As a full-time student, the time period from mid-November until Christmas is always the most hectic. Test upon test are lined up, and the term papers that students put off for months lead to countless all nighters and caffeine addictions on par with those of junkies. For me, this is no different. This semester’s term project consists of a twelve-page report on Indian Gaming. Due on the last day of class, I have done absolutely no research on the topic to this point, setting myself up for a rather painful couple weeks ahead. On top of this schoolwork, my training focus has changed from working hard at all three sports, to focusing solely on one in hopes of gaining the most improvement over the winter.
I have never considered myself a swimmer. Before I started triathlon, visiting a pool meant floating around for an hour before my skinny frame got too cold to stand it anymore. Like most people, this was my biggest barrier to competing in triathlons. While I am a much better swimmer than I was then, the swim remains my largest limiter as I start my professional career. Since the competitors in a draft-legal triathlon ride together in a pack, it is almost impossible to catch-up if you come out of the water without a group. Let’s just say, this past summer I could have probably only kept up with the chase pack of the women’s pro field. Becoming a swimmer is my main focus this winter.
Now is a good time to introduce my coach, Nenad Rodic. He is one of the biggest reasons I will have an advantage heading into my professional career. I mean, how many people can say their coach is from the Eastern Bloc? Nenad was the 100m backstroke national record holder of the former Yogoslavia, before coming to the U.S. He spent some time racing as a professional triathlete, and then turned his focus to coaching. The Serbian Sledgehammer, as we like to call him, coaches swimming nearly full-time. He is on the pool deck for most of the day, but hasn’t swam a single yard in over three years. “One day you’ll understand why I never want to swim again,” he often tells me when I urge him to hop in the pool. I’m starting to understand his frustration towards this sport. While swimming is very technique based, your body has to learn to “feel” the water. To the Sadistic Serb, this means swim until your body breaks down, and then swim some more. I won’t be specific in the exact amount of swimming I have been doing, but will only say that the weekly mileage would make most runners feel accomplished.
Becoming a swimmer has its’ downsides. Aside from walking around campus reeking of chlorine, it is impossible to fit in much running or biking. I am still a runner at heart, so only running twice a week has put my body into a state of identity crisis. While I’m used to hardly being able to walk due to the soreness in my legs, I’m now finding it hard to pick things up because my arms are so sore. I can feel my run fitness declining, but constantly remind myself there is no point in having a fast run if you can’t swim and bike with everyone else. The fact that I am swimming to earn the privilege to run again makes this new pursuit very worthwhile and even exciting.