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SINK OR SWIM

This is the post excerpt.

Welcome to Sink or Swim!  This is dedicated to family, friends, former colleagues and especially all competitive swimmers, past and present.  My objective is to share my experiences and observations, and not to bore you non-swimmers too much with some of the swimming jargon used from time to time.  So scroll down and read below! Thank you for stopping by.

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It’s Time We MEET!!! (and not virtually…)

Our Saturday 9:15 group has been training at our pool for months…but for what, really?

A “virtual” swim meet? Ugh! We are so weary of that term! Sure, it’s been an incentive to train, but now that the pandemic is pretty much over, we are all just done with all the “pretend stuff.”

We’ve seen commercials and email blasts for this virtual 5K, and that virtual party for a local charity. It’s been a great way to continue fundraising events and connect with others over cyberspace, and heck, even my Book Club tried it last year. There I sat in my home office – alone – with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, caught up with my friends, laughed and drank among my untouched paperwork. Nice, yet not enough. At least we continued our tradition of “hey, what was the name of that book were we supposed to read?” (Gulp)

(Generic Book Club drinking screenshot courtesy Rachel O’Connor)

A virtual swim meet is another situation entirely. Although you’re alone and your opponent is the clock, there is no shotgun start, no cheering, and absolutely no adrenaline rush when you hit the water and swim to the best of your ability. There are no white-clad officials telling you to get your fanny out of your lane quickly so they can start the next heat. It’s not much fun when there is no competitor in the next lane telling you “great swim” when you finish. As for your actual time, your Apple Watch or other similar device always seems to be “off.” When your race is done, there are no result sheets taped on the walls for you to view – while you’re still dripping wet. No, No, NO!!

Another drag about a virtual swim meet is that there’s noapresswim.” In our Masters Swimming Social World, the after-part of the meet is quite often the best part! It’s a special experience to rest and reflect over the day, and be thankful that we all healthy and strong enough to enjoy the common thread of competitive swimming….well…it’s kind of like that….

REALITY/CONFESSION: Apres-swim is re-hashing your events and times with your buddies and teammates, while hydrating a.k.a. tipping a few beers and eating whatever hot greasy food you think you truly deserve.

We are all hungry for a real swim meet after so, so many months of being starved for human contact, places to go, and events to look forward to.

Fortunately, a recent text message from my cousin provided some good news on the matter. The New York State Empire State Senior Games (yes, Senior) are taking place soon, and he thought since there are no Masters meets scheduled up here just yet, why not give it a whirl?

Cousin Mike and I had “big” plans to swim in some relays together at a few meets last year, which were sadly cancelled due to Covid. This New York State swim meet does not have relays, just individual events. No problem – I’m totally OK with that, and have rounded up a couple of my Saturday 9:15 group friends to swim. My cousin Mike is naturally “in” as well…and we agreed it will be a fantastic start to what we hope will be a real, back-to-normal competition swim experience, and not a virtual one!

Best of all – we plan to participate in “apres-swim” activities!!

Stay tuned for the post-race blog…

The Evolution of The 9:15 Group

It was about 2 years ago when I struck up a conversation with a woman who was a former Masters swimmer and a retired physical education teacher. It was because I noticed that her swim fins and her pull buoy had MY maiden name written on them.

It’s not like my maiden name is Smith, or Spitz, or Phelps. But like the old TV cop show “Dragnet” first stated, “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” So, we will keep these friends on a first-name only basis.

“Dianne” is actually married into the family that shares my maiden name.  According to her husband, we may be cousins, but that is going to take some future research.  Whether we are related or not, Dianne and I immediately struck up a swimming sisterhood of sorts, and decided that when we could, we would swim together. We picked Saturday mornings at 9:15, and it’s been that way for quite a few months.

