WE’RE GOING TO GIVE THAT CHICK A RACE
Many of us have been on a treadmill at the gym running at a 8.0 pace with no incline, listening to music and maybe reading a magazine. It’s a fun way for fit people to spend 30 minutes before rewarding ourselves with a cookie or something. It’s a ritual in every gym across the land until some random steps onto the treadmill beside you, casually glances over and enters 8.5 with an incline of 1. There’s no visible smirk but you sense one. What all competitive people have in common is that a response must be given. You can’t be too obvious about it but your numbers have to change to a 9/1.5 even if you have to lose the magazine. Make no mistake, the runner next door now knows it’s on. Niceties are over as heart rates increase. When the random beside you enters a 10/2 you have no choice but to continue this dance. You might have to pretend the iPhone battery ran out before putting the music away but the success or failure of the entire day depends on being able to enter 11/3 and being able to sell it as though you’re still just warming up. If he counters with the same 11/3 it’s now life or death to see if you can both hold it for the next 20 minutes before the machine tells you it’s ok to stop. Nothing else matters. Afterwards there’s the obligatory glance and a nod of appreciation which is usually reciprocated. When you have an everyday training partner like this it makes for a much tougher year with a lot more work but once it’s over, you can only look back and be nothing but grateful. This was every day with Lindsey Horejsi.
I thought long and hard about mailing it in this year. I wasn’t going to quit or anything crazy, but I went back and forth thinking about the pros and cons of enjoying my senior year in Minnesota as a regular Division I student-athlete without the pressure of feeling that I had to win. The timing was ideal considering my 7th place finish in Rio meant I had secured 2 years of funding from Swimming Canada once I return home and I had a year left on my Minnesota scholarship. I could still graduate debt free and remain competitive even if I dialed it down from an 11 to an 8. I could ramp it back up to an 11 beginning next September and focus on winning whatever big meet awaits at the end of the 2017/18 season. The human mind is a mysterious thing and every day out of the water I was buying into this plan more and more. Speed comes naturally for me so if I just kept myself in reasonably fit condition my plan was bullet proof. It was brilliant really. It even seemed like a prudent strategy to take a mid-career rest in order to heal all those little physical aches and pains I was feeling. I know there’s an obligation to the people who write those swimming Canada/Minnesota scholarship cheques and there’s a zillion swimmers who’d give 100% to receive one, but in fairness to me at some point the tank empties out and there’s nothing left to give.
This all started after I completed my last event in Rio last Summer. I spent a full week afterwards just enjoying Brazil. No crazy partying to report but just had a lot of fun kicking around Brazil and enjoying the Olympics. Flew to Nova Scotia and stayed in Guysborough with my relatives for another week. Played a lot of cards, listened to live music, bingo, hung out with relatives and enjoyed Nova Scotia. Stayed pretty close to home and put a lot of thought into my plans for my senior year in Minnesota. Afterwards, a week in Kelowna enjoying the end of Summer but still out of the water. The first week back in Minneapolis means getting textbooks, settling in and optional swim practices. We all know pre-season optional practices aren’t really optional but I stayed out of the water anyway because, you know, I had this new plan.
Then Lindsey Horejsi happened. My head was a little swollen and I still had my post-Olympic glow as I jumped back into the water for my first workout. Whoa! First thought was that maybe speed doesn’t come naturally to me. Second thought about an hour later was I couldn’t keep up to anyone really. I wasn’t enjoying this. My bullet proof plan suddenly had flaws and I’d have to rethink things, again. By Wednesday of the first week I was mentally back into it and all in for the year. Being all in means just what you’d think it means. When you work out 8 or 9 times a week in the water for five years you know the rhythm of your coach’s workouts. As a coach, Kelly is far from predictable but at this point in our coach/athlete relationship I know when a tough workout is coming before he does. I thought there was a tacit understanding and an unwritten rule book that says seniors on a college swim team can set the tempo and freshmen more or less acquiesced. It works this way in the Tour-de-France where the lead cyclist slows everyone down the day before a tough mountain climb so they’ll all be able to survive it. The tradeoff is that a senior swimmer knows to ease up on a Tuesday because she knows by now that the Wednesday workout on the 3rd week of September is always brutal and to live through it you need to save something. I didn’t invent this way of doing things, it’s what the ancients passed on to our elders who passed on to me. Horejsi never read this rule book though so we played the treadmill game every day. In the end (and we’re almost at the end) I guess she knew better than I that we had a big meet in Indiana scheduled at the end of the year and we’d best get ready for it in September rather than January. I guess the ancients never had to figure out how to go a 2:03 either.
We certainly won’t promise anything in terms of results when we race in a couple of weeks but it’s been my favourite of my five years so far in Minnesota. Even though we finished 4th at B1Gs after winning it my first 3 years (congrats to Michigan btw), the entire body of work we put in this year was so much greater. I won’t put into words the things that happened which were out of our control this year but it would have clobbered lesser teams. I’m prouder of our 4thplace finish this year than any of the three championships. I really mean that.
The NCAA championships in Indianapolis will be epic. Hopefully the good kind of epic. The cutest baby lambs obediently walking off to the slaughterhouse make for the tastiest meals. We know that NCAAs in Indiana could be Lindsey and my slaughterhouse and that’s been a pretty good motivator all year. Top American swimmers are tough to beat and their Olympians are even tougher. It’s especially so when the lights are at their brightest and their mommies and daddies looking on but Lindsey and I will walk into the IUPUI Natatorium with heads confidently held high knowing we gave it everything for seven straight months. We’re going to give that chick a race.