On this page:
- Thanksgiving (11-30-2015)
- Simple Life Stories (11-23-2015)
- Memories with Matt (11-16-2015)
- Barrier Breaking (11-9-2015)
- Teamwork (11-2-2015)
This is from fellow USMS Coach, Fares Ksebati. He used this perfect time of the year to remind us Masters swimmers what we can be thankful for today and every day.
1) Teammates Your teammates are your family. Our tight-knit community bonds swimmers together across miles and years. Whether you’ve hung up the suit or continue the journey, your teammates and the experiences you’ve shared will last a lifetime.
2) Sunrises While the rest of the world sleeps, we swim. Over the course of our lifetime, we’ll experience hundreds if not thousands more sunrises than the average person. Mesmerizing sunrises are one our planet’s most beautiful gifts to swimmers.
3) Food Swimmers know how to eat. The calories we burn in the pool allow us to consume what our non-swimming friends wouldn’t consider an appropriate amount of food after working out. Enjoy!
4) Swim Coaches Swim coaches rock. Thank your coach for the countless early mornings, thousands of workouts, and continuous devotion to making the sport a truly great experience.
5) Equipment Swimming wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it weren’t for all the toys that make sets challenging and engaging. Fins, paddles, pull buoys, snorkels— these tools of the trade keep our workouts fresh.
6) Workout and Shower in One Out of the pool, into the shower. Land-based sports require an additional step. And swimming is the least smelly sport there is.
7) Post-Swim Endorphins That feeling of total euphoria—right after a race or hard workout. Despite the crazy emotions that swimming can trigger, it’s moments like these when you break through barriers and know that you’ll keep coming back to the pool for more.
8) The Meditative Escape of Water The feeling of weightlessness and freedom that swimming offers us is priceless. The pool is an escape from our over-digitized lives. We can leave the chaos of our day and return after a swim, ready to tackle the world with a fresh perspective.
9) Confidence Swimmers push their limits everyday. Whether you’ve been swimming your whole life or just started, if you can conquer a challenging set in a workout, you can do anything.
10) Access to Water Swimming is a privilege. It’s the only sport that’s also a lifesaving skill. Lessons are expensive and access to clean water is something many people around the world don’t have. Pay your good fortune forward by teaching others how to swim and enjoy the water safely.
11) Good Health Swimming is a life-long sport that helps us lead healthy and fulfilling lives. In addition to hearts of gold, swimmers have lungs of steel. Swimming engages literally every single muscle in the body. It’s no wonder it’s considered to be the best form of exercise for people of all ages.
“There’s always room for a story that can
transport people to another place.”
- J.K. Rowling
Mary and I received more positive feedback about the 'Memories with Matt' KOW last week than anything else this year. It seems the simpler life stories we've shared are more impacting than the swimming columns. So, let me distract you for another moment and tell you four short stories.
These are old stories – familiar stories. The people and the circumstances differ slightly for everyone who tells them, but the core lessons remain the same. I hope the twist we’ve put on them here inspires you to think differently…
Story #1: All the Difference in The World
Every Sunday morning I take a light jog around a park near my home. There’s a lake located in one corner of the park. Each time I jog by this lake, I see the same elderly woman sitting at the water’s edge with a small metal cage sitting beside her. This past Sunday my curiosity got the best of me, so I stopped jogging and walked over to her. As I got closer, I realized that the metal cage was in fact a small trap. There were three turtles, unharmed, slowly walking around the base of the trap. She had a fourth turtle in her lap that she was carefully scrubbing with a spongy brush.
“Hello,” I said. “I see you here every Sunday morning. If you don’t mind my nosiness, I’d love to know what you’re doing with these turtles.”
She smiled. “I’m cleaning off their shells,” she replied. “Anything on a turtle’s shell, like algae or scum, reduces the turtle’s ability to absorb heat and impedes its ability to swim. It can also corrode and weaken the shell over time.”
“Wow! That’s really nice of you!” I exclaimed.
She went on: “I spend a couple of hours each Sunday morning, relaxing by this lake and helping these little guys out. It’s my own strange way of making a difference.”
“But don’t most freshwater turtles live their whole lives with algae and scum hanging from their shells?” I asked.
“Yep, sadly, they do,” she replied.
I scratched my head. “Well then, don’t you think your time could be better spent? I mean, I think your efforts are kind and all, but there are fresh water turtles living in lakes all around the world. And 99% of these turtles don’t have kind people like you to help them clean off their shells. So, no offense… but how exactly are your localized efforts here truly making a difference?”
