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After a long rest


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Over the last ten years I have thought about improving my health, and from time to time have done different things about it; however nothing really seemed to drive me to make life altering changes. I joined and rejoined a local gym, like others I made and broke New Years resolutions, but nothing really stuck. Something happened this past year, I dont really know why, but I do know what. Swimming some serious swimming.

In April 2012 my daughter joined a local swim team. I had wanted both my kids to swim, like I did. My twelve year old son tried a few years ago but swimming was not for him. My daughter on the other hand was a natural, where my son swam with feet down in the water dragging his body through the water with as much effort as his little body would permit, my daughter was horizontal, flat, effortless, and could get from one end of the pool to the other without breathing. I was excited when she took after her old man and joined a swimming club, but still I did not have any desire to get back in myself. Mid-year my company entered the Dallas corporate challenge, and despite being intrigued by the idea of a corporate swim team, my displeasure at my body weight and shape put a road block in my participation. I was never a really big guy, and despite not really feeling like I was a vein person, vanity took over and I did not volunteer when the initial email went out. Several weeks went by and one of my colleagues asked if I was interested in participating in the swimming. I struggled with directly saying know and instead told the truth that I was supposed to be out of the country on a Business Development trip in the middle east. An email from HR asked if they could put me down as an alternate if the trip was cancelled. The week before the event my trip did get cancelled, but still I did not feel compelled to notify anyone and was trying to avoid the event. My colleague found out about my trip cancellation and I received an email from HR letting me know that the corporate challenge started at noon on Sunday. I was cornered!!!

At the event I wore board shorts to cover my belly, and hoped in and out of the warm-up quickly despite others at the event having similar looks and bodies. The corporate challenge went very quickly but as my event approached butterflies that I used to get when I competed in college came back, and I started to get the old but familiar buzz associated with a swimming race. My particular event came and went in a flash. The dive went fine, and the first length was unremarkable, the turn was over in a flash and as I broke the surface out of the corner of my eye I saw another swimmer. The second length hurt and continued to hurt the close to the finish I got, but I also felt something I had not felt in 20 years, the desire to win. Obviously swimming is not mortal combat but for a brief couple of seconds, nothing else mattered except winning. The pain went to the back of my mind, still there but second to the desire to hit the wall before my competition. Honestly at the end of the race I could not tell you whether I won, instead I felt a buzz, the buzz of racing, the hurt of competing and the thrill of completing something more meaningful than a race. I had reconnected with an inner self I had left behind 20 years earlier.

It took me a few weeks to realize I wanted more of this feeling, and signed up for the local masters team. Again I was embarrassed by the belly and not necessarily what others thought but rather what I thought of myself, my own lack of self-image. This time however I had a different feeling, I had the inner feeling fresh in my mind from the corporate challenge and this was stronger than the shame of my belly. I joined the local masters team and at my first practice it was hell, pure hell. I was lapped more than once, but there was encouragement. There were people who had similar stories to mine. People who wanted to feel good about themselves, people who meditated in the pool, crazy men and women who got an adrenalin rush at 4.30 in the morning at the thought of jumping into 74F water and burning 1000-2000 calories over the course of an hour or two. I know its probably hard to believe but I even woke up early excited at the thought of going to the pool.

A comment from the team coach about a team rule requiring men to wear briefs or jammers instead of board shorts even motivated me to buy a pair of size 36 swim jammers. Further I was motivated to lose weight for the first time in my life, despite the feeling of embarrassment about my increasing waistline over the last ten years. In my desire to lose weight was not motivated by vanity, but rather a desire to swim faster. Before setting myself any swim goals, I set myself a weight target. I wanted to drop from my starting 223 to 190. My coach had indicated he felt that I needed to drop 30lbs to get to where I wanted time wise, so one day I just decided to do it. I did not wait for New Year or the following Monday, I just said I am going to do it. I used myfitnesspal on my iPad, and challenged my wife to join me. I wanted help; because I knew I had some serious food and drink vices. My pension is for dairy products, bread, and beer. Somehow I managed to get through the initial urges and after a week the diet became much easier. Not intentionally, but again somewhere deep inside I made choices like, an extra 15 minutes of swimming vs. a beer(after all they both have the same number of calories), one is calories in, the other is calories out. I stopped focusing on the goal and instead did small things, made small choices always with the intent of swimming faster.

