The swim autobiography (or “as told to”) is one of my favorite book genres. Probably because it combines two of my passions—learning how someone goes from “A to Z” in their lives and swimming!
I read my first swim autobio (snagged off my older sister’s bookshelf), Don Schollander’s Deep Water, when I was 11 or 12. Already swim-obsessed, getting a glimpse of Olympic-level training and competition was fascinating.
Kind of like people who look in others’ shopping carts at the grocery store, I realized early on that I was always curious about how other swimmers train, what they eat, and what’s on their minds, so I started to collect swim autobios.
Decades later, it doesn’t matter who the swimmer is, what country they represent, whether they’re currently swimming or long retired, or are open water specialists—I am always thrilled to find another swim autobio I haven’t read yet.
Some favorites on my shelves are the more unique finds, such as having both of Dawn Fraser’s books side by side (the “sanctioned” one printed in 1965 while she was still a media darling and the “real story” she wanted to share as an adult printed in 2001.) I prize my The 50-Meter Jungle (actually a box of photocopied pages. Somehow my dad tracked down a library that still owned the 1973 out-of-print book and had a copy made for me as a gift.) And, I really like when I’m able to find one that’s not only out of print, but was originally published in another country (e.g. Murray Rose’s biography written by his mom.)
While a good number of swim autobios already exist, there are many swimmer stories that I feel deserve in-depth treatment. So, here’s my top request list (in no particular order), and why:
A combination of Kaitlin Sandeno and Tom Dolan: Both were so talented, diverse (400 IMers have to be), and successful—even more so when you realize they did it all with asthma. I’d love to learn how they managed training, traveling and competing with asthma, especially when you know the condition must have added a lot of “work-a-rounds” during their careers.
Shirley Babashoff: Originally harshly condemned for speaking out at the time about “apparent” doping among her East German competitors, we now know Ms. Babashoff was right all along. Finally hearing the “long view” in her own words would be fascinating, and hopefully cathartic for her.
Ian Crocker: We now know that he suffers from depression. I can’t imagine training at an Olympic level while coping with what seems to be a crushing weight. This would be a very timely publication too, as depression has recently been cited as a “we need to talk openly about it” topic within the swim community.
Jessica Hardy: I understand that waiting until retirement would be good politics, but I’m eager to hear Ms. Hardy’s side concerning her doping scandal and subsequent very successful comeback. It had to be amazingly hard to defend herself while committing to peak training until permitted to compete again—a lot to deflect, a lot to prove. She’s got to be one of the toughest competitors in respects to mental training, and I want to hear all about it.
Pablo Morales: A compelling story with the potential for terrific advice for swimmers of all ages about staying true to your goals (in his case, Olympic gold in the 100 fly), and persevering until you accomplish them (again, in his case, two Olympic cycles).
Dana Vollmer: I admire how Ms. Vollmer has carried herself through her career (and maybe come back?!), that’s seen some challenging health issues (heart, food sensitivities, and now a return to high level competition post-baby.) She’s poised, positive, and makes intelligent insights. I’d enjoy reading about her journey, especially how each health challenge has affected her training and what’s she’s learned from each experience.
Now it’s your turn—which current swim auto-bio is your favorite, and why? (OK, you got me! While I really do want to hear which is your favorite and why, I also want to see if I can obtain some new-to-me titles!)
Next week: My Fave Cheap Health Remedies