My letter to the editor in the Washington Post, February 19, 2014:
My letter to the editor in the Washington Post, February 19, 2014:
What would it mean to lead a splash-free life?
To splash is “to cause water or other liquid to move in a noisy or messy way.”
In swimming, leading a splash-free life means gliding smoothly forward, without wastefully dissipating one’s own energy in messy, noisy, random directions. This is what first attracted me to Total Immersion: The stunningly beautiful, preternaturally graceful, splash-free stroke demonstrated by Shinji Takeuchi in his popular “Most graceful freestyle” video.
Then I heard Terry Laughlin explain why splashing is inefficient. It takes energy to send water up into the air, and this represents energy diverted from moving you forward. And—since Terry notes that human swimmers, by nature, are energy-wasting machines—a focus on minimizing even the smallest form of waste is the simplest way to acquire what he calls ‘Effortless Endurance.’
This makes so much sense! As a lifelong swimmer, I’m shocked that I have logged 50 years’ worth of miles, including many competitions at many ages, without ever wondering how I might “shape my vessel” to slice cleanly through the water without creating a noisy mess. Dolphins don’t splash! Why should we?
I’ve been an enthusiastic Total Immersion student for about six months now, practicing mindfully and relishing my new grace and power. I’ve become a TI evangelist too. I can’t help it. Every time I meet a swimmer or potential swimmer, I feel compelled to tell them about streamlining, slipperiness, reducing drag, and the amazing power of the hip-drive.
My most recent convert is 89-year-old Mom, featured in the clip above talking passionately about Total Immersion, while demonstrating the method — and demonstrating how much energy is required for her, at this age, simply to get dressed and get into the pool. Why waste that precious energy splashing?
Now I’m wondering if it might also behoove me (us?) to splash a bit less on land, too. After practicing Total Immersion in the morning, I stride onto the surprisingly firm land like a sea creature that has recently become amphibious. Still high on the satisfying sense of grace I just experienced in the water, I wonder if I (we?) might practice the same grace with colleagues, family, and the above-sea-level world as a whole.
For example: Must I interrupt others when I’m really, really eager to share my views? Isn’t that simply splashing?
Must that colleague across the hall sing out loud all day? Splashing!
What about Metro riders who elbow aside elderly passengers on their way to the seats? Looks pretty splashy to me.
We can only control our own “splashiness,” of course – and, being fallible humans, we can’t entirely control that either. But I find that my own attempts to “splash less” make me more, rather than less, compassionate for others who are noisily and messily moving through the world. After all, isn’t that what I’ve been doing, lap after lap, for most of my life?
This is a guest post for Terry Laughlin’s “Swimming That Changes Your Life” blog
A former Stanford and professional basketball player, Mariah Burton Nelson is the author of six books about female athletes, including We Are All Athletes and The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football. She’s currently in charge of innovation for ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership.
Our message should not be, “If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, tell me.” Unfortunately, they’re not going to tell us. Even in the face of disturbing and damaging sexual contact, they’re going to preserve their “special” relationships with beloved mentors, coaches, teachers and priests.
I tell her that I really appreciate the two receptions Stanford held for former players this year: One chairs-in-a-circle discussion between current players and about ten former players, and one casual conversation in an Indianapolis bar.
“It’s been 33 years since I played at Stanford,” I marvel. “But you make me feel like I’m still on the team.”
“You ARE on the team,” replies Tara. She introduces me to her mother, and to her sister Heidi.
I have accomplished many things since Stanford. I’m socially and professionally connected. Still. It feels weirdly satisfying to have Tara tell me I’m still on the team. Even though I live in the DC area, never get back to Maples Pavilion for games, and — though this is heresy to admit — don’t even FOLLOW the team closely until it’s Final Four time. I’m too busy living my life.
