I documented once before my successes in “swimming” as a kid (click HERE for a little reminder). Now, I put swimming in quotations marks there because, well, it wasn’t really swimming so much as it was a full body seizure 25m at a time, and what I thought I knew about swimming wasn’t really swimming at all; enter the weekly TryForce Masters swim and my progression from the “Advanced” lane directly to the “Beginners” lane six years ago. I mention this all again because, the coach in that Beginners lane was a guy named Roberto.
Sadly, I received an email a few weeks ago that Roberto will be temporarily stepping down as a swim coach for the TryForce Group. I had to reread the email a few times for it to sink in as I can’t imagine TryForce swims without him. And although I don’t participate in the group swims as much anymore given it’s a bit inconvenient and far for me to travel, I still consider Roberto in many ways to be my swim coach. With that in mind, I made it a point to show up last night and participate in what had been identified as his “last official coaching session”.
Roberto has been with the TryForce coaching team since its genesis. A quick browse of the TryForce Niagara website will tell you that Roberto comes from a “swimming background” and “instructed youth programs while in Mexico and has been instructing with TryForce for (seven-ish) years. He truly enjoys teaching the fundamental swimming technique for those looking to become comfortable and efficient in the water especially those new to the sport.” I will expand on this to say that he’s one of the nicest, most patient people to ever walk the planet; and then there’s that smile. Besides swimming, I’ve also had the pleasure of riding and running with him from time to time, and participated in a few workshops he hosted on basic bike maintenance and how to change a bike tire. So, yeah, Roberto has been pretty instrumental in my development as a “triathlete”.
But back to the swimming…
When I was moved to the Beginner’s lane all those years ago I was mortified. Hey, I won a Bronze medal as a child, remember? Of course, there were only three people in my heat but that’s entirely beside the point. For the next few weeks, Roberto patiently explained the proper mechanics of really swimming and ran me (us) through some drills to help develop those skills. It turns out that wind-milling your arms through the water at 100rpm doesn’t generate speed. Huh. Whatyaknow? My confidence in the water was shattered. After all, as a kid, the swim coach at the local Lions pool had screamed “swim faster, Terry!” at all those swim meets, not “make sure to properly utilize your catch in order to pull yourself comfortably through the water Terry!”
I recognized quickly then that I was basically starting over from scratch and relearning how to swim and I took it my new challenge. Roberto was a huge part in that. Each week, we were given some instruction on the different parts of the stroke and then given “homework” (drills) to practice in the pool later on our own. I took this homework seriously, often going back to the pool the very next morning for 20-30 minutes at a time and practicing my drills. After a few weeks of practicing my technique, my form improved enough that I was ‘graduated’ to the next lane with another coach; but that didn’t end my relationship with Roberto.
While I continued to practice all the “shark fin”, “single arm”, “doggie paddle”, “zipper”, “catch-up” and God-knows-what-else drills the new coach gave us (most of which I still use and practice regularly today), I always made sure to sidle up to Roberto during our post-workout coffees to glean as much as I could about ways to continuously improve my form in the water. I recognized that it wasn’t exactly a strength and I was determined to make it just that.
Eventually, Roberto even invited me to join him and another TryForce peer once a week for their workout and, honestly, this scared the bejesus outta me. I knew there was no way I would ever be able to keep up with these two during their workout (and I didn’t), but I considered it an honor just to be asked and I couldn’t pass it up, not to mention the opportunity for a little extra tutorial. It was largely through these sessions that I learned that when it comes to swimming, it’s definitely quality over quantity when it comes to swimming. It’s not how many lengths you accomplish, but the quality of the time you spend in the water to benefit your overall form and technique. This is the basic fundamental principle that I subscribe to today.
Also, it was during these sessions, on top of the usual drills I would do on my own, that Roberto gave me added advice on how to develop my kick which was practically non-existent and ugly even at the best of times (click HERE), he explained the benefits of and then made suggestions on how improve my bi-lateral breathing (click HERE). He introduced me to the Swim Smooth website (click HERE) and taught me how to use an Aquapulse Heart Rate Monitor (click HERE). Shit, he even tried to help me with my Butterfly Stroke (click HERE), something I have still managed to fail miserably at I might add.
But more than all this, Coach Roberto taught me something I have come to value above all else: a real LOVE of swimming.
Where I used to hate it and thought only of it as a necessity in order to compete in triathlon, I genuinely have a real passion for swimming now and I am continually developing it be my true strength in the sport. I’ve become something of a real “Aquaholic” in that regard. I now see long distance swimming as, potentially, my new future if/when this whole triathlon thing falls by the way side. I already participate in one 10k charity swim per year (click HERE) and I would love to do more, even seriously compete at that distance – and longer. I even have a future lake crossing in the back of my mind.
Beyond that, I am also now sharing and creating this same passion for swimming with HRH, who is turning into quite the water baby herself (she even used to ride in the canoe with Roberto during our open water workouts a few summers ago – something that she still fondly recalls from time to time now). And it’s this overall drive and passion for swimming is what I am most grateful to Roberto for instilling in me. Thank you for that, buddy.
And even though it’s only temporarily you will be sorely missed and I am looking forward to the next time we can get in the water to simply, swim.