Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Olympic Splash

I have water in my ear as I write this, but not just any pool water- it was splashed there by a gold medal Olympic swimmer from my attempt to keep up with him for an hour. Tonight I was given the opportunity of a lifetime and the chlorine in my ear is my souvenir. Thanks to the really generous folks at the Refuel with Chocolate Milk campaign, I got to swim for an hour in the bubbles from the kick of Nathan Adrian. Nathan is a member of the US Olympic swim team and a gold medal winner from the 2008 games in Beijing in the 4x100m relay heats. If you followed the Olympics at all, you're probably not as familiar with Nathan as you are with his fellow team member, Michael Phelps. Nathan is finishing up his studies at UC Berkeley right now and gearing up for the Olympic trials this summer in Nebraska and hopefully the games in London. Nathan is currently the American record holder in the 50 (18:66) and 100 freestyle (short course- Yards), and I'm stunned to write that his 100yd time of 41.08 is just  seconds faster than my 50 yd sprint. Do the math, if you must.

I was really excited to meet Nathan since I've been following Olympic swimming since I was a kid and always dreamed of being there someday myself. It wasn't in the cards for me, but I have always watched the Olympic Games with a little pang of jealousy in my heart. Someday I'll get there in person to watch, but for now tonight was enough to tide me over.

I owe the whole experience to my friend Elyssa who was invited through her blog to an event involving an Olympic swimmer and thought of me. The very generous folks from the Team Refuel campaign invited me to not only attend, but to actually get in the pool to swim with Nathan and that is exactly what I did.

Monday night at 6:30 pm I met up with Ashley from Healthy Happier Bear at the YMCA on W14th St and we threw on our swimsuits, not knowing what to expect. When I got out to the pool, Nathan was hopping in and he was ready to get moving right away. Kelly from the PR group told me that he'd been goofing around for most of the day but turned completely serious when he hit the water. He began his warmup with an easy 200 yards and I joined for the last 150 when I got in.  Immediately I noticed that he came out of his flip turns like a rocket, about 10x faster and farther than I do. As an open water swimmer, I never really take the time to work on my flip turns, I can do them just fine and that's always been good enough for me. I was probably stronger when I competed in the pool, but now I'm simply "fine" at them. For most of the hour I spent my time following Nathan in as many drills and intervals as I could while staying out of his way. I listened to what his coach Nick Folker, a former Olympian himself (he swam in Sydney in 2000 for South Africa), told him after each set and tried to get an idea of what he was doing next or absorb any tips he offered. I tried new drills including a head-up catch drill to improve the front end of my stroke and several sculling drills to improve arm and shoulder strength. The sculling drills were tough but great because you hold your legs up in a tuck and therefore engage your abs at the same time. Coach Folker gave me a few tips re: my body rotation and he felt that the head-up catch drill really helped me keep my hips from moving side to side and allowed me to rotate on a transverse plane like I have a skewer through my head and body. It was a helpful tip that I'll keep in mind. I really appreciated the time he spent talking to me about it between reading out sets for Nathan. Between sets Nathan was nice enough to explain the upcoming sets to me (they were super complicated short sets) and he even stopped to chug a little bottle of chocolate milk. I passed on mine until I finished swimming because I'd rather not barf in front of so many people, I stick to water and the occasional gel while I'm actually in the water.

After the hour was up, some folks started hopping into the lane to try to do their own swims and it was time for us to get out of the way. I was sad to get out of the water for many reasons, but mostly because I enjoyed watching Nathan's strong, smooth stroke and trying to replicate it myself. I wished him luck in the upcoming trials and in London and hit the locker room. While I was changing I overheard two women talking, one was asking the other why she was still there and her response was "because I've been spying on this Olympian in lane 1, like a REAL Olympic swimmer." I smiled because I felt exactly the same way.

The Refuel team sent me on my way with a great new Lululemon bag, lots of chocolate milk and some fantastic memories. I also have a folder packed with the science behind using chocolate milk as a recovery drink, I'll put them together for a future blog post!     The rest of my pool pictures have gone MIA from a glitch in my SD card, but hopefully I can track them down and post soon. :(

*Olympic image courtesy of BBC Sports 

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