About Me: Coming Full Circle

My first swimming memory is of standing at the water’s edge at Bar Beach on Long Island Sound, looking across maybe 15 yards of water to the raft and wishing I could reach it. Sometime that summer or the next – probably age 8 or 9 – I did and could call myself a swimmer.

For the next few years all I wanted from swimming was to enjoy the water. I’m sure my swimming improved . . . some, but the earliest moving image of my “stroke” shows me thrashing across a motel pool at age 10. More surviving than swimming.

At 13 I swam in a Rotary-sponsored meet at the Williston Park pool. An old photo shows me smiling from the third step of the awards podium proudly holding my first medal.  (There might have only been three of us in the event.) The event was 25 meters freestyle and the back of the picture says my time was  19.6 seconds.

The next summer I joined the swim team and raced as far as 100 meters. In 1965. I joined the St Mary’s High School team in Manhasset. I was just happy to be on the team. We swam twice a week, once for practice and once in a meet.  I can’t recall having goals other than to swim as fast as possible when the gun went off. The local library had one book on swimming Competitive Swimming and Diving by David Armbruster. I checked it out then renewed it repeatedly, seeking the secret to swimming faster.

In college my main goal was to work as hard as humanly possible every day. It was painful. It was fatiguing. I was proud of my high pain threshold, but I didn’t swim very fast.

At 21 I got my first coaching job and from the vantage point of the deck began to understand the importance of technique. And my trial-and-error experiments helped me learn how to teach it.

In my late 30s I resumed swimming in Masters. My focus was on improving my technique, and with constant attention it did improve;. I found it felt better to swim smoothly and my performances in Masters races in my late 30s and early 40s were encouraging. I also wrote a book about swimming technique, Total Immersion, and it became quite popular. Many readers even said “It changed my life.”

In my late 40s and early 50s my focus changed again, prioritizing relaxation and economy. This reflected the realities of aging as well as a new interest in swimming marathons.  I did the 28.5 mile Manhattan Island Marathon in 2002 and 2006, at ages 51 and 55. I also read books like
“Flow” by Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly and “Mastery” by George Leonard. These taught me the importance of mindfulness and purposeful practice.  My swimming continued to improve.

This year, after turning 58 I realized how close I was to being 60 years old, which brought a greater sense that life has “term limits.” This prompted me to think more about what I most wanted from life. I knew I wanted something very simple and yet, for many, very elusive. I wanted to focus more on the pursuit of happiness and to act in ways more likely to create the state of happiness.

Which brings me back to swimming and brings my swimming full circle.  My realization that I want to pursue happiness more consciously and consistently has brought a ray of enlightenment on my swimming goals as I approach 60. I want to consciously practice swimming in ways that increase my happiness. And just the idea that there could be a Kaizen approach to happiness, makes me happy.

So, the mission of this blog will be to ponder how to Practice Swimming as the Pursuit of Happiness. Though it’s been an implicit goal up to now, I’ve learned that when my swimming makes me feel happiest and healthiest I also realize more of the material goals most people pursue – more endurance and more speed.

I’ll add further thoughts on the About this Blog section, and of course in countless posts to follow.
Happy Laps.

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