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Next joining the 9:15 group was “Shelly,” who is slightly younger than we are and a very competitive swimmer, whose family and my family have known one other for years.  Shelly swam in college and eventually became a police officer, complete with that tough-spirited exterior. If we ever went to war, we would all want Shelly on our side. And oh, the colorful nicknames she has given to Dianne and me!  She claims that I’m the competitive one of the group, but I’m just there to get in shape and have fun, since there are no meets to look forward to just yet.  Someday, we are hoping…

A woman seen quite consistently on Saturday mornings was already friends with Shelly, so we invited her to join us in the 9:15 group. In her youth, “Peggy Sue” was an incredible butterfly-er, and still is. She won’t agree with us when we tell her her stroke is amazing, yet Peggy Sue effortlessly performs “fly,” as the rest of us can only slog through it with swim fins, and, if we are lucky, one length of the 25-yard pool. She also swims at 6:45 a.m. a few days per week, which tells us that early to bed and early to rise makes a darn good flyer even better.

Last, but certainly not least, is “Elizabeth.” It turns out I knew her long before I had met Dianne and the others….like really, really long before…say, when I was about 11 years old and a camper at an overnight YMCA Camp in Northern New York.  There were several boys and girls who attended this particular camp while still swimming competitively over the summers, so Elizabeth created a unique camp session dedicated to kids like us.  She helped install a piece of sanded, painted plywood against the floating docks for practicing flip turns.  She helped us with our stroke and techniques while navigating through the dark northern lake water. I hadn’t seen Elizabeth since my late teens – yet she was one of the inspirations for me to become a camp counselor.  She swam age group for a good part of her childhood, then onto high school and a prestigious college team, and has fire in her belly still.

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Together, we all gather at 9:15 and do “our thing.”  A pre-written workout is essential, since we have only 45 minutes to swim. Unless the “nice” lifeguards let us sneak in a few minutes earlier, that precious 45 minutes is all we have to squeeze in about 2,000 yards.  

We don’t talk too much during the workout, since that wastes valuable time. With the lifting of the pool’s tight restrictions in the future, we are optimistic we can choose when we can swim and for how long.  Our group has even considered competing in the next available Masters meet…but then again, we are still waiting for any announcements of these meets, which would be something to finally train for.  We agreed we would have some kick-ass relays in our age groups, and look forward to keeping the 9:15 group – and the friendships we have forged – for a long time.

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It’s Just A Manner of Flying

We are seasoned travelers.  You name it, we’ve gone there – and in most ways possible. Over the years, one develops a certain travel etiquette which becomes habitual, especially when flying.

Sadly, not everyone knows travel etiquette, so we feel it is necessary to share some tips and tricks before, during and after travel!  Never mind the Covid situation, these ideas have applied long before, and will remain after – and hopefully forever.

Photo by Vitor Almeida on Pexels.com

Prepare, prepare, then prepare. You just never know if and when you’ll be delayed, or at the very worst, stuck at a bad airport. You know the ones…old bathrooms, gross, ripped up, wavy seats, and vending machines which line the aisles rather than actual restaurants. The so-called “restaurants” that are there serve only overpriced junk food. Remember to bring eye drops, a phone charger, earphones, gum, hand wipes, heathy snacks, and a perhaps a book you planned to read someday, but just haven’t had the time. 

When journeying through the never-enjoyable TSA security area, once again, be prepared. Take your stuff out of your pockets, put them where they belong, shoes off (unless you are TSA Pre-Check! Whoo-hoo!) and move along! Most of us know this and want to get past the friendly TSA people, so we can grab a coffee on the way to the gate.

Obey the rules of the road.  In this country, we stay to the right, which leads me to believe there are many, many international travelers who apparently stay to the left – or take their “half” out of the middle in the terminal.

On that note – Do not, do not, stand still in the middle of a busy corridor at the airport!  I’ve seen people literally trip and fall over while someone is at a standstill, staring down at his or her phone, oblivious to the world. 

This is related to the previous tip, but look ahead when you are the one walking – kindly do not stare down at your phone while walking, or you’ll bump into someone who is already freaked out by Covid, other people, or just flying.

