It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in Alberta around 25 years ago when I decided to try an experiment. I grabbed a lawn chair and a sugary drink and kicked up my feet at the end of my driveway. We lived out in the country in a subdivision that was a large circle.
Nowhere to hide, I thought.
And sure enough, I sat for hours as a classmate of mine, and later a friend, passed by every 15 minutes as he lapped the subdivision. He was literally running circles around me. I either lost count or lost interest entirely, but I remember being flabbergasted at the way this kid spent his summer afternoons. It was a peculiar age - me being old enough to roll my eyes but not so old I understood what he was doing.
Fast forward to high school and records were falling left, right and centre. Whether he was in the pool or on dryland, Robbie destroyed the competition in every long distance endurance race in the province.
I remember watching him collect enough bling in one afternoon at a track meet to make Flava Flave himself jealous, and I also remember being jealous myself because running and swimming came so easy to him.
Easy, yeah right. But hey, I was a teenager with a brain that conveniently left out pesky details that could destroy my assumptive narrative.
To be honest, the first time in my life I finally connected the dots between his track supremacy and the tireless hours of hard work to which he had been committed as a child was about five minutes ago.
Being a writer teaches you a lot of new things, after all.
For young swimmers who want to take their game to the next level, you might not think it’s possible to train as hard as Robbie did, but the funny thing is that’s what people said to Robbie back in the day too. This was a kid who was addicted to working hard and improving himself.
Holding your breath and exerting yourself underwater is far more difficult than doing so on land, but it’s on land where we can train our lungs and our muscles to go the extra distance, even when our brain screams for us to stop.
While we’re talking about brains and my teenage self’s lack of a working one, it’s important for serious young swimmers to grasp the concept of preparation. Jumping into the pool and pumping your limbs is only the final stroke of a swimmer’s training.
Former Marlins coach Marc Sze used to describe his pre-meet routine for me, and it was intense. It never changed, win or lose, because that was the only way to keep his body and mind consistent and quiet, which was a crucial part of his success in the water.
Training for a match requires its own training, which is what I’ve finally learned from Robbie all these years later.
However, the physical aspect of training is just one small piece of the puzzle. While you’re preparing your endurance and your mind, all the small choices you make in your life will butt in to have their say.
A serious young swimmer has choices to make that will forever have an impact on their performance when the spotlight is shining.
Robbie, this kid was a machine for his entire childhood. I’m sure he still is, actually, he was so disciplined as a kid that I’m sure it’s translated well into adulthood. He made conscious choices to benefit his health and his burning desire to win. I made choices too, in fact; fortunately for all of you I made the choice all those years ago to gawk at the neighbour kid and his crazy training regime.
Make the choice. Grab a lawn chair or grab your runners.