The Swimmer’s Bookshelf: Relentless Spirit: The Unconventional Raising of a Champion


While I lived in Denver, I often overlapped with Missy Franklin in the pool—the Stars would be getting out as masters got in, or we shared pool time—so I had the honor and pleasure of getting to know her, and to see some of her training and races leading up to both London and Rio.

I think this proximity led me to follow her career more closely than other current swimmers. It also led me to speculate much more about her condition heading into Rio, because while I saw that Missy was as bubbly, hard working, and considerate of others* as ever, she never got back to the level of “crispness” she had in the pool prior to London. I was worried and concerned, especially due to the added mountain of returning-gold-medalist pressure she faced.

This familiarity, in combination with her Trials and Rio results, made me anticipate the release of her book, Relentless Spirit: The Unconventional Raising of a Champion, (Missy, D.A., and Dick Franklin with Daniel Paisner, 2016) more than most. I wasn’t sure how much time the book would cover, but I hoped to learn more—why she chose Cal, was/is she truly happy there, was McKeever a good coach choice, what exactly is wrong with her back, was swimming two years collegiate then going pro the best pathway, and more on her decision to move back to Colorado to train (although I totally understand taking a year off from classes to train for the Games.)

I won’t spoil any reveals from the book here, but I will say this—I got all of my answers, and Missy was very brave, honest, and humorous while sharing the “back story.” I wasn’t sure how it’d work to have three people “speaking” (Missy, her mother, her father), but this narration ploy was never distracting or confusing. Rather, as Missy noted, it’d would have been boring to spend a lot of time on race recaps because that’s already been covered to death by the media, but it was refreshing to hear her parents’ perspectives on the same events, and some of their own amusing adventures on the deck and beyond.

In conclusion, I’m relieved to know that Missy does in fact, love being a Cal student. My hope for her right now is that she can allow herself to back off from heavy training for a bit in favor of being a student, finding the fun in the water again, and developing a maintenance plan to keep her back healthy. Sure, I’d love to see her crush it in Tokyo—it’s certainly possible if she chooses (and I entirely understand if she feels she has “unfinished business” in the Olympic arena)—but hopefully that’s not a focus for her right now. And, if she chooses to retire before the next Games, I’m confident she’ll be fine. (Knowing what I do about her, I’ve always thought that out of the majority of Olympic-caliber swimmers, she’s the most well balanced and grounded with a promising non-swim career of her choice ahead). Certainly, she’s already accomplished so much, and so gracefully, to always be a wonderful ambassador and role model for the sport.

*On a blazing hot outdoor LCM training day (near 100 degrees, at altitude, right before noon), Missy saw a coach’s toddler knock over my water bottles, spilling all the water and electrolytes I had on me that day. Without saying a word, she got out of the pool and grabbed two ice-cold water bottles from their team cooler and placed them behind my block. Thanks, Missy! Also, a shout-out here for Stars coach Todd Schmitz who was unfailingly welcoming and kind—he’d consolidate his swimmers to offer us a lane or two whenever possible affording us precious extra pool time and always took an interest in our training and results.

The Swimmer’s Bookshelf: Relentless Spirit: The Unconventional Raising of a Champion

Reader Round Up: What’s the Craziest Thing You’ve Done for Training Resistance/Drag?

old suits During the recent Trials coverage, among the “competing with illness or injury” swimmers was a young-ish female who had staples in her scalp due to a training injury.

I totally understand her choice to “swim through.” Like most swimmers, I’ve competed with many injuries (e.g. broken fingers, a broken wrist, severely bruised knee, right shoulder issues). And, in staples-in-the-head’s case, it’s THE TRIALS. If you can still stand up, of course you’re going to swim.

How she sustained her injury—weights she was tethered to while swimming crashed down on her—got me thinking though. What the heck craziness was that resistance training?! Hooked to weights while in the pool?! For extra drag?!

But then I thought of all the really weird stuff I did while coming up in the same sport. In retrospect, beyond the basic pull buoy or extra drag suit, much of it was just as nutty and injury-risk-y. Here are some of the things I can remember: Swimming with pantyhose on, walking on the bottom of the pool carrying those heavy black diving bricks, swimming with weight belts on (also swimming with the parachute belt version), and I recall the varsity boys having to vertical kick in the deep end while holding a folded metal chair over their heads.

Naturally, if I did a lot of weird in-pool-resistance training, other did too, and at an even crazier level. Here are some of those stories, gathered recently in response to my call out of “Will you share the craziest thing you did for resistance/drag training?”

