Pipes’ book (2015) doesn’t provide the typical details of an elite swimmer’s life, such as set examples, blow-by-blow pivotal race descriptions, supplemental training information, or what’s on the training table.
But it does answer questions that many people in the swim community were probably asking in the ’90s—who is Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen, where did she come from, and how is she breaking hundreds of Masters world records?
The Do-Over begins as many swim-bios do—how Pipes how got into swimming, and how she quickly showed buzz-worthy promise as an age-grouper. Unfortunately, instead of continuing on the swim trajectory towards Olympic Trials, Pipes went way off the rails as a teen and young adult, spiraling into alcoholism.
So far off the rails in fact, that it’s amazing she survived (her blood level was .52 upon entering rehab, and no, that’s not a typo.) The rest of the book is loosely organized around her eventual progress through the 12 stages of the AA program, with the bulk of pages devoted to her stalling out at stages 3-4, when she channels her addictive personality into chasing swim records.
Readers can’t help but root for Pipes though, especially because her “do-over” dedication propels her to chase two goals while in her 30s—complete a college education and swim on a four-year college team for however much eligibility remains.
It’s stunning to contemplate how Pipes crammed it all in, especially when she was a fulltime student, working, and training/competing (to the tune of 19 events in a weekend meet.) Certainly, living in So Cal probably provided a much wider range of meets within driving distance (especially if swimming in both Masters and USA meets), than most areas, but still. Maybe getting your life back via sobriety opens up tons of time and energy that was previously devoted to chasing addiction…
The Do-Over is well written, despite a tendency to get a bit lost among all the moves, coaches, jobs, boyfriends, trips, etc., but this a minor criticism (heck, her recall is pretty darn good for her lost years). Also, it’s very interesting to learn more about AA, its history and tenets. Perhaps most compelling though, is Pipes’ work to uncover that that while her addiction is a huge issue, it’s not the root of her problems—she has a few more demons to exorcise.
The as-told-to swim bio will always be one of my favorite book genres. Yet, after reading yet another one about swimming through dysfunction, it seems as if elite swimming is a beacon to troubled, Type-As (other examples that easily spring to mind include Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe, Dara Torres, Dawn Fraser, and Amanda Beard.) Therefore, I’d love to read two things next: 1) A book from a successful, elite swimmer who seems well-adjusted (Rebecca Soni is the first who springs to mind), and, 2) a study on various sports that cross-correlates disorders such as depression, addiction, eating issues, and more to see if swimming does attract troubled Type-As more than other pursuits. Any takers?
Next week: Testing in Practice