Shootin' the Breeze

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Archive for the tag “swimming”

Not Impressed

Last week, I went swimming at the rec center.  I was doing butterfly stroke, the Fly, flyin’ through the water.

When I stopped at the end of the lane after a lap, or half a lap, a young boy, appearing about ten or eleven, was standing on the deck of the pool, above me.

He said, “That was some good swimming!  I saw that in the Olympics.  Were you in the Olympics?”

I said, “Thanks.  I was in the Senior Olympics.”

He looked at me with obvious disappointment.

“Oh,” he said and walked away.  I guess my answer was not what he hoped for.

Me neither.  It was not the answer I wish I could give.

If given another chance, so as not to disappoint any young admirers, I will say, “Yes, I was in the Olympics.  Would you like my autograph?”

I might add, with feigned humility, “I also play for the Broncos.  I left my Super Bowl ring in the locker so I won’t lose it in the pool.”

That would make the kid’s day, to meet someone as admirable as me.

It would make my day too.

P.S.  I thought of how to sign my autograph — Walter Mitty.

Day at a Time — Day 1

So, today Miss Texas, my personal trainer, suggested that I return to the swimming pool in order to prepare for success at next summer’s Senior Games aka Senior Olympics.

A few years ago, I competed somewhat successfully in six swimming events at the national championships and the World Senior Games.  No brag, just fact.

My training was interrupted due to a number of reasons, including a trip to the hospital for a bum knee and a bicycle accident that injured my right shoulder.

Rather than swim at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Miss Texas and I decided to start our return to competition at the therapy pool at the Fort Collins Senior Center.  Not surprisingly, the pool was full of old people.  Clearly, we did not belong.  Nevertheless, we tried to blend in.

There is something wrong with me besides my knees and shoulder.  My competitive drive is unhealthy.  The old lady next to me did not realize it, but I saw her as a challenge and targeted her by giving her a headstart and then trying to pass her.  She did not realize that she was in a race.  But I did.

Maybe tomorrow she will recognize just who she is dealing with.  Or not.


Gathering of Champions

All real sports fans are well aware that I was captain of the 7th grade intramural flag football champions.  After that I eventually became an undrafted NFL free agent.  But enough about me.  Yesterday my wife, Miss Sugar, and I met the wife of Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner, who won heavyweight wrestling at the 2000 Olympics.  The championship match is comparable to the U.S. Hockey team’s “miracle on ice.”

Rulon defeated a Russian who had been undefeated for years, including winning prior Olympic gold medals.  He was much favored.  Rulon, an underdog from the University of Nebraska, courageously turned the tide and shocked the experts by defeating the Russian.  You can look it up.

Miss Sugar proudly shared that I have been to the national championships for the Senior Olympics and the Senior World Games as a swimmer.  Somehow my accomplishments paled in comparison.  I am going to wait awhile before pulling out my Superbowl ring.


Identity Theft

When I showed up as a freshman in college, I had a letter in my newly assigned mailbox at the student union sent by a girl who wrote how much she missed me and signed it, “Love, Betsey.”

The trouble was, I did not know Betsey.  Still, I was glad she loved me, but not having met me, I wondered how she missed me.  Nevertheless, since she claimed to miss me, now that we were both on campus, she needed to miss me no more.  I kept waiting for her to come up to me in person.  I guessed she was shy. I could not approach her because I did not know who she was. So, as I walked around campus, each girl I saw was a potential Betsey.

Later, I solved the mystery.  An upperclassman was going by my same name — first and last.  He, not I, was the object of Betsey’s desire.  He must have given her the correct P.O. box as I received no more love notes from her.

Soon I got to meet Betsey’s boyfriend who shared my name, as well as meeting Betsey, his date, when I was rushed by his fraternity, which I pledged and joined.

It turned out that it was okay to be mixed up with this particular fella. He did our name proud. For example, when he was selected for the honor of being Phi Beta Kappa, I cut the article out of the school newspaper and mailed it home — two states away. My grandmother was very impressed. She had never heard of a freshman being selected for Phi Beta Kappa in the first semester before grades came out. She told my mother, “Alan is so smart it scares me.” My mother, not so naive, was not scared. She announced, “It is not my son.” Party pooper!

My greatest feat as a swimmer came with my name-sharer’s assistance. Another coincidence was that we were both swimmers. I was not thinking about it at the time, but in our first swim meet together, we each won a couple events, he in some freestyle events, and me in breaststroke and Individual Medley. Then we swam in the same medley relay. I swam the second leg, which is breaststroke, and he swam the final leg, which is freestyle. So, combined we won five events — four individual ones and the relay.

The day after the meet, a sports reporter for the school newspaper, also a freshman, who knew me but apparently had not attended the meet, saw the race results, came up to me and complimented me.

“Al, you really had a good meet,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, “we did okay.”

“More than okay. I saw that you won five events, but the most impressive thing is that you swam two legs of the medley relay. I have never seen that!”

I had not thought of any confusion until he said that, which made me laugh.

“Well,” I admitted, “you never will see that because it did not happen exactly that way.”

