool.
  • Spring 2011: Competed in my first swim meet since 2006.

    Plans for this summer (2011):
    1. JUNE: Liberty Island Swim (1.2k)
    2. AUGUST: NYC Triathlon (Olympic distance, 1.5k swim)
    3. SEPTEMBER: Little Red Lighthouse Swim (10k)
    Also, now that I am back in "competition" mode, I dug out my old "personal bests" from college and updated them according to my latest performance. Here is how the times compare. All-time bests are in red. One might argue that I am in the best "long distance" shape of my life right now...!

    Event2005 (Soph)2006 (Jr)2011 (Masters)
    50 free31.4429.86n/a
    100 free1:08.61:05.811:05.84
    200 free2:23.612:21.982:25.34
    500 free6:26.41n/a6:24.19
    50 backn/a37.5n/a
    100 back1:23.71:17.36n/a
    200 backn/a2:43.86n/a
    100 breast1:30.2n/an/a
  • Friday, April 22, 2011

    Snapshot Book Review: Little Princes

    Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of NepalLittle Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Excellently written. This book something like a cross between travel writing and autobiography, with a very strong narrative and wonderful insights into Grennan's own psyche. His fervor to "save" the orphans is well depicted, yet he does not romanticize his internal journey to reach that fervor; Grennan is completely honest that he did not set out with the intention of being a martyr. He simply found that he could not stand by idly in the face of human immorality. The fact that it is a success story does not diminish the harshness of reality in Nepal, and Grennan fairly depicts the city and its people, with an obvious bias toward his colleagues and the children, of course.

    My two major criticisms are somewhat personally related: firstly, Grennan does not do an accurate enough job of describing the physical agony he endured during his solo trip to round up the orphans. He tells his readers of his bodily ailments, but unlike the way he forces us to feel his moral struggles and ambitions, he does not allow us to feel his bodily pain and the struggles that causes. Physical pain can be mentally devastating, and I think it would have enhanced his narrative to give that aspect a bit more attention.

    Secondly, Grennan uses his ending as a subtle platform for Christianity--something I did not expect and did not appreciate. I have no problem with his converting or being proud of that conversion. However, I don't think it is fair to assume his readers will agree that God is to thank for everything, especially his romantic relationship. I hope he will go read a bit of Ayn Rand and then go back and take some credit for his accomplishments, because even if they are something "any moral human being would do," he actually took the initiative, and that is something of which he should be proud.

    These points aside, I think this is certainly a memoir worth reading, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading about charity work, foreign travel, personal adventure, and of course, children.

    View all my reviews

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Biking Lesson #1

    Don't try to blow your nose in your shirt while riding.

    Oh, and biking gloves are not just another one of those snobby cyclist fashion items. Who knew?

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Pride in Men

    Pride is supposed to be one of the seven deadly sins. But I am pretty sure that it is only a sin if it is related to oneself. Pride in others is a beautiful gift. “I’m proud of you,” is second only to, “I love you.”

    I bring this up because I have experienced a lot of pride recently: pride in three men I know and love in entirely different ways.

    The first is A___, one of my most reliable and supportive swimming partners. We have trained together for almost a year now, both in the Chelsea pool and at Brighton Beach. Our group has multiplied over the last several months, and weekday workouts can now include as many as eight or ten people. However, for a long time, it was just the two of us getting up on Saturdays at 7 a.m. to do a workout together.

    A___ embodies qualities I really value in a person: reliability, ambition, perseverance, encouragement. He only began swimming a few years ago, but he is now faster than me in pretty much every stroke at basically every distance under 500 yards.—and even that is probably only a matter of time. Yet he is very humble and encouraging, while still remaining confident and competitive. (I know he is hankering to race me in another 200 free so he can redeem himself.)