Does my posting [DYST 7/7/16] today count? Lots of resistance and drag. Thinking about it, maybe they could be hired for swim training sessions: A wet day on holiday so off to the local leisure centre in Machynlleth for a few lengths. Only to find 18 strapping young men running up and down a narrow lane in the pool. Interesting currents and turbulence throughout the pool! — Dee

“When I swam in high school, they didn’t have the men’s drag suits that they have now (if they did, they weren’t ‘fashionable’ at the time). So we ‘created’ our own drag suits. We always wore two suits (I still do today). The first was a relatively new suit, and for lack of a better term was our ‘decency suit.’ The second suit was the ‘drag’ suit. This was an old suit, and as you can imagine, five hours in the pool every day would take its toll on the poor fabric. The once-black suit was now closer in color to tan, and the once tight fit had stretched to be two-three sizes larger. Most sane people would throw this suit away. Not us. That was our top suit. But it wasn’t truly a ‘drag suit’ until the fabric had ripped away from the waistband and flapped against us as we swam. Not exactly sure how this suit stayed on—the elastic tie-string had fallen out long ago. We only switched out the suit when it’d end up at the ankles after 200 yards. But by then the ‘decency’ suit was ready to get promoted to the honor of being the drag suit. So went the pattern, until the end of my high school swimming career. Nowadays I just use an actual drag suit, good for about an added second or two per 100. – Eric

 “As a junior water polo player in England, our coach used to make us swim in a rugby shirt. A proper old fashioned, long sleeved, heavyweight English rugby shirt.

When our coach was in a particularly bad mood, in addition to swim sets in our rugby shirts, which included butterfly, we would be required to climb out of the pool in between lengths and touch the wall, after a few tricep dips! If it was especially cold and rainy outside, which it usually was (this was in England after all) our coach would make us run round the field next to the pool, barefoot, in our swimming trunks…wearing our rugby shirts, before resuming the swim sets.” — Adam

Adam’s story reminds me of swimming in a sweatshirt. Was that at BCHS? Town pool? In my life before Delmar? Can’t remember. Just remember having to lug the very wet sweatshirt home. – Laura

“Tied a giant elastic band and swam a length, return length was a bit faster!” – Bob

 Have a great resistance/drag training story? Send it on in—I’ll save it for another round up posting…

Reader Round Up: What’s the Craziest Thing You’ve Done for Training Resistance/Drag?

Book Review: Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides

ChasingWater image  Much of the advance advertising copy for Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian focused on a “unlike any swim autobiography you’ve read” billing. The book certainly lives up to this promise.

Foremost, while swimming is central to Chasing Water, it’s more about one person’s journey from early success (which happens to be swimming in this case) to losing their way, to ultimately finding a truer self, a blend old and new ways, habits, and knowledge.

Then there are the really unusual elements…

Footnotes: Not only do they appear, several are included per chapter. The footnotes also steal the limelight from the main text because they tend to be the most ironic and thus humorous tidbits.

Subject matter: Chasing Water is probably not appropriate for your average tween age grouper who idolizes sprinters; the material frequently veers beyond even an R rating. As a graduate student, much of my training was to consider what the author wasn’t saying. As such, Chasing Water made me wonder what was left out of the narrative…

Reading level: Way higher than the typical third-grade fare in print today. Ervin went to graduate school for English, and it shows. The book is riddled with quotes and references from sources that pretty much only graduate students are forced to read.

Mini graphic novel: A snippet from Ervin’s life in cartoon form is included at the end of the book. It’s both fascinating and totally original.

Index: Historical documents concerning one of Ervin’s relatives from the 1700s is included. Interesting? Yes, and readers are able to connect a few dots between the two men despite being centuries apart. But I’m still not sure they’re essential to Ervin’s narrative.

Co-author: Both Ervin and Markides are excellent writers, and I applaud Ervin for writing about half of the book. But it was always a bit jarring to switch back and forth between the two voices. Plus, Markides seems to have an ax to grind, whether it’s against the traditional masculine athlete persona in our culture (dumb, skirt-chasing, war-like) and the damage it inflicts on more sensitive souls, or the stifling, pigeon-holing of athletes by sports organizations, or elite USA swimming, or all of the above, I’m not sure. But his tone remains “cranky” throughout.

As for what Ervin reveals about himself? He’s clearly a fascinating individual. A crazy-gifted swimmer. Incredibly bright. And, after reading about the more perilous periods of his life to date, I’m really glad he’s still here. Ervin has tremendous insight to share with people of all walks of life, especially regarding his bravery to go all in with whatever he was investigating, undergoing, or believing at the moment. Best of all though, I know that after reading his book, Ervin couldn’t care two hoots about what I think about him, a hard-earned quality which I admire the most about him.