Respecting “P & Q” – no one really cares about your cell phone conversation, so turn the darn phone speaker to “off” and go someplace else to talk. This includes at the airport bars and restaurants, which was the original inspiration for this list. And…like in elementary school, inside voices, please! 

Getting on the plane.  We will all get on board, just be patient. But again, have your boarding pass ready, get moving, and don’t try to shove your oversized carry-on into an overhead compartment that’s the size of a tuna can. 

If it’s a short flight and you’re in a plane where the leg room is likely minimal, for goodness sake, please don’t lean your seat back! The guy or gal behind you is making the best with his or her teeny-tiny personal space, so tilting back is just, well, rather rude. Longer flights, sure, as there is likely more room, but don’t lean so far back that you are practically in their lap, breathing in their air. Yuck.

If there are young children nearby, have that book, headset or earbuds at the ready. If you think little Johnny or Emily will not cry, whine, scream or kick your seat, they will. Period. If they happen to be your kids or grandchildren, well, good luck and Godspeed. Bring a ton of snacks for them, and plenty of Dramamine. 

Photo by Johannes Rapprich on Pexels.com

When you are at the baggage carousel, get your bag and please move out of the way quickly – so the very anxious person standing next to you can get their luggage – and not breathe down your neck.

If you’ve come this far, thanks for reading these tips – but you really allowed this weary traveler the forum to vent! If you have any other tips, please share. Safe travels to all of you in the future – and let’s hope those around you have the same common courtesy in the skies.

Ten Puppy Commandments

Charlie Brown was spot-on when he once said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

(Our boy Bear about 4 years ago. Puppy time goes way too fast!)

There’s nothing better when a soft ball of fluff with bright eyes and a quizzical disposition enters your life. Puppies – and dogs in general – are Heaven’s gift to humans. It’s a fact!

When God sends puppies down from Heaven, it’s rumored that he gave them these Ten Puppy Commandments:

 “Ten Puppy Commandments”

  1. Keep your human family happy all the time
  2. Always be cute – even if you may be in trouble
  3. Do not leave too many muddy footprints or hair everywhere, and no piddling!
  4. Keep the love constantly flowing in and around the house
  5. Learn to be a good girl or good boy – this means do not chew your human’s shoes
  6. Ask for treats (especially peanut butter) politely
  7. When your family sleeps, you sleepthen sleep some more
  8. Have lots of fun – even if it’s tiring
  9. Don’t snore too loudlyyou may wake your humans
  10.  Refer back to Commandment #1

If you have other “commandments,” please feel free to share. Let’s all hope we can continue to spread Puppy Love everywhere we can. We all need it now.

Tinnitus, Anyone?

Tinnitus.

The word is difficult to pronounce, and if you’ve experienced it – you know that it’s so darn annoying. The ongoing hissing and ringing in the head is indescribable. It takes no days off, and seems to trump all other day to day sounds – like the television, the washing machine, or the running car. And it’s every, blasted day.

In this year like no other, it’s become the sour, bitter icing on my cake. 

Somehow, some way, it entered my life over the summer and has not left. Tinnitus pays a daily visit in the calm of the morning and escalates in the silence of the night.

Did I mention it’s every day?

A recent audiology test revealed that my hearing is actually OK, but surprisingly, Tinnitus emulates from the brain and not from the inner ear. It could’ve been caused by simply aging. As a proud End-of-the-Baby-Boom Member, it could’ve been brought on by repeated loud noise, like music. Not that I attended a lot of rock concerts, but I was known to crank up the car radio with my friends years ago.

Photo by Thibault Trillet on Pexels.com

Another cause? Stress, according to the audiology expert. So NOT surprisingly, there has been an uptick in Tinnitus cases in recent months, likely caused by this thing we all know as The 2020 Covid-19 Freight Train of Despair.

What’s the cure? According to the American Tinnitus Association, there is no scientifically proven cure for most cases. Yet, there are some tips and “tricks” to fool the brain into thinking there are more important sounds going on.

