Every four years when the Olympics roll around, the world suddenly rediscovers the sport of swimming.  Over the past two weeks while swimming aired on primetime television, my Twitter feed blew up with swimmers and non-swimmers alike tweeting about swimming races, different swimmers’ toned physiques, and whether they were Team Lochte or Team Phelps.  I’ll be the first one to say that I LOVE the attention that our sport receives during the Olympic games.

As you may have figured out from the topic of this blog, though, I’m interested in getting the message out that becoming a world-class swimmer comes with a long journey.  Perhaps this is why I was so frustrated after the first day of swimming coverage when Michael Phelps failed to medal in the 400 I.M. and the world collectively turned on him.  Suddenly, according to my Twitter friends as well as the media, he was a failure and none of his previous achievements mattered.  I was most disappointed when I saw my own swimming peers bashing the man that changed our sport and made history just four years ago.  Every swimmer has experienced a disappointing race during their career, but most don’t have to have that race broadcasted for the world to see.

Four years ago in Beijing, I believe the world was left with an unrealistic representation of our sport.  They watched everything work in Phelps’ favor and believed that it could all be done again.  The truth is that swimming is a lot more like what we saw at these Olympics in London.  While we saw a man officially become the greatest Olympian of all time, we also saw him make mistakes and face disappointment.  We saw fresh faces of the sport dominate in one event and falter in another.  Ultimately, we are left with the realization that the career of a swimmer is a long journey with bumps along the way.  In the end, though, we will remember the legacy these athletes leave behind and the adversity they overcame. 

Congratulations on a fantastic career, Michael Phelps.   

 

The Olympic rings at Meadowbrook during the Games.

 

 

The end of July and beginning of August marks a very busy time of year for swimmers everywhere.  It doesn’t matter if you are on a summer team, club team, or even the Olympic team—the end of the summer is the championship season for swimming.  Between preparing our summer swimmers for their championship meet and training for my own final meet of the season, it has been difficult even to find a few minutes to sit down and crank out my next blog post! But, my summer swimmers ended their season at the Freestate League Championship meet on Monday and now I find myself with a little free time.

Something that my co-coach and I stressed to our Gator swimmers as we approached our final dual meets and championship meet was the importance of learning from past swims.  For younger swimmers, this can be extremely difficult to understand.  Many of our young swimmers tend to dive into the water and forget about everything we’ve worked on in practice.  As we neared the end of the season and discussed races and worked on fixing mistakes in practice, it was amazing to watch our swimmers dive in for a race and apply what they had been working on.  By the time we got to the championship meet, our swimmers had made great improvements that were visible when they swam their final races.

The importance of learning from past swims doesn’t just apply to novice swimmers—it applies to swimmers at all levels.  As my teammates and I enter our final week of preparation before our last meet of the season, our coaches continue to stress that this is the time to perfect the details.  And believe it or not, even Olympic swimmers analyze their swims to find mistakes to improve on (yes, they makes mistakes too!).  In fact, elite swimmers perhaps spend the greatest amount of time analyzing their races.  Video analysis allows us to watch, pause, and even put races in slow motion.  This helps us pick out a mistake as small as a finger entering the water incorrectly

My message to swimmers still preparing for their championship meets is to think about swims from this season and learn from them.  If it worked for my Valley Gators, then it can work for you too!

Coach Claire celebrating the end of the season with one of our youngest Gators.

 

In swimming, we often joke about how we have our regular families and then our “swim families.”  This past week, my NBAC swim family experienced a tragic loss.  Upon arriving to practice on Tuesday morning, our coaches gathered the team to share the news that our friend and teammate, Alec Cosgarea, died when he lost control of his car Monday night.  He was driving back from dinner after the conclusion of our annual July Meet where he competed last weekend.  The Cosgarea’s are a prominent family on NBAC—Alec, Drew, and Will have been members of the program since they were extremely young and Dr. and Mrs. Cosgarea can often be seen swimming laps at the pool in their free time. 

As swimmers, we spend a tremendous amount of time with our teammates.  In fact, I’ve often reflected how on many days I spend much more time with my teammates than with my own family.  When I return home from Richmond for the summer or holidays, I always look forward to reuniting with my NBAC teammates.  And of course, there are always new members in the training group when I return whom I must get to know.  When I returned from school in May, Alec was one of the swimmers in the group that I knew but had never trained with.  Right away, I realized that I was going to like swimming with this guy.  We were similar in the sense that we liked to train hard during practice but enjoyed a good laugh when resting on the wall or while we all dried off after practice. 

I came to admire Alec for his intensity in the pool and the vivacious personality that he showed in and out of the water.  You could always count on him to do something outrageous just to make us all laugh—usually something that bordered on crossing that fine line of appropriateness.  About a week ago when a few of us went to see a movie, Alec had to leave early but made sure he did it in the most “Alec” of ways.  He turned to our friend sitting in the aisle seat, put his hand on the friend’s shoulder and pronounced, “I love you,” then left the theater through the emergency exit.  The theater lit up for a brief moment while Alec went out onto the street, leaving us in shock and the rest of the theater murmuring.  Alec took a little bit of that light with him when he passed away Monday night, but I know that we will all remember and carry his amazing spirit with us.

My thoughts and prayers are constantly with the Cosgarea family during this time.  We love you, Alec.

Alec on our trip to the movies.