Next Week: Open Water Conditions in the Pool

Book Review: Chasing Water: Elegy of an Olympian by Anthony Ervin and Constantine Markides

Book Review: The Do-Over: My Journey from the Depths of Addiction to World Champion Swimmer by Karlyn Pipes


Karlyn's bookPipes’ 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


Book Review: The Do-Over: My Journey from the Depths of Addiction to World Champion Swimmer by Karlyn Pipes

Swim Snob? You Decide!


swim snobI may be leading a dual life—“too nice” on land yet aloof in the pool, especially among people who don’t know me well.

While I could cite many, many examples to support both sides of my split personality, here are just a few recent examples that seem to support my supposed swim-snobbery:

I often end up swimming by myself, even within practice: For example, on Super Bowl Sunday I opted to do the stroke set as written, but no one else did. So, it was easier to shift over one lane and swim by myself because even though it was long course meters, I knew that my stroke intervals would eventually place me in the way of the freestyle interval swimmers.

I don’t meet and greet well: I’ve been pondering a comment made by Chuck Fischer since I ran into him at a recent varsity meet. He said that I’m so focused in the pool, he’s afraid to interrupt me by waving, saying hello, etc. I think there’s some truth to that observation—I am usually concentrating on a particular technique element, pace, or frantically factoring intervals (math sucks up a lot of my mental energy.) But I’m also blind-as-a-bat. Even with corrective goggles, I can barely see the clock, people on deck, if someone’s in the far side of the 50-meter lane I’m about to enter, and so forth. Therefore, I can’t greet you if I can’t see you, but I can see how this contributes to my stand-off-ish pool persona.

I don’t share a lane well: I don’t mind sharing a lane under a lot of situations, including at an actual practice, splitting a wide lane with anyone who sort of knows swim etiquette, or during recovery, free, or back workouts. It does irritate me, however, when I’m forced to circle with swimmers who are wildly pace-divergent from me and don’t know swim etiquette, or to share a narrow lane on IM or fly days, especially when there is other more-appropriate-for-your-rec-swim-pace lane-share availability. So yes, I’m grumpy when someone enters the lane under those circumstances, to the point of realizing that my being a little more polite could probably enhance the atmosphere. Yet that realization isn’t making me more lane-welcoming, in fact, I’m swinging further towards being more vocal—asking people to find a more pace-appropriate lane, suggest they’d be happier in a lane with someone swimming all free, not fly. So again, yes, at times I still come off as a crazy-swim-bitch. Another example from Super Bowl Sunday: While on the wall for a less-than-ten-second interval, a woman sitting on the deck edge with her feet dangling in the lane asked if she could share the lane. Already swimming to just one side of the lane, I said, “go ahead.” To which she said, “what?” I replied “yes.” She again responded with “what?” so I just pushed off on my interval. She gave me very wide berth for the rest of my workout…

Do I think I’m a swim-snob? Yes. Do others? Probably so, especially if you don’t know me at all (really, I’m super-nice once you get to know me!) and are basing your opinion of me on just one swim day. Will I continue to be a swim snob? Likely, as I usually have goals in mind that I want to meet each swim. Can I tone it down for the benefit of others? I promise to give it a go, but don’t count on me waving at you from across the pool when you first walk out onto deck. I still can’t see…

Next week: Book Review: The Do-Over: My Journey from the Depths of Addiction to World Champion Swimmer by Karlyn Pipes

Swim Snob? You Decide!

Book Review: Dryland

Dryland cover
A new book for the swimmer’s library.

Dryland, by Sara Jaffe, is a new (2015) young adult (YA) book. It’s primarily a coming-of-age story of Julie Winter, a high school sophomore who lives in Portland, Oregon, during the early ‘90s.

We join Julie in the midst of navigating her way through a seemingly typical teen year of school, yearbook tasks, discovering new rock music, half-hearted socializing with friends and family, and weekends of homework and excursions she’s outgrown with her best friend, Erika (whom she may also be out-growing), such as shopping at the River Walk.

Things start to shift, however, when Julie meets Alexis, who inspires her to join the varsity swim team, something Julie doesn’t tell her parents right away to avoid pressure, particularly in the form of comparison with her former Olympic-contender older brother.

While the almost stream-of-conscious-journal-like first person narration style takes a bit to adjust to, Dryland quickly becomes a compelling read as Julie pushes beyond former boundaries towards new people and activities, and most importantly, learning what she can about her absentee brother.