The woman giggled aloud. She then looked down at the turtle in her lap, scrubbed off the last piece of algae from its shell, and said, “Sweetie, if this little guy could talk, he’d tell you I just made all the difference in the world.”
The moral: You can change the world – maybe not all at once, but one person, one animal, and one good deed at a time. Wake up every morning and pretend like what you do makes a difference. It does.
Story #2: The Weight of the Glass
Once upon a time a psychology professor walked around on a stage while teaching stress management principles to an auditorium filled with students. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, the professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”
Students shouted out answers ranging from eight ounces to a couple pounds.
She replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass doesn’t matter. It all depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light. If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache a little. If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”
As the class shook their heads in agreement, she continued, “Your stresses and worries in life are very much like this glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and you begin to ache a little. Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed – incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”
The moral: It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses and worries. No matter what happens during the day, as early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the night and into the next day with you. If you still feel the weight of yesterday’s stress, it’s a strong sign that it’s time to put the glass down.
Story #3: Shark Bait
During a research experiment a marine biologist placed a shark into a large holding tank and then released several small bait fish into the tank.
As you would expect, the shark quickly swam around the tank, attacked and ate the smaller fish.
The marine biologist then inserted a strong piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate partitions. She then put the shark on one side of the fiberglass and a new set of bait fish on the other.
Again, the shark quickly attacked. This time, however, the shark slammed into the fiberglass divider and bounced off. Undeterred, the shark kept repeating this behavior every few minutes to no avail. Meanwhile, the bait fish swam around unharmed in the second partition. Eventually, about an hour into the experiment, the shark gave up.
This experiment was repeated several dozen times over the next few weeks. Each time, the shark got less aggressive and made fewer attempts to attack the bait fish, until eventually the shark got tired of hitting the fiberglass divider and simply stopped attacking altogether.
The marine biologist then removed the fiberglass divider, but the shark didn’t attack. The shark was trained to believe a barrier existed between it and the bait fish, so the bait fish swam wherever they wished, free from harm.
The moral: Many of us, after experiencing setbacks and failures, emotionally give up and stop trying. Like the shark in the story, we believe that because we were unsuccessful in the past, we will always be unsuccessful. In other words, we continue to see a barrier in our heads, even when no ‘real’ barrier exists between where we are and where we want to go.
Story #4: Being and Breathing
One warm evening many years ago…
After spending nearly every waking minute with Angel for eight straight days, I knew that I had to tell her just one thing. So late at night, just before she fell asleep, I whispered it in her ear. She smiled – the kind of smile that makes me smile back –and she said, “When I’m seventy-five and I think about my life and what it was like to be young, I hope that I can remember this very moment.”
A few seconds later she closed her eyes and fell asleep. The room was peaceful – almost silent. All I could hear was the soft purr of her breathing. I stayed awake thinking about the time we’d spent together and all the choices in our lives that made this moment possible. And at some point, I realized that it didn’t matter what we’d done or where we’d gone. Nor did the future hold any significance.
All that mattered was the serenity of the moment.
Just being with her and breathing with her.
The moral: We must not allow the clock, the calendar, and external pressures to rule our lives and blind us to the fact that each individual moment of our lives is a beautiful mystery and a miracle – especially those moments we spend in the presence of a loved one.
It was late August 1976 and ten year old Matt Biondi was making his way across the pool deck to the front of the crowd. It was the annual awards night for Moraga Valley Pool and, after listing all of his other honors that season, I’d just announced his name as our team’s Most Valuable Swimmer. Placing the trophy in his hands I then predicted that just like Peter Rocca, a fellow Moragan who’d just won a silver medal at Montreal in the 100m backstroke, Matt also had the talent to be an Olympian. Now, he’d only been swimming four years and I’d only been coaching four years but, together, at that moment, we both knew something magical lay ahead.
From that Saturday evening forward, Matt’s career took a new trajectory, swimming with new-found confidence now knowing that someone else believed in him.
Fast forward twelve years. Sports Illustrated is previewing the 1988 Seoul Olympics with a cover photo and lead story about Matt. Leading into the Games, he’s the most talked about athlete and has the formidable challenge of equaling the seven gold medals of the legendary Mark Spitz. The final quote in the SI piece is from me, his high school coach, saying: “I believe that if Matt believes, then he can do it”.
