Suzanne Tobias

Personal victory, chat with Dara Torres show what we can learn from swimming

Suzanne Tobias was all smiles during warm-ups for the Parent 500 swim race Sunday. Afterward, her expression was exhausted relief.
Suzanne Tobias was all smiles during warm-ups for the Parent 500 swim race Sunday. Afterward, her expression was exhausted relief. Courtesy photo

I did it.

On Sunday afternoon, after about four months of inconsistent training and several days of consistent fretting, I swam 20 lengths of a pool without stopping. It was part of the Parent 500, a just-for-fun, no-experience-required challenge issued back in January to parents of swimmers at the Wichita Swim Club.

It wasn’t fast. My final time was 12:12.18, more than twice my 14-year-old son’s best time in the 500 freestyle.

It wasn’t pretty. I dived in from the side instead of from the starting block to avoid a belly flop. My strokes were a little freestyle, a little backstroke, a little breaststroke and a non-regulation, left-arm-out, frog-kick sidestroke I like to call The Breath Catcher. I paused a couple of times at the far wall to adjust my goggles.

But when I heard my son, Jack, ring the final-lap bell, when I touched the wall and realized I had not only reached but smashed by goal time of 15 minutes, which seemed so impossible back in January, it didn’t matter that I came in last place.

I felt like a winner.

The next day I got to chat on the phone with another 48-year-old swimmer, though arguably a more accomplished one: Dara Torres, a 12-time Olympic medalist and former world record-holder.

Torres is the first and only swimmer to represent the United States in five Olympic Games. In 2008, at age 41, she was the oldest swimmer ever to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team.

These days, though, she’s a swim mom like me, cheering on her 9-year-old daughter, who swims for a club in Haverhill, Mass. She’s also a spokeswoman for SwimToday.org, a campaign designed to raise awareness of the benefits of swimming with parents who may not have considered it as a youth sports option for their kids.

“I didn’t realize this when I was younger, but I learned so much from the sport,” Torres said.

“You learn about hard work, dedication, sacrifices. For me personally, time management was huge,” she said. “You learn about structure and how to manage school and work along with practicing. … Pretty much all the skills I needed in life, I learned from swimming.”

I see that playing out with my son and his swim-squad buddies, who practice every afternoon and Saturday mornings. Jack says his workouts help him process the algebra, Shakespeare and computer programming he’s learning at school. The exercise keeps him healthy and allows him to eat doughnuts without guilt.

But most of all, he says, he swims for the friendships. On his high school team, club team and the summer rec league where he got his start, the kids who swim alongside Jack every day have become some of his best friends.

“People assume swimming is an individual sport, and in many ways it is,” Torres said. “But it’s such a team sport.

“Obviously there are relays and stuff, but it’s beyond that. You’re in workouts together, you’re racing each other, always cheering each other on. I’ve never seen a sport where there’s so much camaraderie.”

My short time training for the Parent 500 illustrated that. From my first day in the pool, when I gasped and grumbled after 50 yards, through Sunday’s event, the best part of swimming was getting to know Charlene, Laura, Lori, Scott, Phil and the other moms and dads who trained alongside me. Regardless of speed or skill level, we were all in this together.

I don’t know if I’ll continue swimming, but my Parent 500 experience inspired me to get moving. I’m taking the stairs. I’m playing racquetball with my husband and working out more regularly. I have a new appreciation for my son’s workouts and the times he and his teammates achieve at meets.

After the race, Jack offered some tips to improve my time. He says I need to work on my turns – “if you can’t do a flip turn, at least touch-and-go,” he suggested. “And don’t stop to fix your goggles.”

I smiled, flattered that he wants me to get better and faster. I pledged to try a flip turn again. Maybe I could even shave a minute or two off my time, I told him.

Next time.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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