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Masonic rituals, high elbows and freestyle swimming!
A couple of weeks ago a new guy showed up at the training. He was nice, looked like around forty and not that fit. He jumped in the water and started following me. After two laps I felt the tickle, that tickle on my foot. Well, I should try harder, I noted to myself. I did and he also did. Oh, well, I may be older, I mused, but the advantage of swimming four times a week should be on my side, so I tried even harder. We finished the 800 meters, I was gasping for air and he was smiling. That was when he started to look suspicious to me. From this point I was on the lookout. His flip turns were okay, his kicks were way too wide and he very much looked like a windmill in the water. Yet he was always behind me. When we finally got out of the pool, he smiled at me and asked what my best time was on 100. A week before somehow I had managed to squeeze myself under 1:30 and I proudly told him this much. "Nice", he replied. "And yours?", I inquired, kinda dreading his answer. "I don't know my best time now, but it used to be 1:03." I swallowed. Really. 1:03, that is the moon, the dark side of the moon that I will never, ever get to see. "Did you compete?", I followed my line of inquiry. "For a while, yeah, I did. In my teens."
And that was it. I met a nice guy from the other camp. The other camp with which our camp is always on very, very good and friendly terms but as we can't move to their camp, they can't move to ours.
What one learns in the pool as a child, one can never forget. Alas, what one never learnt in the pool as a child, one can never learn. Calling the two camps "camps" is really unfair but true on some level. As a Masters and open water swimmer getting close to the wrong side of 50, I've been watching us in the water as I am watching my son in meets. He works very hard for the advantage that will follow him as long as he lives: the proper technique is imprinted in his muscles, and the mysterious "water feel" is burnt into his nervous system. No matter how old he is when he joins a masters club, he will always be faster than the guys who took up swimming later in life.
This is the not so thin line between good and very good swimmers. I learnt how to swim the hard way when I was around nine: my father threw me in the lake and watched me as I made my way to the shore. Fast forward 36 or so years to the point when I decided that I want to do this swimming thing properly. I tried on my own, I read books, I mean tons of books, I bought and watched videos, I spent countless (and basically useless) hours in the water and I probably would have given up but I met a guy, Boris (a former semi-pro) who for some unfathomable reason decided to help me. Then I reached a level when I felt ready to join a club. I was cautiously optimistic and secretly brimming with pride that I worked so, so much. And at the first training, one of the older guys (he's 10 years older than me) overtook me so fast that I didn't even know what happened. You might have already guessed: he learnt to swim as a child and he played semi-professional water polo for like 10 years. The game is on, I said - then started training like hell. And got nowhere really because I, just like every other masters swimmer without proper swimming background, wanted to swim like those guys from the other camp.
I talked to everybody in my club and beyond about swimming. I wasn't after anything particular; I was just - and still am - curious. Oddly enough, to every professional swimmer there are two non-professionals: triathletes, mild maniacs, bored seniors and determined individuals who just love doing this even though many of us are not that good, to put it mildly. And we'll never be better until we realise that proper swimming starts at childhood. That's when you learn the language, the meaning of numbers, the laps, the angles, the seconds and milliseconds, the proper catch, the pull and push phase and so on. If you missed this, eventually you come to the realization that to swim like those guys is like trying to learn all the masonic rituals at once. I just read that every Masonic jurisdiction is free to standardize its own rituals. How many jurisdictions are there? How many lodges? How many Freemasons? How can you learn this? By putting in more and more hours until your car and your cat smells of chlorine? By reading many more books? By finding the most sadistic coach there is? By entering as many races as possible? By swimming in freezing lakes and rain-ridden rivers?
And to make things even worse, there's no golden rule book. Every coach has his or her own take on swimming. High elbow, early catch, flutter kick, breathing on both sides, long strokes, head position, body position, thumb position and so on. The list is literally endless. The guys from the other camp either already know this or get this. The guys in our camp look at best bewildered at the endless options while the solution is not that obscure.
If you realize the difference between those two camps (which, once again, are not really camps but... two different Masonic lodges) then you also realize that you can follow your own path. By finding the proper coach who doesn't want to calibrate your strokes according to the golden book but watches you and helps you find the best way that suits you. Only you. My greatest struggle is my kicks. I have very strong legs yet my kicking is weak like a cat that spent the night with one too many lady friends on the not so hot tin roof. Last year I gave up. No kicking, I said. My coach thought otherwise and it got only worse until this new coach, his name is Björn, took his time and gave me the best advice based on my needs and capabilities. I personally gave up the proper 6 beat flutter kick. There's no way on earth I can do that. But what I can do is to develop my own kick with the help of a good coach. I can standardize the rituals for my own Masonic jurisdiction. In a sense it's liberating to not have to care about the usual "My way or the highway" attitude of the coaches. No, "My way or the highway" is my answer and that may not make me a better swimmer immediately but I feel much better about my swimming and by and large this is the most important building stone since starting from here - with some help from my friends and coach - I can build a training plan. A plan that may enable me to swim the 10k in 16 degree water and feel good plus alive - not dead dead - afterwards.
Artikel: Lyman Zerga
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