Sound therapy – Zen music, white noise and other sounds – like ocean waves crashing – are recommended positive signals to the brain, along with general stress reduction. The only real break I seem to get from Tinnitus is from swimming, as it provides both as a great distraction and as a stress reliever. When one is distracted, it’s not noticed. In the water, there’s that ear-up-to-the-seashell sound from the constant turning of my head while wearing a cap.

It helps, but it’s still there.

Here is hoping that with the start of 2021, the long-awaited Coronavirus vaccine will be headed our way soon and with that, a path toward normalcy. Perhaps if that happens, my tinnitus will eventually be a blip on the radar, just like this terrible year we’ve all experienced.

Brighter days – and sounds – are ahead!!

Songs In The Pool of Life – Part One

Have you ever been told you have a knack for changing song lyrics into something that’s a little offbeat from the original song?  This self-proclaimed trait might have been an inheritance from my very gifted mother, Jackie.  She first created her own version of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” converting it to “50 Ways to Lose Your Blubber” – a tribute to some college girls that she knew who were in danger of gaining the “Freshman Fifteen.” Later in life, I’d listen and laugh out loud to my talented co-worker from the TV news days, Bob Kirk. During the night news shift at WTVH, Bob would hum a few bars now and then, and sing lyrics like, “Then I saw her face…yeah, she’s a Retriever!”

With that in mind, but with not with as much Beatlemania or numerology, do you all remember the song “2 Doors Down” – Dolly Parton’s rather corny country song from 1977?

Even if you don’t want to admit it, you absolutely DO recall the chorus.

While swimming one morning in Lane 3, new lyrics popped into my head as I saw another female trying to swim her best freestyle in Lane 5.  So, here it goes…and dedicated to my new and “inspirational” friend, Kelly. And – if you’re about to head to the pool or open water, sing along if you wish…

2 Lanes down and pullin’ and kickin’ – I’m having my own swim meet!

2 Lanes Down – she’s not aware that I’m around

And here I am swimming my heart out feeling great

But she’s using fins just 2 Lanes Down

I think I’ll wet my goggles and get myself together 

I think I’ll freestyle down the lane and take a look to the right

‘Cause I can’t allow myself to be beat by this chick

As I’m having my own lil’ swim meet just 2 lanes down 

2 Lanes Down I’m flippin’ then turnin’ – I’m catching her quickly

2 Lanes Down – she’s still using those darn fins

But I’m turning it over every stroke of the way

And I’m gonna kick her ass 2 Lanes down 

I think I’ll touch the wall and check out my time

Then I’ll take a breath and see where she is

Since I still can’t allow myself to let her win

‘Cause this is MY swim meet just 2 lanes down 

Trust me, when you swim, and especially swim long distances, you have a lot of time to think – and create! Part Two the next time we meet………….

The No-Nonsense Restart

I’m back!  Not necessarily better than ever, but I’m out of the hole I felt like I was in, and am pushing forward.  All is good.  So…what better way to re-start than take a swim in my other home pool (my real home pool is closed until next May)?  Good for the spirit and the body.

It wasn’t too long ago when I made that initial call to reserve my lane at the “Y.”

This new normal of swims came with strict rules, of course, starting with those questions – like – “have you traveled outside of the United States in the past 14 days?”

Really?

Then came the temperature check and the wait in the hallway until the group is allowed in.  Just like cattle, you are herded into the pool area where you place your “stuff” on a chair that is a safe distance from the others.   But if you picked the Lane 3 Chair, you swim in Lane 3, and so on.

ChairsatPool

At exactly 45 minutes after the hour, in you go!  This leaves very little time for stretching and “getting used to the water” – probably my biggest quirk since college. Ugh, the water gets colder and colder as I get older and older.  However, now that my son gave me an Apple Watch, it helps me get my fanny in and get going.  It’s also a game-changer.  This amazing device knows what strokes I swim and the exact distance.  It takes my heart rate too – so I know when I’m huffing and puffing too much.

