Sunday, February 20, 2005

What is hip (part 3); or, long distance runaround

I was once a pretty good long distance swimmer: I completed a swim-a-thon (5000 meters) in under an hour at age 14, that's something like a continuous 1:10 pace per hundred for 50 hundreds (4 laps in this particular pool). I don't naturally come by a lot of athletic talent, so I had to work pretty hard to accomplish such achievements as age group bronze medals at Florida Junior Olympics, AAAA time standards in most events at 13-14, and "most famously" a 4th place at Junior Olympics the second time I ever swam the 500 free in competition as a 12 year old (more on this later). My success until I entered high school in 1978 was due to two coaches at the Tallahassee Swim Team (TST) which later became the Area Tallahasse Aquatic Club (ATAC) in 1979: Gerry Norris and Terry Maul.

Terry Maul ca. 2005

The mighty TST at '76 Killearn Invitational (which we won going away).
Terry's on the left; Gerry on the right; I'm in between wearing visor in first seated row.

Gerry graduated from FSU in 1974 and, even as an undergrad, was a part-time coach at TST, where I started swimming at Wade Wehunt Pool at Myers Park during the summer of 1971. Note: this pool was fed by a natural aquifer, so it had crystal clear but ice cold water. He served as coach and director of TST and ATAC for another decade before becoming an administrator with the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department under Randy Trousdell on a team which in that time has builta nationally recognized program. Gerry always made practice fun. Under his tutelage, I mastered the basics of all four strokes and became a more than competent age group swimmer.

In 1975, Terry Maul became the Head Coach of the FSU Women's Swim Team and the TST swim program as well. This is the moment when I really became a serious yearround age group swimmer going to practice before school, lifting weights at FSU atheletics stadium complex, cross training with things like elastic cords and the infamous sideways skateboard pull up the underneath stadium ramps at Doak Campbell, practicing again after school, and swimming outside in inclement weather. One morning it was actually snowing while we swam outdoors (in a heated pool of course). It was cold enough your hair froze on the way to the locker room and ice formed in your flippers between uses. Technically the most important thing he ever taught me with respect to distance swimming was alternate breathing (that is switching sides) which smoothed out a tendency I had only to breathe to the right and thus veer that direction slightly. I also perfected my buttefly stroke under his tutelage setting up what would become my best events (distance free, 200 fly and 400 IM). In previous incaranations I had been first a very good breaststroker and then a quality backstroker (I swam that stroke leadoff on our 11-12 medley relay about which more post haste). Truth be told I was always a bit of an all rounder. My two bronze medals at the state level actually came in the 200 yard breaststroke.

In 1976, our 11-12 200 yard medley relay bested a state record at the Killearn Invitational. The time couldn't be double checked so we didn't "set" the record, and honestly Killearn's pool was notoriously fast and in all likelihood slightly shorter than an actual 25 yards. Most impressively perhaps, we lapped every other team in the pool beating the second place team by 55 yards in a 200 yard race!

That's me in the back. Steve Kupiszewski (standing in front of me) went to Arizona State University on a swimming scholarship after being high point scorer and Florida Swimmer of the Year at the 1981 High School Championships. He's now a night court judge in the Phoenix area, where he presided over Glen Campbell's DUI booking a few years back! I don't really know what happened to Greg or Kyle (to my right and left respectively).

Later that summer we had one last go round against national caliber competition at the Cincinnati Marlin's Invitational, still the farthest distance I ever travelled to an age group meet; we did not embarass ourselves in the at-that-time relatively unfamiliar long course (50 meter Olympic size pool) format, finishing 5th in our first ever national competition. Most exciting, local product Jim Montgomery became the first man to break the 50 second barrier in winning the 100 meter freestyle Gold Medal at the Montreal Olympics, which we watched on a big screen as the meet was briefly interrupted. It should be noted the world's best sprinter South African Jonty Skinner was not allowed to swim at these Olympics lest the majority of African nations had boycotted over the RSA's apartheid practices. A movement which led to the 1980 and 1984 political boycotts by the US and the Soviet bloc respectively. Skinner got his revenge crushing the record and Montgomery in Philadelphia later that summer at the U S Outdoor Nationals. Now he's a naturalized citizen and works for USA Swimming. Thanks to Rick Demont's tutelage at the University of Arizona South African swimming set a new high point winning the 400 meter freestyle relay at the Athens Olympics.

Still later that summer I came into my own as a swimmer at the Florida Junior Olympis in Bartow, FL. Several months before the AAU had decided to experiment with allowing 11 and 12 year olds to compete in a distance event, the 500 yard freestyle. I swam my first 500 at the Sattelite Beach Invitational and followed coach's orders by negative splitting a 5:50 pace, feeling I could have gone much faster. At Jr. Olympics, I decided on my own to go for it, all the while alternate breathing. I dropped over 30 seconds from my time finishing in 5:12.12 and "might" have won a medal had it not been for a miscue by my assigned lap card person. More importantly, the icy cool facade of Coach Maul split, as mutliple witnesses attest he was seen jumping up and down and yelling for me to "get it into gear" and "swim faster"! I went on to have a decent swimming career despite my short height, non-swimmer's build, and general lack of athletic talent. I did win two bronze medals at the state level, walked onto a Division 1 Top 10 team at Harvard where I earned a letter and joined the Varsity Club. But the summer of 1976 was arguably my best as a swimmer. In 1977, I lived in Freiburg-im-Briesgau, West Germany and swam throughout Germany while my father held a prestigious Alexander von Humboldt fellowship. I was visited by my friend and fellow relay member Steve K. We played at being Mark Spitz in Munich at the Olympic Park. I was also visited by my 8th grade algebra teacher, Mr. Davis, who had taught me some rudimentary German. He will be a future featue of this column. I last ran into Coach Maul outside Mexico City in December 1981, where the Harvard Men's Team and FSU Women's Team trained with and competed against the Mexican Olympic Squad. I've seen Gerry numerous times over the years in my hometown of Tallahassee, Fl. I haven't swum competitively since April 1982.

I won't conclude with a bunch of uninteresting clichés and platitudes about the value of sport. I will simply say that swimming got me in shape and convinced me that I could succeed at athletics. I learned a lot about discipline, hard work, and stick-to-it-tiveness from Coaches Norris and Maul. Finally the endless lap swimming allowed me to do some of my best thinking with respect to essay writing. In grad school I replaced swimming with long jogs in the Stanford Foothills, during which I puzzled out intractable textual problems in Shakespeare plays. For all that, thanks Terry and Gerry!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Terry Maul was my coach when I was around 10 yrs old. I am now a professional musician but love to swim still and his teachings have stuck with me throughout my life in sports and every other activty. A major influence to say the least.
Loved reading your blog! Thank you.