Later, Biondi alluded to the pressure—and tried to temper expectations—in a journal he kept for Sports Illustrated during the '88 Olympiad. "Everyone will be counting the medals and the times and the world records, and making this big judgment: Is Matt a success or a failure?" Biondi wrote. "It seems there's so much emphasis put on that stuff and so little on how a person grows as he works his way toward the Olympics. To me, it's the path getting there that counts, not the cheese at the end of the maze…. People don't seem to realize that I'm coming here with only one world record, in the 100 free. Spitz had world records in all of his individual events going into the 1972 Olympics. And mostly he was swimming against just Americans. Nowadays you've got East and West Germans, Swedes, Australians, Soviets—and they're all great. Times have changed."
Yes, they had. And along his journey, Matt changed, and learned, and grew. Here are some of my recollections of our friendship, along with three memorable stories that illustrate his growth.
At the start of each summer season at Moraga Valley Pool, we held time trials to determine who our ‘A’ swimmers were for the Saturday morning meets and who the ‘B’ swimmers were for Wednesday nights. It was 1979, Matt was 13 and had finished the previous summer with the same series of accolades. He was starting to think that success might not take much effort after all. In the first Time Trial event, the 50 free, Matt didn’t push himself as hard as he could and wound up taking 5th place. He’d turned in a decent time, but he’d not noticed that the bar he’d raised had now been met by his teammates.
They’d become faster, too. By not finishing in the top 4, he was designated a ‘B’ swimmer and would have to swim in the first Weds night meet of the season. He did. He swam that one event and turned in a lifetime best. Afterwards, he came right over and said, “Ok, I get it. I’ve learned my lesson. From now on, I will only give my best”. Pretty astute observation. Over the next twelve years, Matt went on to earn a reputation as the world’s most dependable, formidable, and meet-ready male swimmer.
That following year, Mary and I faced a minor dilemma. We were to marry on August 16 right at the end of the summer and right at the end of the swim season. It was my fifth year at Moraga Valley Pool and Mary’s first, and those kids loved us as much as we loved them. Prior to my arrival the club was last in the eight team league. In my first year, we improved to third and the next year we were the All-Orinda Champions. For the next two seasons we were one of the top five teams in Contra Costa County, arguably the greatest hotbed of summer recreational swimming in America. How in the world were we to recognize all those kids as part of our special ceremony? Simple – we chose one girl and one boy from the team to be part of our wedding party and represent all the other swimmers on the team.
The boy we chose was Matt. That’s him second from the right.
The next month, Matt was a freshman at Campolindo HS in Moraga. His high school career continued to shape, mold and direct his future. His first-year growth spurt made him so gangly and uncoordinated that he wasn’t even able to qualify for the North Coast Section CIF meet. For the first time ever, he was an ‘also-swam’. After Mary and I married, we quit the summer coaching scene and, along with two high school chums, stated a window washing/custodial company. They were marketing and finance, and we were the labor force. One year later, the high school swim coach position opened at my alma mater, Campolindo. We were able to adjust our work schedule so I could get back on the pool deck and because I had an in with the out-going coach, I was Matt’s coach once again.
He’d regained his confidence and skill but still lacked strength. He was so tall and skinny, the upperclassmen nicknamed him ‘stick-boy’. At the end of that sophomore season he qualified in the 200y and 500y freestyles for the NCS meet. His six-beat kick along with his incredibly long arms, convinced me he was the perfect candidate for distance swimming. The very next year he proved me wrong. Prior to the championship, he had swum some shorter races and earned a coveted spot as the fourth man on the 400 free relay. In that second year, he’d dropped his 100 free to a 50. 8, good enough for the relay but way off the times of his three teammates. Two were seniors, including the reigning 100 free champion who had already been a 45.8. The other two legs were 48 and 49. Matt was the weakest link. The team qualified in first for the finals, but the favored, second-seeded team, had sandbagged. Scenarios like this called for a ‘chase-the-rabbit’ strategy, so we went fastest to slowest, making Matt the anchor.
