Path to becoming a swimmer: (Olympic) trials and triumphs

I want to be a real swimmer one day. (credit: Jon Fravel,

When I strolled into the pool on Monday morning a little before 6, I wondered why there were so many people in the water — as in, so many I had to (gulp) share a lane for the first time ever.

“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “Mondays must just be busy swimming days.”

I did my warm up, looked up, and noticed some guy writing some stuff on the white board. Then I realized that everyone else was paying attention to that writing.

(Uh oh.)

This newbie swimmer found herself smack dab in the middle of swim training “class.”

I asked the woman in the lane next to me if this was swim class (she said, “something like that”), and if she thought I could stay. She told me since there weren’t too many people, it was probably OK, but that I should check with the instructor.

I waved him down, asked him and he said I could stay but that I should join in.

My voice wavered as I replied, “I’m still learning.”

“That’s OK,” he smiled, adding that I should, “try to keep up.”

“Uh… OK,” I said, as I glanced at the white board and tried to decipher what the hell he had written up there. It was something like 3×40, 1:00 and some other crap that didn’t make sense to me.

I lasted 30 minutes of the hour-long class. I was breathing hard, my face was red and I definitely got a good workout in. I tried some new training techniques while practicing the new skills I learned at the previous week’s session with my swim coach Antonio.

I was proud of myself for trying something new, and not getting out of the pool instead.

Fast forward to Thursday

When I told Antonio today about my accidental immersion in swim training, he smiled and told me about the instructor, Bela Szabados, the Olympic swimmer who I refer to above as “some guy” writing on the whiteboard.


“If I had known that,” I told Antonio, “I would totally have gotten out of the pool.”

He laughed, then encouraged me to go again and get some tips from the accomplished swimmer. (“Yeah, we’ll see,” I thought.)

Today we worked on further improving my freestyle technique. And after learning that I’m now down to 13 strokes down one length of the pool after three weeks — and starting at 23 strokes on Day One — I’m definitely motivated to make swimming my thing.

Antonio, no slouch himself is the accomplished swimmer department, even said he’d like to profile me for the gym’s blog to showcase to other would-be swimmers how much they too can improve in a short time. He told me he was very impressed with my improvement and got all geeked out at emailing me some drills and teaching me what that “crap” on the whiteboard meant. (For the record, something like 3×40, 1:00 means swim down and back three times, in under one minute each time.)

And you know what? I’m geeked out about it, too! So much so, that I just might revisit swim training with Olympic-swimmer-turned-business-banker Bela.


Filed under Swimming

2 responses to “Path to becoming a swimmer: (Olympic) trials and triumphs

  1. I LOVE this story! You have big time motivated me to just get some help. My dad was a college swimmer and he says my technique looks great, but maybe I just need to get into a master’s program! They just meet at all the wrong times, since I work at the same time the training sessions are, so I’m just going to have to figure it out if I really want to get better. I know I can get faster, it’s just a matter of time. Thanks for this story!

    • Katie, I’m so glad! I do 1/2 hour private sessions every week. It’s really helpful to get the attention and drills that are geared toward my own personal issues and goals. It costs $45 each (or you can probably buy a package to make it cheaper, that’s what I did).

      GOOD LUCK!!! And please let me know how it goes!