When I first started training to swim in the Senior Olympics, and was going to the pool a lot, a man in the lane next to me one day was waiting for me to complete a lap. When I stopped to rest, he gave me a tip about how to improve my butterfly stroke, which was his specialty.
His advice to me, though unsolicited, was not unwanted. I truly wanted to get better. I wanted to qualify for the national championship. So I thanked the man, who introduced himself as Slava. He is from Russia. He used to be a swimming coach there.
As we saw each other at the pool on other days, Slava continued to critique my swimming. He complimented my breaststroke, which had been strongest event as a competitive swimmer in my younger years. He helped me tweek my freestyle. He gave me training tips on conditioning. Mostly he taught me how to swim butterfly better. I appreciated it all and told him so.
One of the things that he told me was that I better lose weight. He said, “You are a powerful man, but you are too big here.” He pointed to my stomach. He is very direct, more direct than is considered polite in our culture, but he was right. He told me to do other exercises besides swimming. He asked me to guess how many pushups he can do. The answer is 115. He is 73 years old. He does not have an ounce of fat on him. He swims every day.
When I slack off, he sends me emails. “I do not see you at the pool.”
With Slava’s help, I have qualified for the national championships three times, in several events, including butterfly and individual medley, which starts with butterfly. My butterfly is still not as good as Slava’s, but was good enough for a silver medal at the Huntsman World Games. It is a good thing that Slava was not competing, at least not in my age group. There I met some Russian cosmonauts who were competing. Slava told me that a friend of his was coming from Russia to swim in those games, but had gotten sick. I wish that Slava had come with me, but he did not.
Slava and his wife, Ludmylla, have become friends with me and my wife, Sugar. We have been to each others’ homes, including spending Russian Orthodox Easter together this year.
I thank the Lord that He had me swim in that lane that day when Slava criticized my butterfly technique.
P.S. In the photo above, I was close to 250 lbs. I got down to 215 lbs. Slava was right, it helped me improve my swimming times, but I became concerned that the N.F.L. scouts thought I was then too light to play linebacker. That is probably why I am still an undrafted, unsigned free agent. What a dilemma! So, as a compromise, I have elevated my weight to 225 lbs. Now I am more “well-rounded” as an elite multi-sport athlete. However, if someone tells me that I would be more competitive as a marathon runner if I got down to 160 lbs, I will not listen. That is where I draw the line. You can’t please all the people all of the time.