    Last Saturday, A___ participated in his first swim meet. Before Saturday, he had never lined up in tandem with seven other exhilarated swimmers. He had never heard the sound of the buzzer reverberate across the water or felt the sensation of exploding off of a starting block. He had never seen the swimmer beside him out of the corner of his eye and watched in amazement as his body responded to his will, propelling him ahead. He had never hit the wall and looked up at a scoreboard to search out his name. And he had never felt his heart leap with joy at the numbers that appeared there.

    A___ experienced all of that on Saturday. He exploded off of the block. He out-touched his competition. He swam faster than he ever had before. And I now understand the description of someone’s heart “bursting with pride.” I was truly bursting.

    The second man I am proud of is one whom I happen to be dating. My pride in him is not for an accomplishment he has already made, but for his courage in pursuing a dream he hopes to achieve.

    I remember the terror I felt when my summer internship was nearing its end back in 2008, and I had to decide whether to stay in New York City, jobless, or to pack up and head home. My stomach was firmly lodged in my feet as I signed a one-year lease in Queens, and I spent every jobless night for the next month laying on my rock-hard futon, wondering how I could face my family or friends if I was forced to return to Pittsburgh.

    Being unemployed is terrifying, and yet, that is exactly what R___ , my boyfriend, is about to voluntarily put himself through. He has been developing a certain creative project over the last several years, and this summer he is going to devote himself entirely to trying to make it profitable. If he succeeds, he will have achieved his dream job and the freedom to go with it anywhere he chooses. If he fails, he will not only be jobless, but directionless, too. He will have tried and discarded three different career paths, with no clear idea of what to do next. That sort of risk—of instability, of failure, of the unknown—would terrify me. Maybe it terrifies him, too. But, for better or for worse, he is doing it. And for that, I am tremendously proud of him.

    The third man of whom I am proud is one I have known far longer than either of these other two. That man is my father.

    I have always known that my dad is an amazing man. He held our family together when my mother was too ill to get out of bed; proudly attended every basketball game, piano recital, and awards ceremony my sister or I have been in; and to this day still offers a helping hand or an extra five dollars, whether we need it or not.

    Yet, for as kind and generous and helpful to his immediate family as he is, my dad is equally kind, generous, and helpful to others, also. I remember going with him as a little girl to shovel the driveway of one of his elderly tax clients, and occasionally I would tag along to the nursing home to visit Milt, the best friend of his deceased father. He always told me that these were his “mitzvahs”—his good deeds that he, as a Jew and a human being, must do.

    Over the past few days, I watched my father demonstrate kindness and generosity that surpasses anything I have ever seen. Last week, my grandmother (my mother’s mother) died. Consequently, the next few days were dedicated to travelling to Schnecksville and preparing the funeral rites and services. Amidst all of the emotional mourning and practical preparations, someone had to look after my grandfather. He has dementia and is now at the point where he cannot be left alone for any length of time. In a way, it is somewhat of a blessing, because he was only forced to realize my grandmother’s death when faced directly with her body or reminded by others. However, this also put a tremendous strain on his children, as they were forced to attend not only to their dead mother, but also to their needy, childlike father.

    This is where my father stepped in. While my mother and her sister bustled around, calling relatives, ordering food, visiting the funeral home, and crying on one another’s shoulders, my father quite literally babysat my grandfather: helping him to get dressed and undressed, feeding him, accompanying him to the bathroom, and patiently taking him along to the grocery store, laundry room, funeral home, and wherever else they needed to go.

    The exceptional part of all of this is that my father has never liked or respected my grandfather. My grandfather has never been a particularly kind or gentle person—during his lucid years, he ordered my grandmother around and was generally nasty to everyone in our family. Out of respect for my mother and grandmother, my father held his tongue; however, I am sure that on more than one occasion, he probably had to leave the house for fear of saying something he might later regret.

    Despite these feelings, my father swallowed his resentment and cared for my grandfather while my mother and her sister grieved, and their brother, my grandfather’s son, sat by and did nothing. This is the mark of a truly good man, and while it may sound odd for a daughter to be the one to say this, I have never been so proud of him.