Rather than explaining, I should have shut up, let him report on how wonderful of an athlete I am, and maybe sent the article to my grandmother in Nebraska. I just wasn’t thinking quickly enough ….

P.S. Betsey married the other guy, not me, which worked out for them and for me — because I got to marry Sugar. Betsey was not Miss Texas and, well, I was not Phi Beta Kappa, even as a senior, but I never told Gramma. I wish I still had the Phi Beta Kappa newspaper article so I could impress Sugar. She seems kind of skeptical. I suppose that my Mom got to her.

Politically Incorrect Statistics

Warren Buffet is praised for his ability to analyze the performance of companies in which he considers investing.  He uses information about the companies to predict future performance.  He has been very successful as an investor.

Bookies take bets on sporting events and base the “odds” for winning on statistical analysis of many factors about teams and athletes.

Insurance companies use underwriters to predict life expectancies and health risks based on statistics for people in certain categories based on age, weight, family medical history, and other factors, such as whether a person smokes or consumes alcohol.  They don’t know which smokers will develop lung cancer, but they know that smokers, for example, have a higher risk statistically than do non-smokers.

The TV show Criminal Minds is about a “behavioral analysis unit” known by the acronym BAU.  They study patterns of criminal behavior to solve crimes.

Analyzing companies, teams, and individuals is apparently done using statistical information because there is value for predicting probabilities of behavior (or danger) based on statistics about past behavior or performance.

Statistics are just numbers calculated by mathematical principles.  Statistics are not mean or prejudiced about race or religion.

Despite the neutrality of the process of statistical analysis, many people get offended by what the numbers reveal.

We are not supposed to “profile” Muslim Arabs as terrorists because that is somehow “prejudiced” despite the historical facts that the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks and many other terrorist acts fit that category.  You are not paranoid (or prejudiced) if they are really after you.  The jihadists have said they are in a holy war with non-islamic people, i.e., infidels.  The statistics bear that out.

The federal government has told us recently that it needs to look at private phone records of American citizens, which many see as a violation of rights to privacy, for the greater good of protecting us.  Would it not also help protect us to focus on tracking people who “fit the profile” of terrorists?  I do not see that as islamophobia.  Wouldn’t that be for the greater good of protecting Americans?

Who says I am unlikely to become an NBA star?  Are those scouts prejudiced against me because they are considering my age, vertical leap, speed, shooting percentages and stuff like that?  They think, based on statistics, that I won’t do well in the league.

I like sports that involve timed races, such as track and swimming.  Your time is your time, regardless of color.  Is it unfair that a skewed percentage of Olympic sprinters are black and the vast majority of Olympic swimmers are white?  Oh, well!  The performances speak for themselves.  Warren Buffet probably would not bet on me to win the 100 meter event in track, you know, based on statistics, including my time in prior races.  It is what it is, whether I like it or not.  Pulling the race card does not change how fast or slow I run or swim.

I understand intellectually, but I prefer to say that I am a victim of racial profiling which, my friends, is politically incorrect.

Please join me in protesting my exclusion from the NBA.

Winning for the Gipper

There are times when athletes draw inspiration from friends and family to motivate them to try even harder.  To try their best.  To better their best.  To win as a tribute to a loved one.

There are many examples.  Knute Rockne’s half-time speech urging Notre Dame’s football team to win one for the Gipper (George Gipp, a teammate who had died) is famous.  There was another movie about John Cappelletti, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1973, being inspired by his younger brother, Joey, who was dying of leukemia.  If I recall correctly, it was called “Something for Joey.”  People are more familiar with “Brian’s Song” about Brian Piccolo’s friendship with Gale Sayers and his fight with cancer.

I myself have written in this blog about swimming in the Senior Olympics and thinking about my father and his “do your best” attitude when I felt like slowing down.  See written June 8, 2012.

I am sad to say that a few days ago I learned that a friend of mine is undergoing chemotherapy.   He is an excellent swimmer.  He trains much more diligently than I have.  He used to contact me to chide me by noting when he had not seen me at the pool.  So, when I did not see him there, I sent an email telling him when we could meet at the pool to work out together.  His response was that he cannot swim because he is taking chemotherapy.  That is how I learned of his health problem.

So I am telling myself to swim as hard as he used to train because he wishes he could still do that, but cannot due to the cancer.  I have no excuse to avoid the pool.  When I don’t swim, it is because I am lazy.  When I don’t swim it is because I choose not to swim.  When I don’t swim, I am not trying my best.  (Sorry, Dad).

Last week I was back in the pool daily.  This week I will try even harder.  I will swim longer.  I will swim faster.  In part it is because I can.  In part it is because my friend can’t.  I am doing this for both of us.

Olympian 020

Olympian 037

Olympian 028

The medals I will win won’t be mine.  They will go to my friend.  And to God goes the glory.

Accidental Coach

Olympian 020

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.

Win Some, Lose Some

I have been watching the Olympic Trials for swimming held in Omaha, Nebraska.  All the swimmers are top-notch to get there.  Still, everyone can’t win.  Even the great Michael Phelps does not always win.  Whoever qualifies for the Olympic team is only fractions of seconds faster than those who do not.  The top two in each event qualify.  The third place swimmers are always very close. 