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There is also no socializing.  As much as I miss chatting with a few of the regulars, I totally get it.   Time is of the essence as people just want to get in, squeeze in their swim, and get out before the lifeguard sternly looks down in your lane and tells you it’s time to get out – so they can “sanitize.”  Sanitize?  Pool water is beyond clean, so the focus is on the pool deck, chairs and locker rooms.  They spray with disinfectant, using the Ghostbusters-type backpack. Remember that?  It must be so Slimer doesn’t show up anywhere.

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Slimer in Columbia Pictures’ GHOSTBUSTERS.

If nothing else, this no-nonsense approach of swimming is a good way to start getting back into shape.  I had been hanging onto the fitness bandwagon this spring and summer, mainly walking, then walking, and then some walking.  Yawn.  Golf league came and went for the season, and although it was not played with much finesse and expertise, it helped with the long depletion of social interaction.

As for the pool, I must admit, having my own lane is pure Heaven.  No one to share it with means no bumping hands or arms, no waves, and no “hugging the lanes” if the other swimmer decides to swim his or her half in the middle of the lane.  Not my idea of a good time.

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Let’s just be thankful that pools and gyms are starting to open, and we seem to be returning to some sense of normalcy in a year that most of us would prefer to forget.  Forever.

If lap swimming is now allowed in this part of the world, then tolerating the small things in life is O.K….and that includes putting up with the snarky lifeguard, who I may rename Dr. Peter Venkman just for fun.

I guess this no-nonsense attitude can be kind of, well, amusing…

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Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis in “Ghostbusters” (1984)

The Changing of the Emoji Guard

BZZZT!!! (Now a long tone sound…) We interrupt this normally cheerful Blog for a temporary change in mood…

In the past 3 days there has been quite a “shift” in the most used emojis on my phone from texting friends and family.  The top emoji had been the “LOL” – with the smiley-faced hard laugh, the closed eyes with tears of joy coming out of each side.  Last year, a survey showed that was the most used emoji by the public, both young and old.

With COVID-19 in the picture for way too many months now, on my “Frequently Used” section of the Top 30 emojis on my phone, there are now various crying faces with teardrops flowing, the pray symbol, numerous hearts in colors, and a broken heart.  They have replaced the clinking beers, the birthday cake, the girl swimmer, and also the dancing girl (I use that one in conjunction with the clinking beers).  How come the sudden shift?

On Monday, a friend posted on Facebook that her daughter lost her struggle with an aggressive form of leukemia, leaving a husband and young child.

Many, many Crying face emojis.

And on Wednesday, I read in the local news that a 24 year-old made a tragic decision when he jumped off a cliff while swimming with friends, and never resurfaced.  Turns out, he grew up right down the street and attended school with my kids.  His mom and I have been in the same Book Club for years.  She, her husband and this boy’s younger brother are without question the nicest, kindest people on the planet.  Just a few weeks later, one of my daughter’s longtime classmates chose to end his life.

An infinite number of Crying faces, Praying Hands and lots of Heart emojis.

No words can help, and no actions can heal the big hole in these families’ hearts and make some sense of these sad deaths of three young people.

This is being written for them, yet writing about it really doesn’t make me feel any better, either.

Broken Heart emojis everywhere.

This Changing of the Emoji Guard will hopefully shift back to its happier and more positive list as time goes on, but right now, it’s a tough period in this corner of the world.

We now return to our regularly scheduled Blog, and hope that brighter, happier days lie ahead for everyone.

You know you’re a Competitive Swimmer when…

OlympicPool

I’ve often wondered what qualifies a person as a lifetime, die-hard competitive swimmer.