‘Campo’ had a one second lead when Matt dove in, which normally would have been safe but the other team saved their fastest swimmer for last. He was about to split a 47, passing Matt on the final stroke, at the wall, by .07 seconds. Matt dropped three full seconds to a 48. 5 and nearly won the race. But he didn’t and appeared devastated. It was the final event and final race of the meet. It was all over, except for climbing out of the pool. Which he didn’t. Not for a long time. I left him alone and waited. When he finally climbed out and came over, I realized he hadn’t been sulking; he’d been making mental preparations for next time. Without reservations, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “That’s the last time that happens. I’ll never lose a relay again”. And he didn’t. By the end of his career, he’d swum mind-boggling, come-from-behind, anchor splits of 40.9 in yards and 47.8 in meters. Times that, thirty years later, by today’s standards, are still among the best in the world.
The next year, everything happened so fast. Especially to him. Suddenly, as a junior, he was a sprinter again and he began showing glimpses of skills and power that most of us had never seen before. By the time the season-ending meet arrived, we believed that our swim team was about to do something no other sports team in the history of Campolindo HS had ever done – win a California North Coast Section title. In addition, no team from our league had ever even won a swimming title. We were ready. And we won. When it was over, the boys had turned in 22 of 24 lifetime best swims and the trophy was theirs.
It was an incredible, nearly perfect team effort. In the picture on the left, that’s Matt with the other hat on. The only real downside came in the finals of the 50 free. In addition to the 100 free and 400 free relay, Matt would have also won that event but he had trouble on his turn. He was decidedly ahead going into the wall, but he had water in his goggles and failed to touch the wall, so he had to go back and retouch. Miraculously, though, Matt rebounded and in the space of 25 yards, finished fourth with a 21.85. Here again, was another lost chance at doing his best. Because it was the time during the meet for the 20 minute diving break, Matt stayed alone in the pool, head and hands in the gutter. And, again, he was using that moment to learn and grow and control his attitude. When he came out and came over, he said, “Not fixing my goggles ahead of time was a mistake. I’ll never be beaten on a turn again.” Because of his will power, his wingspan and/or his strength, Matt became one of the most feared short-course swimmers of all time. From that day on, if you weren’t ahead of Matt going into a turn, you wouldn’t be ahead of him coming out.
During our eight years together, Matt and I developed a special bond that exists to this day. Sometimes I wasn’t sure who the teacher was and who was the pupil. His presence of mind and attitude-control at such a young age taught me much about how I saw myself. Much of that connection was obviously strengthened when Mary came into my life. She and Matt began sharing a very similar, mutual fondness for each other that has steadied him during some of his life challenges. Twelve years after I stopped coaching him, the tables were turned and Mary and I were in Hawaii as members of Matt’s wedding.
Matt turned 50 years last month, so that twelve year age gap between us when we first met is virtually non-existent. I’m pleased that he accepted our DAM invitation to be our guest speaker next month and I’m excited that those of you attending get a rare glimpse into a uniquely, gifted athlete and one of my closest friends.
Here are four Matt Biondi videos from YouTube.
As we enter the the final week of our inaugural Grand Prix challenge, Mary and I are impressed and humbled by the number of DAM swimmers participating in the event. Late last fall, when it was first envisioned, we never imagined this type of year-long commitment or end-of-year results. The previous KOW spoke to the benefits of activities like this with group support and participation. This week, we'd like to recognize the personal advantages of individual accomplishments.
Sports provide many examples of this and the story of Roger Bannister is a particularly inspirational one. For many years it was widely believed to be impossible for a human to run a mile (1609 meters) in under four minutes . In fact, for many years, it was believed that the 'four minute mile' was a physical barrier that no man could break without causing significant damage to the runners health. The achievement of a four minute mile seemed beyond human possibility, like climbing Mount Everest or walking on the moon.
It was a windy spring day, on the 6th of May 1954, during an athletic meeting between the British AAA and Oxford University, that Roger Bannister crossed the finish line with a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, and broke through the "four minute mile" psychological barrier. John Landy, a great runner of that day, had never run faster than within 1.5 seconds of the four minute barrier. Then 56 days after Roger Bannister's breakthrough, John Landy ran the four minute mile in 3 minutes and 57.9 seconds in Finland. Later Bannister and Landy raced in the Mile of the Century where Bannister won in 3 minutes and 58.8 seconds. What made this event so significant is that once the four minute barrier was broken by Roger Bannister, five more runners went sub 4:00 the next year and the year after that another ten. In what had stood as an impassable barrier for decades, had, in the space of less than three years, been beaten down by seventeen men.