I’m especially pleased that Coloradan Missy Franklin has made the team.  She is only 17. 

As this is going on in Omaha, fires in Colorado continue to rage.  As some people are being allowed back into their homes, others are being required to evacuate.  As some learn their homes are destroyed, others get good news their homes were spared.

The achievements of the athletes are the result of talent and dedication.  The races are fair.  Still, there are factors out of anyone’s control.  They don’t all have the same genes.  They don’t all have the same coaches.  Some might be fighting health problems.

The victims of the fire had no control over weather.  Those losing their homes should not be blamed for choosing to live in a certain location.  No one could predict the fire nor its path.

The Bible says, “It rains on the just and the unjust.”  Those in the fire say, “Rain on me.”

Water Dogs

Max, about whom you read in Deadly Dangers at Cross Creek Ranch, is a Yellow Labrador Retriever.  He has been an enthusiastic swimmer his entire life … until we enrolled him in a class. 

Max enters fast flowing rivers without hesitation, especially to fetch a ball or stick.  But when asked to jump into a pool to fetch a toy, well, that’s where he draws the line. 

Advanced Animal Care in Fort Collins has the nicest doggy daycare that I have ever seen.  Miss Sugar discovered their new building and brought home a brochure with photos of the aquatic venue.  Owners can enroll their dogs in classes after first passing an orientation.

So we signed up both of our dogs.  Sadie is also a Yellow Lab; however, she has not shown a natural affinity for the sport of swimming.  Rather, one of her tricks is to let Max jump into the water, get the stick, and swim back to shore, where Sadie awaits to take the stick and claim credit for retrieving it, all without getting wet.

The swimming instructor at the Advanced Animal Care pool requires the dogs to wear life jackets.  I informed her that for Max it would not be necessary.  She insisted.

So I put the life jacket on Max.  I put one on Sadie as well, of course, because she can’t swim.

I had to get into the pool too.  The instructor had hip waders for me to wear.  I got in.  To show off, I threw a toy and commanded Max to fetch.  He didn’t.  That was a surprise because Max always fetches.  He fetches even without a command.  He fetches as a creature with an obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

So Miss Goody Goody Sadie jumps in.  Max never did.

The life jackets have handles on the back of the dog so they can be held up if they panic.  Sadie used her front legs but not her back legs.  I had fun playing with her.

We forced Max into the pool.  He swam to the steps and got out on his own. 

I shouldn’t have bragged about him.

Senior Olympics

The REAL OLYMPICS will be in London this summer in just a few weeks.  Those competitions between the best of the best athletes inspire many of us to do our best in our own athletic endeavors.

A few years ago, very few, I reached the age which allowed me to participate in the Senior Olympics.  I have been very impressed by the national and state organizations which put on these senior games.  I have met some great folks as I participated in swimming competitions.

The way it works is that the top three finishers in each event in state competitions qualify for the National Senior Games, which are held every other year.  As you would expect, many of the senior athletes are former college athletes and some even former Olympians.  When I swam at Stanford for the national games, it was intimidating when they announced, “In lane three, former Olympic medalist, Gary Hall.”   I will break the suspense right now and tell you that this is not a story about how I beat him.  I did not beat him.  We were not even in the same heat.

Another fellow I did not beat was a former NCAA breaststroke champion, who was only one second off his record time.  I was warming up when I heard him and another guy in my event talking.  They were both from Big Ten schools.

I also watched some of the other sports.  I saw old pole vaulters who could still go what looked high to me.  I don’t know how many feet high, but I watched an official get on a stepladder to raise the bar with a tool that must have put the bar over ten feet high.  Three athletes went over the bar at that height.  Maybe it was twelve feet.  Think of the acceleration, upper body strength and coordination required.  Very impressive!

Another man who impressed me was someone who did not qualify for the national championships.  He finished all his swimming events at the state games in last place.  He did not dive in off the starting block.   He had to be lowered into the pool from a wheel chair.   He started in the water, just pushing off the pool wall.   He was very slow but kept going until he finished.  He needed help getting out of the pool and into his chair.  I am embarrassed to confess that I was a little irritated at having to wait for him to finish, which delayed the next event of the meet.  Didn’t he know that he didn’t have a chance to qualify for the national games?

After two days of state competition, there was an award banquet.  The slow swimmer was one of the speakers.  He told his story that he was a wounded veteran and was competing in the Senior Olympics to try to get prepared for other games especially for disabled veterans.  He also told us how these athletic competitions changed his life, even saved his life.  He described his health problems, including that in the past he had weighed over 500 pounds.  He had some medical emergency a few years ago.  He said he did not fit into the MRI machine.  He nearly died.

As part of his recovery he started swimming.  He started shooting basketballs from his chair.  He said, “I’m not very good, but I like to do these sports.  The exercise has helped me lose 270 pounds.”  He got a standing ovation.  He was a winner after all.

Bless his heart!  And bless the many volunteers who put on these events for us old folks.

If you are over 50 years of age, check out the Senior Olympics.  You might have some fun.

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