December 15, 2023
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about masters swimming. But it was really about the concept of improvement. I ended the post with the line, “Life is better lived when we are living to get better.” I still strongly believe in that statement. I love it when I can see that I am indeed improving in certain areas, and I really don’t like it when I’m actually regressing.
My golf game was the best it has ever been back in 2022, about a year after I retired the first time. Then I went back to very full time work, and when I retired again, it was like I was starting over. Turns out, working 60 or 70 hours a week does not leave a whole lot of room for refining my golf game. But now, in retirement #2, I’m on the road to improvement again. Slowly.
I enjoy the journey – I have friends I play with weekly, and I have plans to play with my talented son Ryan several times in the next few months. No matter who wins (and he wins 99% of the time), I love every chance I get to play with Ryan. But I’ll say it – when lightning strikes 1% of the time, it’s pretty nice! (When Ryan read that “pretty nice” statement, he got a little upset. He reminded me that every time it happens, I make a big deal of it, write it down in Evernote, and talk about it nonstop for the rest of my visit. He may be right about that. Like I said, it’s pretty nice!)
As much as I love golf, I’m even more invested in swimming. It’s an activity that gives me so much of what I’ve been writing about – strength building, increasing cardiovascular capacity, and a surprising amount of social interaction. And, several months into my return to regular workouts, I feel like I’m getting stronger and a little faster. So when Coach Nancy Reno asked me . . . repeatedly . . . if I would be swimming in a swim meet with our masters team, I reluctantly said yes. Even though it was a three-day investment of my time — that’s a lot of missed pickleball opportunities– I knew it would be a good test of how fast this old guy can still swim.
For non-participants, swim meets aren’t the most exciting of events. But for those of us actually in it, there is a lot going on, and so much to appreciate and celebrate:
- It takes work to put on a swim meet. Kudos to all of the coaches and volunteers who organize everything and make it happen. I don’t have an exact number, but I’ll bet there were close to 100 volunteers, without whom the meet could not have happened. It’s a lot of work, but from what I could see, they were truly enjoying themselves.
- There were over 400 swimmers, ages 25 to 95.
- Quite a few world records were broken. Records are kept for every event in every age bracket. The highlight for me was watching an 80-year-old male swim the 100 meter butterfly in a minute and twenty-five seconds. He looked powerful and smooth the whole way. I think I could have stayed with him for maybe one lap, then he would have left me in his wake. Incredibly impressive.
- I swam on two relay teams – the first time I’ve done that since I was 18 years old. It was a blast, and I enjoyed those races most of all.
- Our Conejo Valley Masters team finished in 5th place in the meet. For our team, and I’m guessing for every team competing, there was an overwhelming sense of camaraderie. We had a team dinner together, we laughed during down times, we cheered each other on during our events, and we all left feeling like we had accomplished something together. I guarantee that other teams felt this same sense of togetherness and accomplishment, though we probably did it a little better. I give Coach Nancy so much credit for building a positive swim culture that enriches all of our lives far beyond swimming.
I love swimming for all of the health benefits it gives me. But, there’s also a competitive side of me that wants to swim fast. In terms of my own performances in the 50m, 100m, and 200m freestyle events, I was . . . disappointed. I expected more out of myself. My times were slower than I had hoped for, and I felt a little lost in my swims. So in the spirit of continuous improvement, I started looking at what could have gone better:
- First and foremost, I need to work harder. I have been swimming three days a week. That’s not enough. Starting last week, I upped my time in the pool to four days a week. My friend Wayne told me a long time ago that three days a week keeps him in shape, while four days makes him stronger. Fine, Wayne. I’ll listen to you. I haven’t seen you in over a year, and I still hear you harassing me.
- I realized that I’m the same caveman swimmer in meets that I was back in high school. I have never been an intellectual swimmer – my plan has always been to dive in the water and swim as fast as I can, with each lap getting slower because I’m getting more tired. I’m just now starting to believe that there may be more to swimming than that.
- Note: Coach Nancy reads these blogs, and I know she is shaking her head right now. She’s been telling me, repeatedly, that I need to make a plan for my races. I never even told her about my caveman plan. OK, Nancy. I’m in. Sometimes I’m pretty dense. Right now, a good number of readers who know me well are nodding vigorously in agreement with that dense comment. You all know I don’t like any of you, no matter how right you might be.
- Finally, I was nervous before my events. That’s something new for me. Cavemen don’t get nervous. My usual thinking is no thinking. Dive in. Swim fast. Hit the wall. But it was different this time.
Here are some thoughts that I will focus on to address the issues above:
- Most of us get butterflies before a competition, but nervousness is too much. I read a Chinese proverb that goes, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” I need to be who I am.
- Jim Afremow writes, “Stop stressing yourself out about winning or losing. If you focus on the process, the score (or the time) will take care of itself. Execute your game, or race plan, step-by-step, thinking only of the next step to take.”
- And this may seem like a little much, but I was inspired by former Navy Seal Jason Kuhn, who now spends time helping athletes and corporations to be their best. In his Navy special operations days, when he was being fired upon and had to return fire, his first inclination was to trust his instincts, and that resulted in wildly ineffectual firing. But as he learned to trust his training, he was able to slow his mind down and focus on the sight of the gun barrel. Swim meets are not a life or death situation, but I can learn from this strategy. To me, that means I dive in the water and see/feel/trust what I have trained for: glide, kick, rise, left arm pull, left arm out of the water – focusing on each stroke, made as perfectly as possible, moving through the water.
I have no dreams of being a top-ranked masters swimmer. All I want to do is get better. I still believe that my life is better lived by striving to not only be a better swimmer, but also a better golfer, pickleballer, writer, cook, friend, father, and husband. I’m 61 years old, with a little more gray and a lot more aches and pains, but I’m still convinced I can do all of that. And I look forward to every day in my journey of life-long learning.
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Post #97 on www.drmdmatthews.com
- Jason Kuhn podcast – He tells a great story of overcoming significant challenges. You can look up several podcasts, but I listened to the one from The Golfer’s Journal Podcast
- The Champion’s Mind, by Jim Afremow (2013). Read my review here.
- If you want to read my 2021 post on masters swimming, you can find it here: Ode to Masters Swimming