You also can’t discuss Dryland without mentioning another one of its key underlying themes, “sexuality.” Julie’s questioning of hers, especially in comparison to others, makes this book stand out from other YA books. Furthermore, the sexual orientation of other main characters raises interesting questions, including, how do you know if you’re “different” from the “norm?” Can sexuality be “in flux” as you age? Do some kids “dabble” beyond heterosexual relationships just to shock or use others?

The swim details of Dryland are better than average, but still a little off (e.g. we don’t call distance counters “number charts.”) But, such departures are not bad enough to distract swimmers from the plot.

While the swim-centricity initially attracted me to Dryland (of course!), about a third of the way in I realized I was much more hooked on the honesty in Julie’s vivid portrayal—a snapshot of a teen amidst rapid self-development, change, and discovery.

I highly recommend this book for any swimmer you know, but particularly teenagers. It’s superior YA writing, and its “can’t stop thinking about it” nature guarantees thought and discussion.

Next week: Another book review, Diana Nyad’s Find a Way

Next Week: Another book review: Diana Nyad’s Find a Way

Book Review: Dryland

Seasonal Switch

If you went to a LCM taper meet, your outdoor season ended over a month ago already! While I didn’t go to such a meet this year, the end of this past LCM season was still a bi-annual “seasonal shift” trigger for me. Each year, the end of summer (and the end of spring) requires a few key changes to adjust to the season ahead. My just-completed outdoor LCM to indoor SCY/SCM seasonal switch included:

Pools: During the summer it’s all LCM meters outdoors (hooray!) Fall through spring, however, I have to mix indoor LCM, SCY and outdoor SCM each week due to weather and higher pool usage (think: age group meets.)

Schedule: Our summer LCM pool time slot is 12:30, which is a little awkward because it breaks up the day per work, errands, chores, weights, etc. Switching back to all a.m. swims is actually one back to fall transition I prefer because you can get much more done each day.

Transportation: Alas, fall through spring in the Rockies means it’s not often bike-friendly weather. And, the 50 LCM outdoor pool is the only one that’s currently easy to bike to—it’s back in the car until next summer.

Suits: Typically whatever collection of suits I wore all summer are trashed by the end of the season and thus must be tossed (summer ’15 tally: three, all lycra.) But I also love starting each fall with a fresh suit. This not only sparks “new season” thoughts, but opting for heavier fabrics and darker colors makes me feel warmer sans sun inside.

Towels: This is another fall-spring switch that I really look forward to—I’m back swimming at facilities that provide towel service, so I no longer have to pack (or forget) one every day. I embrace the lighter bag and fewer laundry loads season!

Padlock: Our summer LCM outdoor pool is private—you can safely leave your stuff on deck behind the blocks. My fall-spring pools are all public though, so I always store everything in a locker.

Caps: Normally I’d switch back to silicone for the SCY season to boost warmth, especially once winter begins. After last year’s surgery prompted a latex reaction however, I can no longer tolerate latex*. I did try latex this past May once we moved outside, but I wanted to rip the cap off my head within five minutes. Since then, I’ve gone all silicone despite the heavier weight in hotter air and water temperatures and intense sunrays.

*According to the American Latex Allergy Association, an estimated 1-6% of Americans and 8-12% of American health care workers are latex sensitive. And, people with 10 or more allergies are at higher risk for developing a latex allergy. As with health care workers, I wonder if the swim population allergy rate might be higher than the average because we’re exposed to latex more. While the only other people I know with a latex allergy are swimmers, I do know swimmers more than any other type of person, so who knows?

Goggles: This is one equipment preference that doesn’t change—I prefer smoke goggles year-round, indoors or out. Ditto for electrolytes. I drink Ultima during every swim, but sometimes I switch flavors to honor a season change.

Chores: I completely empty all bags (equipment, shower, backpack) and wash them. All bottles (e.g. shampoo) are refilled/replaced. While the bags are in the washer, I assess: What can be permanently removed from any bag (always aiming to travel lighter in life.) Also, I toss anything else that’s grungy/done. This year it was one cap and a pair each of flip-flops and goggles.

My seasonal switch tasks don’t take long at all, and I find they help me feel not only ready for the season ahead, but psyched up for it—a welcome feeling after a long summer of training followed by the traditional end-of-season break which always leaves me feeling somewhat sluggish, discombobulated, and depressed. Setting fresh goals for the season ahead also motivates me, but because it’s always a much longer process, it deserves it’s own post. Stayed tuned!

Next week: What Supplements I Take, and Why

Next week: What Supplements I Take, and Why

Seasonal Switch