For all intents and purposes, swimming is an individual sport.
Even when you're part of a four-woman relay, no one can help you but you
once you stand up on those blocks for your leg. During a race, it's just you against the other seven lanes, and that's the way it's been for your entire career. So it's sometimes hard to feel like a "team" when you arrive at a meet as team-oriented as the Olympics.
The Olympic Games are the epitome of team competition: we are a swim team, within a Canadian team, within an entire country. I have my own specific goal, which, if reached, will help our team goal and our overall country's standing. We're all connected the moment we're named to the team by our respective national sport organizations. I'm connected to the other swimmers, the gymnasts, the former Olympians and even the non-athletes who are cheering from Canada.
So how do you take a bunch of "individual sport" athletes who are used to racing for a spot on the team against one another, and make them become a team together?
A new posse
There is no easy answer, but our strategy as a swim team has been to hold a training camp several months before the games. So, last week, the 31 swimmers along with numerous coaches and countless support staff met in Phoenix for some hard training, meetings, and "team bonding".
Instead of swimming with my usual group from Victoria, we were divided up based on our strokes and distances. This meant that I didn't see Ryan Cochrane or Alexa Komarnycky (1500- and 800-metre freestylers, respectively) for most of the week! Instead, I swam with Vancouver-based coach Tom Johnson and spent more time with other sprinters. Usually at a camp where we are divided this way, I split my workouts between mid-distance (200s) and breaststroke (for my IM), but now that I have dropped the 200 IM, I'm focusing solely on my speed-oriented events. This means more fast swimming in the pool and longer, harder workouts in the weight room.
As much as I missed my familiar Victoria posse, it was refreshing to be joined in a lane by swimmers who share my affinity for sprinting. There was some good, healthy racing during sets and it was awesome to let my competitive nature push me through the workouts.
Unfortunately, I caught a cold somewhere between the west coast and the desert, and had to back off for a day in the middle of the camp. As much as I always think I want a day off during hard training, when it comes in the form of a pounding headache and sore throat, I immediately regret those thoughts. Nothing makes you appreciate being able to train like getting sick for a few days. A little bit loopy
The sniffles aside, the camp got the job done. This team is starting to feel like a team, and maybe it's because it's my second time around, but I think we're bonding faster than we did for the 2008 Olympics. Our team is fun, but we're also strong, confident and ready to race against anyone when we step on the blocks in London. It's exciting to look around the pool deck and know that I'm not the only one shooting for something big this summer. Knowing that I'm not the only one dreaming the impossible dream makes it feel a little more possible.
After we all said our goodbyes to the Olympic team on Saturday, I was reunited with my core group and we headed through the desert up to Tucson for another week of outdoor training at the University of Arizona. This week, I'm back on my new sprint schedule, which means five days of three-hour singles in the water, followed by a long weights or cardio session in the gym.
It may seem odd that a "sprinter" is in the pool for three hours straight, but it's more efficient than swimming two 90-minute workouts per day. Think about it: I only have to waste time warming up and warming down once. The rest can be solid hard work.
I won't lie to you, though: I sometimes start to feel a little bit loopy at the 2.5-hour mark. Between the chlorine, the sun, and the math (after that much time, counting lengths and figuring out intervals can get mind-boggling), I sometimes turn into a significantly stranger version of myself. But I'll have my fellow backstroker Hilary Caldwell right there beside me, laughing at my dumb jokes until the three hours are up.
At the end of the day - or workout - that's what being team is really about in this sport.
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