Washington Post reporter Paul Tenorio will train with a swim club over the next few months and chronicle his journey as he attempts to transform from regular guy/sports reporter to competitive swimmer — everything from his waistline to his best times.
I am going to attempt the impossible today. In this short space, I’m going to try to describe the thrill and the rush that goes along with competing — the nervous butterflies and increased heart rate, the feeling of knowing that in some short amount of time you’re about to put everything you’ve got on the table and see how it stacks up.
It’s a feeling that for me has been unmatched by almost any other. The closest feeling I can think of in my own life that mimics that rush of emotion from sport is the way I feel on occasion after writing a story on deadline. The sense of accomplishment — or maybe just the rush of adrenaline — that keeps me from sleeping well on a night when I’ve written a story in 15 minutes in a parking lot outside a high school stadium or the press box at FedEx Field.
But the rush I have felt in my athletic career has always been a bit different. The ups and downs of sport, the ability to change and adjust to an opponent and to feed off the energy of your teammates combines to create a unique feeling.
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that. My walk-on stint at Northwestern included no games played and in some instances little feeling of being part of the team, probably since a few members of the program didn’t treat me as such (though others did). The last time I can really remember what it felt like was when my club soccer team, Team America Premier, won a state championship in 2002.
Today, I experienced a fraction of that real, competitive feeling again. And it felt darn good.
I know that the stuff I am talking about will truly come when I compete in actual meets, which is what my coach, Jeff King, has planned for me. And maybe it’ll never be the same as the days I was competing among the best and against the best my sport and age group had to offer.
But today I swam for time for the first time in front of my coaches and the kids with whom I have been training, and I felt the thrill that has been absent for six years now.
My heart was racing. My stomach was churning. I wanted to impress those around me. I wanted to exceed my own expectations. I wanted not to let myself and those who have worked with me down.
After a warm-up, I was ready and I walked toward the side of the pool.
The age groups swimmers gathered on both sides of my lanes to cheer me on, and despite the extra pressure, it felt good to know that no matter how slow I might be in the pool, they had my back.
King said take your mark and I crouched. He sounded the start and I dove in and tried to keep a somewhat even keel, breathing every three strokes so that I breathed to both sides. Each flip, I focused on technique and tried to get back into my groove immediately. By the final 50, I was definitely gassed, but I kept pushing. And in the final 10 meters I put my head down and went as hard as I could into the wall.
I immediately looked up at King. He smiled. Every one around asked my time. He told me to go warm down.
At the other end of the pool, I chatted with my fellow swimmers about what my guess should be on my time. They said I went 32 in my first 50 and Edison All-Met swimmer David Kiss, who will swim for George Mason (and who helped pace me the last 50) said he thought I went about a 36 or 37 on the last two laps. I swam back across and gave King my guess: 1:09.87.
I held my breath…
“1:11.10,” King said.
I’m not going to lie, I was a tad disappointed. I had aimed to cut 10 seconds off my time. I fell short and cut just six seconds. But I turned and forced King’s daughter, Jill King, to give me a high five. That’s the picture you see above. But Jeff King urged me to focus on what I had just done: I cut SIX SECONDS off my time in an 11-day period. Not too shabby.
My splits went 15-plus, 15-plus, 18-plus…and high-20. I was definitely a “fly and die” swimmer. Those last splits…especially the final one, will have to change. I went 32 out and 39 back. Not good enough.
After the 100, I went to work on my starts with Sean Heffernan for five minutes before heading back to the pool for my 50-yard swim. This time, I was just going to lower my head and swim as hard as I could. And this time when I touched the wall I felt good. Jeff King let out a whoop.
I came in at 29.6, four tenths lower than the goal he had set for me at 30.0, and five seconds better than my time from last Monday. I had to smile. It felt really good to accomplish a goal my coach set for me.
And it felt even better to feel like a real, true athlete again.
A quick note to those out there with connections in the swimming world. I’ve mentioned All-Met swimmer Pat Sullivan in this space plenty of times and I wanted to get word out there about what the talented swimmer is currently dealing with. UC-Irvine, the school Sullivan committed to swim for beginning this fall, announced that due to budgetary problems they were eliminating their swim program. Now one of the area’s top swimmers is without a college to swim for and he is running out of time.
Sullivan is heading down for a visit to UVA tomorrow, and UC-Santa Barbara has already tried to see if they could get him into the school, but right now everything is up in the air. So if any college swim coaches are out there looking for an incredibly talented swimmer, I’d suggest getting in touch with Jeff King and Curl-Burke.