Thursday, October 1, 2009

Swimming Dives Deeply Into Our Lives

I read this article today and was quite touched by it. This writer so articulately described all of the great things that swimmers are doing and what the sport has going for it. In a world of sports stars being plagued with problems – assault, murder, dog fighting, steroid use – it is nice to see swimmers receive the credit they deserve. It is also a great reminder of what the swimming lifestyle is really all about and how it affects each person in a different way, for different reasons.

Swimming Dives Deeply Into Our Lives

By Bob Schaller // Swimnetwork Senior Writer

As the two students talked about pop culture, Dancing with the Stars came up.
And Natalie Coughlin got rave reviews for her appearance and “grace.”

As an assistant professor, it wasn’t my place to jump into the conversation and tell these two students how amazing Natalie is, the quiet dignity with which she carries herself, that she’s an accomplished photographer, that she could probably pretty easily become an interior designer, or that despite not putting on pounds of muscle, she’s created a diverse and unique event portfolio that is a once-in-an-era kind of resume.

Here we are, more than a year removed from Beijing, and swimming is still the sole remaining surviving sport on America’s mind.

The growth of the sport depends upon these experiences, building the “brand” of swimming, selling it as something great for the kids but also for adults of all ages, and for older citizens too as a low-impact way to physical fitness. Swimming is a lifestyle more than it is a sport, or even an exercise program.

Michael Phelps, post-Beijing, was on Saturday Night Live (guest starring would have been better than hosting) and did a ton of work promoting the sport in New York upon setting foot back upon American soil. Margaret Hoelzer came out as an advocate for abused children. Cullen Jones’ work in the pool with kids and safety is incredible both in his appearance as an articulate spokesman, and the number of young people he is reaching.

Aaron Peirsol is promoting a great cause as a spokesman for clean waters everywhere, and regardless of how you feel about global warming or climate change, having clean oceans is good for humanity, not to mention sea life. Dara Torres is on the “Got Milk” ads, and in her 40s is a role model for not only women her own age, but for young women who are trying to figure out how what they are learning and doing now will tie into what they will do, and what they will become, later on in life. Jason Lezak has been active in his faith, and wherever he goes he is acknowledged as the most significant part - even if not financially compensated - of the Phelps eight-medal campaign.

Taken individually, these are all “nice” stories – and good causes. Collectively, though, is where the sum becomes so much greater than the parts. I can name one or two track stars, and I cannot think of any gymnast off the top of my head. The other sports are unremarkable in marketing sustenance, a key in the what-have-you-done-for-me lately mindset of the shopping public. Swimming is stepping up in a way that will help build not only momentum toward 2012, but for the future of the sport.

While everyone saw the Olympics on TV, the more remarkable meets to me, as a swim fan, are the YMCA meets, the college duals, the high school invites, and scads of incredibly well organized club meets that lead up to sectionals, which are all feats of accomplishment worthy of praise from every corner of the media globe.

My son – inspired in 2004 to take swimming lessons – got in our new pool here, and did a perfect breaststroke across the pool so fast I started churning numbers in my head, extrapolating the 15 or so seconds it took into what that would translate for a 50 or 100 breast. I laughed it off, taken aback by the look of pride on his face as people he passed praised him as one “fast little fishy.” Because of some physical handicaps or conditions, we’ve always been a “Nemo” sort of pairing, with me being the overprotective father as he overcomes his “one bad fin” in life with hard work, tenacity and a perseverance that he could not get running around a track, or pumping iron, simply because of physical limitations. But in the water, he is home, and free of the boundaries that land-based sports have in his unique case.

Get in the water, and do something good for yourself, and those who love you. Swimming – the one good thing going around right now that is highly contagious.

And – oh yeah – vote for Natalie.

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