After coaching my first two meets, my Valley Gators were 0-2.  When I heard a few mumblings from my swimmers about how we were never going to win a meet, I so badly wanted to explain how experiencing losses makes winning more special.  Yet, I realized that this was something that my swimmers needed to learn on their own. 

All athletes deal with disappointment, but I believe that it’s a bit harder to carry the burden of disappointment in swimming because it is such an individual sport.  When a soccer team loses a match, the players deal with disappointment as a team for the most part.  In swimming, though, a swimmer must take total responsibility.  At the end of the race, if you haven’t done well, you are the only one to blame and must deal with that frustration on a personal level.

Even the arguably best swimmer in the world, Michael Phelps, has dealt with disappointment.  As a fellow member of NBAC, I’ve watched Michael go through some difficult times over the past few years.  After having meets where he failed to advance to finals let alone win a race, I think he had some doubts about his swimming along with the rest of the world.  Perhaps this is why I’ve had so much fun watching Michael swim well at Olympic Trials this week.  For people who do not follow swimming except for when the Olympics roll around, Michael’s victories were probably expected.  For me, though, I understood what he has had to overcome to be the best again, and I felt extremely happy for my NBAC teammate.

This week, though, my summer swimmers got to experience a victory of their own when we won our first meet of the season.  While Michael was awarded gold medals in Omaha for his victories, we celebrated our win by bringing donuts to practice the day after the meet.  The truth is that whether you are awarded a medal or a donut, victory is sweet.

Playing sharks and minnows the day after our first win.

This past Monday I made my debut as a swim coach when my Valley Country Club Gators took on the Hampton Hammerheads.  Throughout the course of the evening, I realized that whether you are competing in your first swim meet ever or competing at Nationals, swimmers at all levels deal with getting pumped and often must battle nerves.  Many of our youngest kids swimming in their first meet were quiet and shivering behind their lanes before their races.  Of course, there are also those who are not quite aware that nerves exist.  Take my brother, for example, who at his first swim meet many years ago flexed his muscles when the announcer read his name over the loudspeaker.  I, on the other hand, have always fought nerves.  Over the years, though, swimming has helped with my confidence in ways I could never have imagined.

I had one coach in particular that went out of his way to help me battle my bad nerves.  He let me know that I was a good swimmer and made it clear that I just needed to believe it myself.  When I started growing confident in my swimming, I became more confident out of the water too.  I now realize how much of an influence this coach had on my life, and I find it kind of cool that I am in the position to help my swimmers in the way that he helped me.  Perhaps this is why I took it upon myself Monday night to help some of our younger swimmers get pumped. 

I let the young swimmers lined up behind the pool know how great they were going to swim.  Some said they were a little nervous, but I reassured them that if they did what they’ve been doing in practice, they would be just fine.  Of course, there were a few swimmers like my brother who didn’t need any help getting excited.  When I asked one 6&under boy if he was going to swim fast, he stared straight ahead from behind his oversized Speedo goggles and told me, “I am going to swim until my heart gives out.” 

In this upcoming week, many of my friends and teammates will be competing at Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska.  I hope they can all channel the enthusiasm of my inspired swimmer to battle any nerves that come their way.  Just don’t actually swim until you’re heart gives out… 

Some of my swimmers get pumped by wearing cool swim caps.

June has always been my favorite month of the year.  My friends will tell you that this is because I am obsessed with my June birthday, but I will tell you that I love June because it is one of the most exciting months for swimming.  June has always marked the unofficial beginning of the long course season and my club team hosts a meet called “The June Meet” at the beginning of the month.  Now, if you’re not a swimmer, you’re probably wondering what the heck “long course” means.  In the winter, we generally compete in short course yard lanes, which means one lap is equivalent to 25 yards.  Summer meets for elite swimmers take place in long course meter pools, where one lap is equivalent to 50 meters.

View of the long course pool at the June Meet.

I’m extremely pumped for the next two weeks in particular because some very important meets are occurring.  The summer swim team I coach has their very first meet of the season this week.  Then, the USA Olympic Trials for swimming begin on Monday, June 25th.  While I’m bummed I won’t be attending the meet as I missed the cut last season, I am beyond excited to watch my many teammates compete.  I have two teammates from UR attending the meet as well as many teammates on NBAC, my club team here in Baltimore.  Swimmers competing in Olympic Trials will be swimming in a long course pool since the Olympics are always long course.

While my summer swimmers will find out the events they are swimming when they arrive to the meet on Monday afternoon, swimmers competing in Olympic Trials will have known what they are swimming for weeks and sometimes even months or years.  USA swimming establishes a time standard for each event and swimmers must achieve this time to swim the event at Trials.  For example, in the 200-meter freestyle (which is four long course meter laps), the time standard for women is 2:03.19.  Therefore, a female swimmer must swim this time or faster in order to swim the 200-meter freestyle at Trials.

My summer swimmers do not have to achieve any time standard to swim in a meet.  They will be swimming the events that they can do legally and that we hope they can earn us some points in.  While our summer swim meet will be much more low-key than Olympic Trials, there is one major similarity between these events.  Swimmers in both of these meets will be racing as fast as they can in hopes of touching the wall first.  There will be a whole lot of cheering and excitement in the air, and I can’t wait to watch!

NOTE: USA Swimming Olympic Trials will be aired on NBC.  Follow this link for specific times: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news-blogs/swimming/live-coverage-of-swimming-olympic-trials.html

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