Here is my Top Ten:

  1. The second you walk into the pool area, you smell chlorine, AND. YOU. LOVE. IT.
  2. You watch every single race, every single day of The Summer Olympic swimming competition.
  3. You found a way to swim during COVID-19, even if  you had to swim in a horseshoe-shape in your backyard pool (without touching the ends) or in cold, weedy, open water.

    person swimming on body of water
    Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com
  4. You see cute blond-haired children with the “shimmer” and “the green tint” in their hair and know they are swimming competitively – someplace – and you’re jealous.
  5. When you meet someone who was a former competitive swimmer, you talk for 5 minutes, and then you both agree you’re practically family.
  6. You shudder when people can’t recognize names like Matt Biondi, Janet Evans, Mark Spitz, Dara Torres, Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky.JanetEvans1MarkSpitzswimmersgreenhairKatieLedecky
  7. You teach children (and adults) that the term is “Freestyle” and not “The Crawl.”
  8. It’s a sad day when you start to “see through” your favorite practice swimsuit (usually in the butt!) and hope you can order the same, exact one online.
  9. You refuse to accept your “New Normal”  which basically means you use your college-best 100 Free time as a baseline in a Masters meet – even though that was 40 years ago.
  10. Swimming a 25 yard Fly…in the middle of a workout…because you can.

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If you have any others to add to my list…please share! 

Puck

We’ve said goodbye to our dog Puck. He was an English Black Labrador Retriever and lived a very, very long life. At 15 1/2 eventful years, he was off the age charts for his breed.

He was a unique guy, as most labs seem to be.

He was surrounded by Golden Retrievers his entire life. He was kind of like a Golden Retriever sandwich – with 2 layers of Golden on the top, and 2 on the bottom, he was the “filling.”  First, he was “the baby” of the pack, pestering our elder Golden Corky and then his nephew, Bailey. Puck and Bailey formed quite the relationship.  Like peas and carrots?

Not really –  they were more like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

The pair collaborated and ran off together when Puck was a mere 9 months old, probably one of the most traumatic days of our lives. Happily, and after lots of praying and several hours of searching, we found both of them. Temporary tie outs, a try at invisible fencing and finally, a large fenced-in backyard deterred Puck and Bailey from their encounters with all that nature had to offer.

Since he was a classic “water dog,” we thought he could swim.  He hated it, even though his webbed feet could’ve easily taken him across our pool and back.  

Since labs are known to love just about everything, so Puck, in his unique fashion, also disliked getting into the car, and the impending ride. Our vet office was only a 3-minute drive into the village, yet you would’ve thought he was being somehow traumatized in the back seat. No barking, but he’d utter a distinctive whine with some occasional grunts. He didn’t like stairs either, and one evening it took 3 of us to get his then-100-pound mass back upstairs when he refused to come back up from the basement. He remained on level ground since that day, but left us hysterical at how ridiculous the scene was.

When Bailey passed, Puck was the “lone dog” for a little while, and would do whatever he could to gain attention.  One spring day, when the lawn sprinkler workers came to “start things up,” Puck walked up to one of the workers who was bent down to replace a sprinkler head, and promptly removed the red bandana he wore on his head. We’ve never seen a bunch of grown men rolling on the lawn and crying from laughter while watching the bandana-less worker chase our naughty guy throughout the yard.

He constantly sniffed everything, and would raise his head over the tiniest noise, then would transition into a straight point with that thick tail.  He tolerated our daughter’s cat when most of our Goldens would not. His coat was of 2 extremes – his waterdog fur resembled quills, yet his ears were as soft as his puppy coat, and still felt just like velvet in his older years.

Along came “the puppies,” siblings Pumpkin and Bear, two more Golden Retrievers which automatically gave Puck that title of Dog Patriarch, The Alpha. He enjoyed their company, especially with Bear. Bear is the male and self-proclaimed Lover of Everything and Everyone On The Planet. Pumpkin simply wants her tennis ball to chase – and occasionally chew to smitherines. She helped keep him young, as his curiosity would prevail over his weakening legs.

With Bear off to college with his “father,” who is our son Sean, Puck developed an interest in Pumpkin, trying to follow her on her zigzag route in their big play pen. For a few years, they were quite the trio.

(L-R Pumpkin, Bear and Puck)

Now Puck has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, he is likely playing with his bestie Bailey and “Uncle Corky.”  He will be missed very much, yet we know there will be that time when we will see them…all running free together.