For instance: Tomorrow I’m travelling to Amelia Island, Florida, to speak to the Executive Women’s Golf Association. I’ll be keynoting their annual Golfpalooza. My topic: Competition, Leadership, and Teamwork. Those executive women golfers are also “on the team.” Which is why they attend conferences — why we all do. Sure, we want to learn, but we also want to connect. We want to belong. We want to feel part of something larger than ourselves, and work to achieve goals in collaboration with others who share our values.
“You ARE on the team,” Tara said. Same thing the Minnesota Lynx told Connecticut superstar Maya Moore in the WNBA draft.
Isn’t that what we all want to hear?
–Mariah Burton Nelson, who only wishes she had stood up straighter when this photo was taken! Tall sisters, however — power players who were on magnificent display in Indy during the Final Four — will understand: It’s hard to talk to shorter people without bending over!
My brother, a very active, adventurous dad, concocts a unique obstacle course for each of his kids on their birthdays, so that “in order to turn 7,” for instance, the child has to “pass the 7-year-old test.” The kids train for it, and help design it, and love him — and themselves — for it.
This is a great example of how parents can affirm for children the joys of movement.
Parents should model enjoyable physical endeavors themselves, and invite their children on exciting family adventures involving hikes, bikes, boats, and myriad creative games and sports.
We’re in danger, however, of imposing on children a “move because it’s good for you” philosophy — which could be counter-productive.
It’s appropriate for adults: The American College of Sports Medicine’s “Exercise is Medicine” campaign calls on “all health care providers to assess and review every patient’s physical activity program at every visit.” Brilliant!
Of course exercise is essential to physical functioning; our very cells cannot live without it. The campaign is working, too. How I love it when my own physician asks me about exercise!
But… let’s not tell kids.
Have you ever met a child who likes medicine?
If we approach kids with an obesity-prevention, “you must move for 60 min per day” approach, excercise might become, in their minds, just another thing grownups want them to do, along with homework and housework.
Kids SHOULD be taught the benefits of exercise, along with the nutritional value of food, but let’s ALSO nurture their natural passion for movement, so that throughout their lives they stay in touch with their natural desire to play, explore, experiment, discover, test, and express themselves with their bodies.
When necessary (and if often is), we can offer children or adults appropriate incentives to overcome the inertia of sedentary lifestyle. But eventually, the incentive becomes intrinsic: moving feels good, during and afterward – especially when it’s in the context of play.
Myriad studies confirm: the primary reason children play sports is this: FUN.
Therefore, to promote physical activity to children, we should not limit our discussion to physical health, mental health, or cognitive function.
What we should be promising is what Frank Forencich (of Exuberant Animal fame) calls “physical happiness” – and who doesn’t want that?
Of course, adults who are lifelong athletes don’t need to perceive exercise as medicine either. We’ve never forgotten how fun it is.
Off to train for my own upcoming (April) 55-year-old test!
The Washington Post reported this week (“Antidepressants Can Be Helpful but Risky”) that the use of depression medication has nearly doubled since the mid-1990s.
The article mentions dangerous side effects — drowsiness, feelings of panic, nervousness, sexual problems, and thoughts of suicide or weight gain — but fails to mention this proven alternative method of treating depression: exercise.
We have known for a while now that exercise can be as effective or more effective than medication for treating depression. A 1990 meta-analysis of 80 studies on exercise and depression showed that:
A September 2009 article in the Washington Post (“Running for My Life”) made this same case: that exercise can cure depression at least as well as drugs — and of course the “side effects” of exercise beat the side effects of depression medications hands down.
Yet The Washington Post and other media outlets tend to forget about exercise when bemoaning the escalating use of anti-depression medication, and the drugs’ myriad side effects.
True, it’s difficult to persuade depressed people to get off the couch and lace up their running shoes. Pill-popping requires less effort. But we need more medical professionals to prescribe exercise, and we need consistent media reminders that the path to mental health, as well as physical health, is through fitness.
Bike trails filled with people
Dodging them could make me blue
But bike trails filled with people: This is my dream come true