Monday, October 5, 2009

My short experience as a swimming instructor

It was in the late 1980's and early 1990's when I dabbled in triathlons in Arkansas. The triathlon racing event would consist of racing in three different modalities; swimming, bicycling and running. As I had very poor swimming skills I chose to enter a few of these events as a team effort and compete against other 3-person-teams. With my team and I would either run or bike, and I would let one of the other team mates take care of the swimming portion. We would usually place fairly well against the other team efforts.

So I have entered my team into the Lake Degray Triathlon in Arkansas. My team was all pumped up and ready for this, when I get a call and one of my team mates (our swimmer) would not be able to participate. So I go into panic mode as I only have a few weeks to find a replacement.

I ask around at work if anyone swims and would like to be on our team. None were very interested, but one did give me a lead. She told me about our local Psychiatrist (I will call him Dr. Haines) who would swim a couple hours a few times a week at the local public swimming pool.

Well I already had a developed a friendship with Dr. Haines, but had been unaware of his swimming activity. When I approached him about the possibility of him being on our team he showed interest, but let me know that he had never swam competitively. I explained to him that the distance of the swim would be pretty short compared to distances he has been swimming, and that he would probably be looking at only 30-40 minutes in the water. My concern was that he was primarily a distance swimmer, and this would be more of a sprint. So I encouraged him to concentrate on speed over the next few weeks. I also felt that he should try to do as much swimming as possible in natural water, allowing him to settle into a rhythm rather than all the laps in a short pool.

I came up with the idea, that we would meet a few days a week at a pool of water created by a damn at Charlton Campground near Hot Springs, Arkansas. He could drive there to swim the pool and I would ride my bike there to get some workout as well, and then he could bring me and my bike back home.

So we settle into a routine. I would ride to the Charlton Campground, watch Dr. Haines swim for and hour or so. On the second day, I notice that he is taking a breath on every stroke. I encourage him to do a number of strokes and then breath.... he tries that and finds a rhythm that will work for him. Each day he got faster. He would stop swimming and ask a question.... "Hey Mike.... is my left arm dragging a bit.... I would watch closely and tell, him that everything looked fine."

The weeks passed and we are finally ready for race day. The swimmers are first in the water. Dr. Haines positions himself in the middle of the field as I had encouraged him. I did not want him to start to far back or too far forward. He is nervous, but very excited about his first competitive event. And they are off!

It did not take long for me to loose sight of him in the flailing arms and kicking legs of the 150 other swimmers so I left the beach area. Besides, I had to make sure I was ready to ride when he came up out of the water. About 30 minutes later the first swimmers are out of the water and are heading for their bikes or are tagging a partner if they were on a team effort. And the swimmers keep coming and I wait and wait.... Eventually there looks to be only about 10 swimmers left in the water. Finally Dr. Haines drags himself out of the water.... Our team is now in very poor position, but at least he made it. He did not look very happy as he approached me, and his only comment was an "expletive deleted" as he tag me. I took off hoping to regain some of the time suffered by our poor swim effort. What the heck went wrong out there I kept thinking. He looked really good in practice.

I think we still ended up placing around third place when it was over. My bike effort was good as was our runners effort and we made up a lot of time. When all was over, Dr. Haines pulled me aside and asked me why the Hell I had not told him that it would be that way..... I did not know what he was talking about. He explained that he was dunked several times by other swimmers, he lost his goggles when he got kicked in the face. He swallowed large volumes of lake water, and even had his swim trunks pulled down to his knees. He was livid, and was making it very clear that I should have told him that it would be like this. All I could say was, "How was I to know... I have never swam in one of these... I do not even know how to swim. His face turning red, he then yelled at me asking why the Hell then I was acting like I was some kind of Swim Instructor. A very harsh "expletive deleted" came out of his mouth and he stormed away to his van....

Man.... I felt bad.... We had all shared a ride to the event in his van and started wondering if we would have a ride back home. He sat and steamed in his van and we finally sheepishly climbed in. It was a very quite and uncomfortable ride back home.

As the weeks passed I felt really bad. We used to occasionally have lunch together at the hospital, and seemed to share a lot of similar ideas and had some interesting and stimulating conversation. But now, he avoided me like the plague. I had lost a friend and did not know what to do....

Some months went by, and I am having lunch alone in the hospital cafeteria. when Dr. Haines sits down with a big smile on his face and gives me a friendly "how ya doin". Fine I say, how are you! He says he is fine but would like to ask me a big favor. He explaines that there was a Tae Kwon Do tournament that he would be participating, and was wondering if I would help coach him. He gave me a deadpan stare, waiting for a response... After a few seconds I said, "Dr. Haines... I know nothing about Tae Kwon Do". Dr. Haines states, "Hey, you didn't let that stop you from being a swimming coach!" He burst out in laughter, and I laughed as well.

Once the laughing stopped, he got a serious look on his face and explained that he really did want me to be his coach. There was some kind of rule that you had to have your coach present and he was without one. They would not ask for any credentials. It was just a formality or something. I said sure! This was great! Not only would I get to see the tournament for free, but would be adding "Tae Kwon Do Instructor" to my list of talents. And most important... and I had gained a friend back.

Anyone need Swimming Lessons or Tae Kwon Do lessons? Contact Me!

Related Links

No comments: