Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Are You Prepared?

I've been thinking a lot lately on how to best word this post. This is simultaneously an obvious and not so obvious topic: preparation... not just preparation for school or the season but preparation to do something BIG? Because without that preparation, big things are extremely unlikely.

I read about a lot of people trying to swim across Lake Ontario this summer for various charity reasons (I honestly cannot think of another reason for someone to attempt it). 14 year old Annaleise Carr of the Norfolk Hammerheads, took part in a fundraising swim that raised $10,000 for a summer camp for children with cancer. I think what she did for the charity was fantastic, but what she did to quietly teach the concept preparation is just as good. Annaleise PREPARED for this attempt and sought out the help she needed to prepare. "She and her support team practised for months, swimming long distances every day, rehearsing night swims accompanied by Zodiac boats and kayaks, preparing for possible health problems such as cramps or vomiting," described an article from the Globe & Mail. I would add to this: and she's a club swimmer who has been swimming since she was 4!

I don't want to imply that swimming for 27 hours straight, through high swells and water traffic and the cold are easy for a club swimmer. Regardless how much someone prepares, nothing can prepare you better (in my humble opinion) than the aerobic capacity gains made by a swimmer between the ages of 12-15 (the earlier you start, the better). Science is very useful here... and so are some of the other test cases of the summer.

There were several other unsuccessful attempts over the summer (details aside), but none few of them had done the necessary prep work, in my opinion (I consider myself to be a bit of a "paid expert" in this field... my opinion should count). None of the unsuccessful attempts were made by recent club swimmers... looking at the successful ones: Rebekah Boscariol of Markham in 2011, Jade Scognamillo (now swimming with Wilfrid Laurier University) in 2009 and now Annaleise Carr of Norfolk (who broke Scognamillo's record to become the youngest to cross Lake Ontario) all have a club swimming base. I bring this up, not to make light of the attempts of the unprepared, but to point to them as poorly planned and dangerous (not "Heroic" as they have been called in some newspapers and community circles). 

The Cardiovascular gain of club swimmers (especially between the ages of 12-15) is very likely unmatched across any sport. Please don't get me wrong, the club swimmers who achieved this distance did it by working extremely hard in the crossing of the Lake, but also worked very hard for years to develop the physical capacity to do it, it wasn't all mental prep of "doin' it for the kids". Had they started training at 16 or 17, they would have not gotten the same physical capacity.

Remember when everyone "wow"ed in marvel when Nik Wallenda tight rope walked across Niagara Falls?  ...Well they shouldn't have; he's a professional who had been training his whole life to do just that. It's his job. He has gained a lot of skills most people don't have, all through consistent practice. 

I would, therefore, liken the attempts of what I would consider "casual swimmers" to cross Lake Ontario to an attempt by me to climb the outside of the CN Tower "for the kids". Why not? I like to climb things? I started climbing trees 3 years ago for fun. ANSWER: Its dangerous and irresponsible. I may have done some preparation that I thought was enough, but I am not the expert in climbing;  I have not PREPARED appropriately.

My point here is this: everyone wants to do something BIG. Everyone wants to achieve something hard. Few people are prepared to do it. There is a reason that there is only 1 Michael Phelps and that his record number of Olympic Medals wont be touched for a long time; its hard. Few people want to train as hard as he did and as much as he did (365 days/year - are you willing to give up Christmas morning to train..?). Similarly, there is a reason that everyone and their mothers have not swam across Lake Ontario. 

There is general preparation and there is appropriate preparation. General preparation would be swimming a little bit on your lunch hour or running on a tread mill for fitness. The appropriate preparation to cross a lake would be to train like an swimmer.

Even simpler than these examples: are you prepared to do the work to achieve what you want to achieve in the water this season? If you want to qualify, place or medal at Nationals, Easterns, Provincials or Regionals, are you preparing appropriately to do that by making it to the appropriate amount of practices, putting in the appropriate effort into the sets and pushing yourself beyond your comfort level? In other words: are you preparing appropriately? Because difficult things aren't achieved by accident, and being "fit" isn't going to help you much in a race against prepared swimmers.

Update: As I refuse to get specific on details of specific attempts, I will not get into email, Facebook or Twitter arguments about who was "prepared" or "un-prepared", as those details are not relevant to my point.