Let me introduce you to my swim team. There are three of us. Each with our own backstory, and our own reasons for being in the pool again.
You know me: former State High School Champion (1982), former National Champion (1985), former Olympic Trials Qualifier (1986). The next 30 years were largely devoted to another kind of liquid. When the summer of 2016 arrived I decided, at age 50, to get back in the water. I haven’t looked back since.
In October, I broke two meet records in sprint events at a New England Masters’ swim meet. My goal now, with the help of my team, is to be among the Top Ten 50-freestyle sprinters in my age group in the country. I owe my renewed interest in competition to Jacsen Callanan, who is the head coach of swimming at the YMCA where my son David is on the team. Something about watching Jacsen coach — and David swim — made me want to jump in again.
Now meet Tom, age 31, who spent his university years in the pool at Boston College, swimming backstroke and freestyle events. Although he’s a graduate of law school, seems to me that Tom is a long way from being done with his swimming career. In addition to being on my team, he’s an assistant coach with the YMCA’s age group kids. Tom’s in the water now to see what he’s capable of doing in the 50-freestyle, like me. Can he go faster than he did at Boston? I believe he can. He’s much, much faster than I am or ever was.
And then there’s Reiko, age 20, who also coaches the age groupers at the Y. But Reiko joins us in the water because she wants to try out for UVM’s women’s team next year. Her butterfly is a thing of beauty, and I fully believe she has what it takes to swim for UVM. And I should know since I coached there myself for three years.
Every Monday and Wednesday at 11 a.m., our multigenerational triumvirate walks onto the pool deck at the YMCA to test our speed in a grueling sprint workout — under the watchful eye and unforgiving stopwatch of Coach Jacsen. Our sprint sets are so turbo-charged that it feels like lactic acid is crushing our insides. But they’re working!
We’re all getting faster and stronger. Tom, Reiko and I challenge and cheer each other throughout the nausea-inducing practices. We have fleeting chances to actually communicate with each other, but when we do, our conversations are as intense as our swimming. There’s no time for small talk. We jump right into the nitty gritty.
“Do you know where I can get deer skins?” Tom recently asked, panting.
“Well,” I answered, equally out of breath, “I saw a handwritten sign the other day that said Deer Processing $75. Want me to take a picture and send it to you?’
And with that, we went back to fast swimming.
This week, between speed-demon sets, Tom caught his breath long enough to say something else.
“I have something important to tell you.”
“OK,” was all I could say.
“I got six deer skins from that guy.”
“Where are they?”
“In Jacsen’s freezer.”
And then we were off again. Tom, Reiko and me — an unlikely herd — all swimming in the direction of our dreams.