Age group athlete Kitty Perle training in Gran Canaria recently. Photo Rob Holden Photography.
At the moment I’m in Maspalomas in Gran Canaria training for a few days. Every morning while I’m swimming at the public pool in town, there is a young girl training with her Mum. She is an awesome little swimmer. She glides up and down the pool effortlessly. I got chatting to her mother the other morning. She’s been swimming competitively for her home nation – Denmark – since she was 7. She’s 13 now. I find myself incredibly jealous of this young girl. She will never know the struggle of learning to swim as an adult!
Growing up in Ireland in the 80’s, swimming was not something that we did as kids. I vaguely remember our junior school bringing us on the bus to the local pool a handful of times for lessons, but my lasting memory of those trips were the extra sandwiches my mother would make for after the swim lessons. (I would have the sambos eaten before the bus even left the school car park). Swimming was not something that we took seriously as a sport or hobby in Ireland back then, unlike kids in Australia or other European countries for example who all seem to get their kids in the water as toddlers. It was in Australia one afternoon when I was 25 that I realised I was possibly the only adult on the beach that couldn’t swim. I decided I would learn to swim when I got home.
So back to swimming lessons I went. (No sambos from my Mam this time.) The amount of information coming from the various instructors was overwhelming. Put your hand here, keep your head there, turn your body 56 degrees to the right while keeping your foot turned in. It was mind boggling. I vaguely remember something about moving my hand like I was scooping ice cream from a tub being involved at one point. It was no surprise with all that stuff floating around my head that when I got into the pool I resembled a drunk person doing samba in the water. I continued to drunken samba my way up and down the pool for a few years. Falling off the back of the pack after 50 metres became the norm. Times never improving. Losing interest. Failing to understand what I was meant to be doing at all. Inventing excuses not to go to sessions. Swim sessions were like turning up to a party where everyone was speaking Italian. I would nod my head here and smile there so that it looked like I knew what was going on – going through the motions – but I hadn’t a clue. My swim times in races when I started competing in triathlons showed this.
Then last summer I had the opportunity to go to St. Moritz in Switzerland to train with Brett and his squad. After a few minutes Brett was able to confirm that I was indeed a “challenged swimmer”. He told me to forget all the stuff I had been told by various swim coaches on how to swim perfectly, and listen to three things that would get me swimming faster in triathlon. For me it was to throw my arm over like a cricket bowler, straight arm all the way around and keep that rhythm going and while being aggressive with the water. This was to stop my arms flailing all over the place like they had been doing for the last couple of years. No wonder I was going nowhere in the water. The other thing Brett told to do was to swim with a pull buoy, or better still for a shorty like me – two pull buoys stuck together, as much as I could from now on. This would help me work on my new stroke, but more importantly would make swimming a bit more enjoyable. And if I’m enjoying it, I’ll do it.
So off I went back to Dublin to practice my new stroke. All winter I’ve been bowling up and down the pool. Sure, It ain’t pretty. I won’t win any admirers from the pool deck like that Danish girl swimming in Maspalomas. And I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been given “helpful hints” to correct my stroke by well-meaning people in my local pool or scoffed at for my two pull buoys superglued together. BUT, my swim times are way down on last summer. And they keep going down. Not only am I hanging on to the back of the pack for the sets at swim sessions now, but I’m leading out the lane. And most importantly – I’ve learned to love swimming! I used to find any excuse to skip swim training, now I look forward to it. Swimming used to be the necessary evil to get through in a race before I could hop on my bike and do what I love best. Now I’ll start races much more confident and not just hope to “get through” the swim.
So if the aim of the game for the “swim challenged” age-group triathlete is to swim faster, and get onto the bike not completely exhausted and demoralized, then it’s time to stop trying to do impressions of Phelps in that water and find the stroke that works for you. It just so happens that it’s doing impressions of a cricket bowler that works for me!”
Kitty is trained by Trisutto.com coach Lisbeth Kristensen. Lisbeth and our Trisutto.com team of online coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Age-group athlete Rafal Medak using the straight arm technique. Not always pretty, but very effective in finding rhythm for those coming from non-swim backgrounds.