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Swimming

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October 25th, 2016

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Me on the left and best buddy Kevin
Me on the left and best buddy Kevin "Wang" Nonaka. Photo: Santa Rita HS Yearbook '81-82.

Between the ages of 10 and 14, I spent a lot of time walking, hiking or running on desert trails, running up a steep hill behind our house time and time again, literally for hours.  A friend helped me build a “BMX” bicycle from scratch – junkyard parts.  On this bike I rode hours at a time in the desert and on the road.  So I was in shape and I was an athlete of sorts, but I was not in organized sports until I decided to join my high school swim team in an attempt to distance myself from behavior which, for reasons that should be part of another story, I am not proud of.

I will never forget my first day of swim practice at Santa Rita High School.  I wore cut-off Levi’s and Fruit of the Looms.  Me and a couple of other kids were the only non-Speedo wearers on the pool deck.  I’m not sure who was more weirded out by the sight – me or the Speedo wearers.

Coach Craig Westfall announced that warm up was a 500 swim and a 500 kick.  I asked the boy next to me what a 500 was and he said, “500 yards – 20 laps, man.”  I vividly remember my internal response: Holy Shit.

I could not finish the 500 swim/500 kick “warm up” and Coach Westfall told me I should get out early until I got used to practice.  This was perhaps out of pity but also out of necessity: Rolling Hills pool was small (5 lanes) and we had one of the best swim teams in the state – I was in the way.

But I came back the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.  Partly because I had nowhere else to go, partly because there were places I did not want to go, and partly because no one told me I couldn’t come back.  Coach Westfall and his team were stuck with me – cut-off jeans and all.

I was the slowest swimmer on the team that year – male or female.  Coach Westfall told me I was a distance swimmer (translation: you’re slow).  He entered me in the 500 yard freestyle in my first meet. My time was 8:20 and the winner went 4:41.  The other swimmers in the heat waited a long time by the wall for me to finish.

At my second meet Coach Craig entered me in the 50 free.  He told me the 50 would be good speed work for my 500 (translation: we don’t want the meet to run long while we wait for your ass to finish 20 laps).  My time in the 50 free was 38 seconds.  The winner, Eric Finical (future UT all-American) went 21.7. I almost got lapped in the 50 free.

Needless to say, I was not part of Coach Westfall’s plan to win the State Swimming Championships.  In fact, I may have actually been a hindrance.  But he respected and rewarded my perseverance and hard work and understood that I was there for something more than just swimming.  He assigned swimmers to mentor me and to encourage me.  Coach Westfall knew that through my participation on the swim team I would learn valuable life lessons.

Many of his swimmers understood this too.  They did not judge, and encouraged me to focus on my progress, my journey.  I knew I was the slowest swimmer in the pool.  But because of them, I never felt like the slowest swimmer in the pool.  Instead, I felt like a success and part of a team and family.

I look back on my four years of high school swimming as pivotal, life changing, and perhaps lifesaving.  I am so fortunate to have met Coach Craig Westfall and other coaches and teachers like him – people whose actions and words and kindness added meaning to life, and to form lasting friendships with teammates.

Looking back also reinforces that there are many out there searching for friends, community, and purpose.  If we honor their journey regardless of the destination, it’s likely they will end up in a better place from which they started.

Courage

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December 7th, 2015

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Fear - I acknowledge its presence, but it will not consume me.  It will not paralyze me.  I will face my fears and rise above.

I used to say this - or something like it - before almost every race that I ever took part in. It helped.

We face fears every day as children, as parents, and as athletes.  We face fears for our children, family, friends, and even strangers – because we’re courageous.

Fear of water, darkness, falling, crashing, illness, failure, success, tragedy, death – courage overcomes.

We all practice courage more often than we realize. Realizing we possess courage can make us more courageous. And that’s a good thing, because there can never be too much courage in this world.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear— not absence of fear. Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”  – Mark Twain

Socks

December 7th, 2015

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My actual 50 year old foot (this is not a 20-something foot model's foot)  - a product of decent socks.
My actual 50 year old foot (this is not a 20-something foot model's foot) - a product of decent socks.
They come in grey or black.
They come in grey or black.

Socks are one of life’s essentials.  They should be, anyway.

The right sock can minimize any number of foot issues including, but not limited to: hammer toes, ingrown toenails, toenail fungus, toe jam, bunions, corns, smelly feet, ugly feet, flat feet, duck feet, and smelly shoes.  I submit my nearly pristine 50 year old foot that doesn’t look a day over 20 (see picture at left), as an example of what can happen when you purchase and wear decent socks.

Finding the right sock, however, is not as easy as one would think.  Some sock makers put more love into their socks than others, and to further complicate matters – not every foot is the same. 

And then there’s the price issue.  $8 seems to be the norm for “quality” running/cycling socks.  I consider $8 my upper threshold for a sock purchase.  I borrowed a pair of $25 dollar socks (seriously) from a friend, and returned them two days later, with a hole in the toe, and a 10 dollar bill (and subsequently, 15 dollars more).  In my experience, $25 dollar socks are no better than $8 socks, and $8 is a lot to spend on a pair of socks.

Similarly, a $1 sock is not nearly as good as an $8 sock.  They don’t last more than a couple months, and they retain foot smell, which eventually stinks up your shoes.  This said, there are decent options for less than $8, but as I mentioned earlier, they’re tough to find.

Lucky for you, I’ve spent the last 32 years searching the world for a worthy sock - one that’s both durable and reasonably priced. Along the way I’ve come across a few decent socks (obvious – based on my beautiful foot photo), but until recently, nothing that I’ve been willing to commit to.