Roger Bannister breaks FOUR-minute mile, 6 May 1954
The breaking of the four minute mile was so significant, that is was named by Forbes as one of the greatest athletic achievements of all time. Describing the psychological impact of the four minute barrier in an interview with Forbes , Sir Roger Bannister, who was knighted in 1975, related that:
The world record then was four minutes, 1.4 seconds, held by Sweden's Gunder Haegg. It had been stuck there for nine years, since 1945. It didn't seem logical to me, as a physiologist/doctor, that if you could run a mile in four minutes, one and a bit seconds, you couldn't break four minutes. But it had become a psychological as well as a physical barrier. In fact the Australian, John Landy, having done four minutes, two seconds, three times, is reported to have commented, "It's like a wall." I couldn't see the psychological side."
So what happened to the physical barrier that prevented humans from running the four minute mile? Was there a sudden leap in human evolution? No. It was the change in thinking that made the difference, Bannister had shown that breaking four minute mile was possible. Often the barriers we perceived are only barriers in our own minds. Previous runners had been held back by their beliefs and mindsets. When the barrier was broken other runners saw that is was possible and then 16 runners went on to do they same.
Our beliefs and mindsets limit or expand our world. Beliefs have power over us because we treat them as though they're true. Beliefs influence what you attempt or choose not to attempt in life. They determine what you pay attention to, how you react to difficult situations and ultimately your attitude. Success and failure begin and end in what the mind believes is possible.
The first step anyone can take in influencing the world around them is to change how they think about it. If Roger Bannister accepted that the four minute mile was a physical limitation, he would never had tried to break it. Just like the runners of time past, many of the barriers that hold us back today exist only in our minds.
- What are the four minute miles that are holding you back in your personal and professional life?
- Are their any role models who are challenging existing limits that you can learn from?
Every fall thousands of geese fly from Canada to the southern part of the United States to escape the bitterly cold Canadian winter. As soon as a flock of geese take flight from Canadian waters they quickly form a v-shape flying pattern, with one rotating goose in the center lead and all the other geese trailing behind in two close lines. They fly at speeds of 60 miles per hour, honking constantly. They can fly for 16 hours without resting. Wildlife scientists have conducted extensive studies to determine why geese and other migratory birds always fly in a distinctive v-formation. They found some fascinating results:
1. When geese fly together, each goose provides additional lift and reduces air resistance for the goose flying behind it. Consequently, by flying together in a v-formation, scientists estimate that the whole flock can fly about 70% farther with the same amount of energy than if each goose flew alone. Geese have discovered that they can reach their destination more quickly and with less energy expended when they fly together in formation. When people work together harmoniously on teams, sharing common values and a common destination, they all arrive at the destination quicker and easier, because they are lifted up by the energy and enthusiasm of one another.
2. When a goose drops out of the v-formation it quickly discovers that it requires a great deal more effort and energy to fly. Consequently, that goose will quickly return to the formation to take advantage of the lifting power that comes from flying together. Sometimes people playing on teams will drop out of the group and try to accomplish goals on their own. However, like the geese, they usually discover that they miss the synergy and energy that comes when they are an active part of a cohesive team moving toward their destination, and want to return to the group.
3. Geese rotate leadership. When the goose flying in the front of the formation has to expend the most energy because it is the first to break up the flow of air that provides the additional lift for all of the geese who follow behind the leader. Consequently, when the lead goose gets tired, it drops out of the front position and moves to the rear of the formation, where the resistance is lightest, and another goose moves to the leadership position. This rotation of position happens many times in the course of the long journey to warmer climates. When a team is functioning well, various members of the team may take the leadership role for a while because of a particular expertise or experience. Consequently, on good teams, everyone has the opportunity to serve as a leader as well as a follower.
4. Geese honk at each other. They also frequently make loud honking sounds as they fly together. Scientists speculate that this honking is their way of communicating with each other during their long flight. Similarly, when working on teams, it is exceedingly important for each team member to communicate regularly with all the other team members. Teams frequently fall apart because of the lack of adequate communication among the various members of the team. Perhaps human teams can learn from flying flocks of geese that constant communication among members is exceedingly important in moving effectively towards a common destination.
5. Geese help each other. Scientists also discovered that when one goose becomes ill, is shot or injured, and drops out of the formation, two other geese will fall out of formation and remain with the weakened goose. They will stay with and protect the injured goose from predators until it is able to fly again or dies. Likewise, human teams work best when they do more than just work together, but care for the well being of each other.