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Triathlete Blog

Who Knew?

By October 27, 2008July 7th, 2015No Comments

Excuse me, are you a professional swimmer?

(insert explosive cynical I can’t believe someone just asked me that laughter filling my head)

*deep breath*


But wait…not so fast…what if? What if today, Liz, standing here in this locker room half dressed blow drying your hair responding to this woman putting on make up, what if today you are a professional swimmer. Why not?

“Actually, I am Michael Phelps’ sister.”

I didn’t have the nerve to say that. Instead it was no. No I am not. I just like to swim. Wait a minute. No I don’t. I just have to swim. Need to swim. Ok, I was ordered by Jennifer Harrison to swim. I pay her to tell me to swim.

“I just like swimming a few times a week.”

LIES LIES LIES. But then again, it could have been worse. I could have told her my name was Elizabeth Phelps.

“I saw you swimming in there and told my husband I couldn’t get into today because it would just look too bad with you next to me.”

She needs glasses. Or an underwater camera because she is seeing things wrong. “You must have been swimming since you were very young.”

No, not really. I just learned to “really” swim about 8 years ago. And each year I have to keep learning. Adult-onset swimming is just evil that way. I explain to her that I swim with the masters team at the gym. I also add that I am one of the slowest swimmers on the team – in the advanced group.

We both laugh about that.

In fact, I barely belong in the advanced group. I can go to the intermediate group and still not be one of the fastest there. I am so slow that when I show up to advanced masters I get my own lane. So slow that they have to make up a new interval for because no one else is that slow. But what I’ve realized is that it’s just a matter of perspective. I go to the intermediate group and its like “I am so freakin fast in this pool.” I go to advanced and I’m like “I need lessons.” That’s kind of what it’s like racing age group versus racing pro. You can be on top of one group and think “I’m such a bad ass” and the next group up you are saying “I keep getting my ass canned.”

I love sports.

But any other time in the pool without masters of course I am one of the few (only) people that appears to know how to swim. But that is like saying I am fast swimmer because I can lead at the intermediate masters practices. It’s a different category you are comparing yourself to – I look fast on these other nights because I am being compared to people that wear plastic shower caps for swim caps, blast out 25 yards no breath before huffing on the wall for a minute then doing it again or breaststroke for 1000 yards straight.

It’s not hard to look good against that.

Have you noticed since the Olympics that the pool is more crowded than before? Have you noticed that most of the people “swimming” are doing something so painfully awkward that you want to give them free advice even though you hate to be one of those people that gives out free advice? But that is not my place. Instead it is my place to tell this woman I swim professionally and went to the trials for 200 fly. Leaky goggles blew my race.

“Let me ask you a question – those green things, what are they for?”

You mean paddles? They are for developing a powerful pull. I think. Ok really they are for making an interval that you would otherwise miss because you are too slow. They are also for entertaining – they make swimming laps a little more fun because following the black line is like someone dragging nails down a giant chalkboard for 60 consecutive laps.

“They help work on a powerful pull.”

“I see. And the white thing between your legs – what is that?”

That combined with paddles is the only way I can swim with Anwar within 10 seconds per 100. That is a pull buoy. Some call it a good way to develop Styrovirus, a medical condition that causes swimmers to think they have good body position when actually they have a piece of floaty Styrofoam between their legs that gives them good body position.

“It’s called a pull buoy. It brings your rear to the surface and allows you to focus on front end swimming.”

“You mean swimming just with your arms.” She is now waving her arms everywhere.

Yes, something like that.

“What about those blue flipper things.”

You mean fins? For the record I was not wearing fins. The man next to me was wearing fins and busting out all kinds of fly with them. Fins make you superswimhero fast. You can swim 25 fly in under :20. You can do an 8 x 50 kick set on the 1:00. You can make a 1:30 interval in 100 IM. But it all comes at a cost. The cost is super contraction of foot muscles and shins. So I have abandoned fins and relieved myself of 18 months living with plantar fasciitis! Which means no more swimming ridiculously fast intervals with fins.

“Those are fins. They give you the feeling of swimming…”

And she said, “fast.”

Yes, I smiled. They make you fast.

“Well, you looked great in the pool. You looked like you were doing something very serious.”

I was doing a long set of laps. I am not sure I was doing them seriously. I find sometimes when I swim my head is all over the place. When I am doing fast sets I am focused on holding form, streamlining off the walls, taking air in/out and feeling fast. When I am doing whatever else you do to pass time in the pool, my head wanders all over the place. What happens under the water in my head is not nearly as polished as what happens above the water. And even that needs polishing.

It’s funny how we filter compliments through our experience. To many people in the hot tub and therapy pool floating with their noodles I am sure I look like a good swimmer. But if you were to put let’s say Dave P. next to me he would be passing my freestyle with his backstroke (which he did the other night, thanks, that always makes me feel good to know that someone on their back can get down the lane faster than me). It is all relative to whom we compare ourselves to.

But it’s good to know that for at least one day of my life I was a professional swimmer. Who knew that professional swimmers still struggle with flip turns and occasionally find their stroke count over 20 per 25. Who knew that they get lapped twice in a 500 at the advanced practice. That secretly they dislike any set that says “on the __.”

Who knew?