Earlier this year, after hearing about my long and somewhat fruitless search for the perfect sock, Andrew Block, of Beaker Concepts, suggested I give his stockings a ride.  Considering the depth of my search, I was understandably skeptical about his confident claims regarding the awesomeness of his socks.  I’m happy to say, however, that Andrew’s confidence was justified.

Since April, I’ve been running these bad-boys through my rigorous quality control tests.  Trust me, no sock wants any part of this process.  Here’s a brief description of my protocol (Warning: graphic descriptions):  First, I refrain from clipping my toenails for at least two months. Then I wear the same pair of socks all day and all night for one week straight.  I don’t remove the socks for any reason (as an aside: it’s virtually impossible to wash your feet while wearing socks).

To make a long and gruesome story short – Andrew’s socks are the first ones to ever last longer than five days before my Raptor-like toenails burst through the front of the socks, or the stench became unbearable (whichever happened first).

Andrew’s socks received high marks in all areas including: toe-hole resiliency, stenchlessness (above and beyond normal foot funk), blister proofness, and comfortability.

Finally - a sock that has a good combination of durability and affordability.  I’m so impressed with these socks that I bought quite a few pairs and literally put my name on them.  To help you and your feet start the New Year off on the right foot (no pun intended), I’m offering a limited number of socks for $5.50 per pair (plus $2 for shipping), or three pair for $13.75 (plus $2 for shipping).

They come in two colors: grey or black, and two sizes: small/medium which will fit women, children, and men with small feet (just say they’re for your wife or kids), and large/extra-large which fit men with feet larger than size 10, and Sasquatch-like women (just say they’re for your husband).

If you’re interested, email me with color preference (you can mix and match), sizes, quantity and mailing address, and I’ll shoot you payment information and an invoice.

The “store” will close on Monday, December 21st, or when I’m out of socks - whichever happens first.  Grab a pair while they last.

Your feet will thank you!

Moms

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May 10th, 2015

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Traci and Madeline
Traci and Madeline
Traci and Matthew
Traci and Matthew
Mom, me, Bobby, Debra, Jennifer
Mom, me, Bobby, Debra, Jennifer

I loved you when I was a child, but I loved myself more.  That’s how kids are.

I did not understand what it took to raise multiple children while working and being a wife.  I just wanted my motherly needs met.

I did not understand what it must have been like to be a mom and a wife whose husband served his country during wartime.  To give birth to a child while your husband was not near, and in harm’s way.

There were a lot of things that I didn’t understand.

I’m not a child anymore, however.  And while I will never completely understand what it’s like to be a Mom, the maturity and perspective that comes with age, twenty years of marriage, and parenthood has deepened my always present appreciation for you.

With the exception of one day each May, you mothered thanklessly.  Flowers, and breakfast in bed, are nice, but they are not nearly enough.  365 Mother’s Days would not be enough.  Let’s face it, there is nothing that can compensate you for being Mom.  I know that, now, and I realize that you’ve known it and accepted it for as long as you’ve been a Mom.

I wish it didn’t take me 51 years to say the words below, but better late than never:

Thank you for putting your children first in your life – ahead of you, of work, of everything.

Thank you for disciplining me.

Thank you for your wisdom.

Thank you for your patience.

Thank you for driving me to swim practice at 5:15am and for picking me up at 7am – on your work days.

Thank you for my brother and sisters.

Thank you for listening.

Thank you for guiding me, yet letting me find my way.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Exercise: Every Little Bit Counts

December 3rd, 2014

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Short and sweet swim session with Lisa
Short and sweet swim session with Lisa "Rockfish" Ribes in the Trisports.com Endless pool (swimmer's treadmill, if you will).

For the better part of 30 years, I exercised 20-40 hours per week. 45-60 minute runs were the norm, and I never rode my bike for less than 90 minutes.  Like many of us, I became committed to a mindset that believed a 15-30 minute run or ride was a worthless endeavor.

In 2004, after transitioning into life with a real job (sort of) and a family, not only was it hard for me to accept that I only had time for 3-5, 30’ runs and 2-3 hours per week instead of 20-40 hours per week, but it was hard to fathom that 3-5, 30’ runs was even worth the effort.

Fortunately, my wise friends who had busy schedules yet realized the value in exercise, convinced me that when it comes to fitting a workout into our busy schedule - every little bit counts.  It took a year or two, but I eventually embraced the “short and sweet” mentality with regard to working out. Fast forward 10 years, and I’m still fit, faster, relative to my former self, than I thought I’d be, and my love of exercise has continued to grow.

I like to repeat this message over the holidays because free-time is limited and stress levels are high. As a result, many athletes who are used to spending more than 5 hours per week training, throw in the towel for the months of November and December, convinced that a, relatively speaking, nickle and dime workout routine is not worth the effort. 

Don’t do that this holiday season. Accept that a reduced (yet more intense) workout schedule is not only fine, but may even help to get you out of a training rut, and leave you recharged and in a better place when you do commence your event specific training plan during the New Year. Accept the notion that keeping exercise in your life will make you a better parent, partner, friend, more productive at work and at home, a better holiday shopper, and allow that short and sweet exercise bouts of physical activity count as exercise. 

Take advantage of any opportunity to move or get the heart rate up for a minute or five.  Furthermore, if your exercise bouts are short and sweet - and it doesn’t matter how old you are or how slow you are - put some umph into it! Run back to the car after dropping the kids at school or extracurricular activity. Walk with a purpose when holiday shopping.  RUN up the stairs instead of taking the elevator.  Walk around your office while talking on the phone.  Run 1 mile instead of 4, when you don’t have 30-40 minutes to spare - don’t even waste time putting running clothes on. Just step into a pair of running shoes and go!

Here’s some additional reading on the subject.

The bottom line: Just because circumstances prevent you from training as much as you’d like, doesn’t mean you should abandon exercise entirely. Be creative with your exercise, and remember that every little bit counts.

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