Tales From The Fish
The winter of 1974 is when I had transferred from the Boston Y to the newly constructed Lynn YMCA. At this point in my athletic career I was winding down my marathon training to focus on swimming. Going back to high school and in college I was moderately successful in the inter-scholastic and inter-collegiate sports whether it was swimming or track, but, there always seemed to be someone faster. It was in this winter of `74 upon transferring to Lynn I became Frank Spencer's associate. At the time Frank Spencer was already a legend among all YMCA professionals having been the Y's physical director for over 27 years. Upon joining the Lynn Y team I had time to train in the beautiful new aquatic facility. As far back as I can remember I had always been aquatically inclined whether it was through those wonderful summers on Lake Geneva or the progressive swim programs the Y continues to offer.
My first recollection of my Y upbringing was through the influence of my father. Back when I was about five or six we headed off to the old Irving Park YMCA in Chicago where I first began learning how to swim. The Irving Park Y was the place where my father and Johnny Weissmuller palled around together before Johnny Weissmuller reached the Olympics. Here I come along some forty years latter. When the Park Ridge Y opened up I went right through the YMCA progressive swim programs from minnow all the way through and even became a YMCA Aquatic Director.
At the Lynn Y when I wasn't guiding the basketball programs or found myself teaching Judo swimming laps in that beautiful new pool was now like a second home. The thing is, like in college I wasn't that particularly fast but the longer distance I swam the better I got. For me butterfly was by far the easier stroke. I guess it was because I didn't have to flip every turn. Somehow during practice though I perfected the butterfly flip but, that never really caught on in competitive swimming.
Competitive swimming has come a long way since my high school years. Insurance has had a hand in it's regulating, like starting blocks. In the 50's and 60's starting blocks, those cumbersome wood step up blocks, were always positioned at the shallow end of the pool. Of course none of us wore swim goggles back then. Naturally, we all came out of the pool after practice with red bloodshot eyes. Racing dives off those wood blocks were always like stretched out belly flops.
Today, those old starting blocks have been replaced by sleeker more efficient metal ones now positioned either at the deep end or in pools that have a steady depth of six feet or more. This is because everyone now wears goggles and perfected the racing dives to protect everyone's goggles from falling off when they entered the water. Essentially, the dives now are not those stretched out skimming the surface dives of yesteryear but are deeper more of a wave action that purposely keeps the swimmer longer under water to gain faster times. Injuries that used to happen when starting blocks were in shallower water have almost been eliminated. That's not to say that accidents today are still happening all because of people diving into pools that are too shallow, especially in backyard pools, or in water they think is deep enough but really isn't. As with starting blocks the insurance industry has mandated that one meter diving boards be taken out of public pools that have a depth less than seven feet. Today, one meter diving boards have to be placed in pools with a depth no less than 12 feet. Diving towers and 3 meter diving boards are required to have minimum depths of 15 to 20 feet. These new requirements in place since the late 1970's have reduced the number of debilitating injuries associated with diving into pools that are too shallow.
After about one year of training and guiding more Lynn Y programs it was time to enter my first masters swim meet. Masters in swimming are open age groups for swimmers over 25. It was time to put my training to use. The fastest time of the day for the 1500 meter swim was under 22 minutes. My time well, just say it was just a tad off of that mark. But, none the less I did better than I expected. From then on I went on to many more 1500 meter swim events some of which I did quite well. In all my athletic career while working for the Y I completed 11 marathons, a number of bike tours, and even finished my YMCA career with 6 Ironman Triathlons under my belt. For me those Ironman Triathlons were nothing more than an all day workout.
Ever since I was a youngster athletics has always been a vital part of my life. Today, with public schools cutting programs especially physical education and Y programs that cost a little too much for many families to send their children to have greatly affected the health of a generation. There has to be a ground swell support from communities to reestablish mandatory physical education not just once or twice a week but get our youth involved every day. Granted, the YMCA has done an enormous job in creating and offering programs for today's youth but so much more could be done to greatly improve our mounting health problems especially obesity with all the population.