Gradually my swimming became easier and my weight loss became more apparent. First I went from 36 jammers to 34s, and then to 32s, my weight dropped at 3-5lbs per week, my workouts went from the one being lapped to the one doing the lapping.

On Christmas Eve I stuck around an extra 30 minutes to drop a few extra calories and weighed in at the end of practice. I was nervous thinking I would not hit my target, but I hit it. I weighed in at 188.8. I had made my goal. I felt even better about myself. In hindsight, whether I hit my 190 goal or not I had made a life style change. I was having fun, I had enjoyed the journey, I was swimming fast. Not as fast as I wanted but I was swimming fast!

Over Christmas I decided that I wanted to take the next step in my journey, I wanted that feeling I had at the corporate challenge; not just the feeling I got from practicing, I wanted that feeling I got when I raced.

I emailed my coach and asked him if he could help me develop a program aimed at competing at the US Nationals in May. He responded very quickly and suggested I stuck around after the next practice. After practice we discussed my desire. He pressed me on what I really wanted and I responded that I wanted to be competitive at Nationals. He pressed me again and I finally said I wanted to win Nationals. He smiled and said he would help me. We developed a program based on 3 week cycles. The idea was to build up my pool time and yardage over the course of several months. Swimmers typical build yardage throughout the season and then taper for major meets. This usually involves building yardage over an extended period of time and then reducing yardage and increasing speed training over a much shorter period, the net result being that for a short period of time you end up with a ton of energy that you can channel into very quick races at your desired competition. We worked out that we would do 6 cycles culminating in a 1 cycle taper prior to US Masters Nationals on 9th May in Indianapolis.

With the training program set I still needed to get qualifying times to make it to Indianapolis and compete in the events I wanted to compete in. I have always been more of distance and middle distance swimmer, than a sprinter, however I wanted to swim in as many events as I could and decided to compete in all freestyle swimming events, this program was always called the ladder; consisting of the 1000, the 500, the 200, the 100 and the 50. Unlike age group swimming, where there is a swim meet nearly every weekend, masters swimming has far fewer events and competing requires traveling further. I signed up for my first event in Bryan, Texas on 19th January, and entered the 200, 100 and 50 free events. Once of my team mates had warned me that the events went very quickly and not to enter too many events or else I would be doing nonstop racing. Race day finally came and my daughter, my mother and I left Rockwall at about 6.30am and headed down to Bryan (near College Station). The pool was at an Aerofit fitness center on the outskirts of town. Luckily it was easy to find. Unfortunately the pool was rather old, the facility was cold, but worst of all the pool was shallow; so shallow that I hit my hand on the bottom of the pool on a couple of turns. With all that I still had a blast, I won all three races, made all three qualifiers and even had people telling me how inspired they were by my swims (talk about an ego rush).

Despite work being hectic, I have yet to miss a morning practice and have made time after work and at the weekends to increase my workouts and my swimming yardage. Even when I went away with work I went to the website and found masters teams who I could train with. I have swum with teams in Alexandria, Toronto, Omaha and Tampa so far. I even discovered that there are international teams if I travel internationally. Where once I struggled to get out of bed and go to the hotel gym while traveling, I would now set my alarm for 4.15am to make it to the pool at 5am to swim with a group of people I had never met before. All to jump into cold water and bust my ass, all in the search of that feeling; my lungs screaming for more air, my muscles and joints burning, that resulted in an inner calm I craved, that inner rush of swimming fast.

I dont know if this feeling will last and honestly I am not thinking that far ahead to even really worry about it. I do have lofty goals but for the first time in a long while I am living in the moment, I am having fun and I am swimming fast.

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Weight loss


  1. jim thornton's Avatar
    Superb and inspiring blog entry! Best of luck at nationals--perhaps we will meet there. At your rate of improvement, I hope we aren't in the same age group!
  2. fdtotten's Avatar
    Great testimony about your transformation from an average working joe to a super duper USMS swimmer! It is a compelling story so far that may only be the beginning...
  3. StewartACarroll's Avatar
    Thanks guys. I am having so much fun. I don't think I had this much fun the first time around.
  4. CherylAbel's Avatar
    Wonderful. Excellent encouragement.