Aqua Notes

The Final Frontier II: Secrets to a Faster Dolphin Kick

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The Final Frontier II: Secrets to a Faster Dolphin Kick

Developing a fast dolphin kick is not easy, yet everyone can improve their dolphin kick speed with the right anatomical tools and training. The motions involving the articulation of the back, hip, knees and ankles are all critical to a fast dolphin kick. Further, leg strength and stamina are essential.

Perhaps the most important anatomical feature of a fast dolphin kick is plantar flexibility of the ankles; the ability to point the toes inward. This ability enables the swimmer to create more propulsion on the down kick with the same amount of effort as a swimmer with less flexibility in the ankles. It allows the swimmer to achieve that propulsion with less knee bend. Bending the knee less results in less frontal drag, less deceleration, and the ability to maintain a higher speed.

While a strong propulsive down kick is a vital part of a fast dolphin, the real x-factor in the dolphin kick is with the weaker up kick. A good dolphin kicker will generate propulsion on both the up and down kicks. Using the Velocity Meter, we have analyzed many dolphin kickers and have found that weak kickers generate very little, if any, propulsion during the up kick. Olympian Kelsi Worrell accelerates up to 4.6 m/sec2 during the dolphin up kick, increasing her speed by .3 m/sec or more. While that may not be as much as the 9-11 m/sec2 that she accelerates from the down kick, it is vitally important in maintaining a higher average speed.

Further, as a result of her forceful up kick, she creates a stronger vortex that increases the propulsion from her following down kick. Kicking forcefully in both directions tends to help each kick, while kicking hard in one direction only tends to weaken each kick. Fast kickers learn to use their vortices better by kicking hard in both directions. Using the technology from the Ben Hur, which measures frontal drag at a speed of 2m/sec, we also found that by using a stronger up kick, the frontal drag force was 4% less than when using a strong down kick technique; yet another reason to use a stronger up kick.

However, there is more to this story. While dolphin kicking on the stomach, the propulsion comes at the very beginning of the up and down kicks. There are also two key peak deceleration points that occur in each kicking cycle. One occurs at the end of the down kick, when the feet begin to relax and hang toward the bottom of the pool. The other is when the legs elevate past the horizontal position on the way up to prepare for the next down kick. With most poor kickers, because of the extra knee bend required to generate propulsion, the deceleration from the legs drawing upward and forward is far greater than that from the feet hanging down. With Kelsi, she actually decelerates more at the end of the down kick than she does at the end of the up kick. Part of that is due to less of a need to bend the knees, but she has also learned to snap the beginning of the kick in both directions, and then back off of the leg accelerator from that moment on. She also drops the knees slightly during the up kick in order to keep a lower drag coefficient. All of these techniques lead to a faster kick with a more constant speed.

Here are some good tips on developing a better dolphin kick, a.k.a. the fifth stroke:

  • Increase plantar ankle flexibility with stretching exercises
  • Dolphin kick on your side with fins pushing hard in both directions
  • Snap the beginning of the kick, but lay off the speed of the legs after that, keeping the kick tighter and narrower while still undulating your hips
  • Emphasize the beginning of the up kick more than usual
  • Practice lots of dolphin kicking on your stomach, side, back, vertically or horizontally. You can’t get faster without practice

Be sure to check out Olympic swimmer Roland Schoeman demonstrating several ways to improve your dolphin kick in our three part swimisode series on the fifth stroke.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Final Frontier of Fast Swimming

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After every Olympic Games, and after more records fall, the same question keeps coming up: How do swimmers keep getting faster? It is a fair question, as there’s surely a limit to how fast a human body can move through the water given the limited tools that we have to work with.

God never really designed the human to be fast in the water. He had more of a jumping, throwing, running creature in mind. Yet here we are, just over 100 years after the most popular swimming contests began in the Olympic Games of Athens in 1896, still trying and succeeding at getting faster in water.

I once saw an analysis showing where swimmers from different eras would be in the pool during their fastest 100 meter freestyle race, precisely as today’s world record holder completed the race. The world record holder in the100 freestyle of 75 years ago would still have another 25 more meters to swim, in the same time taken for today’s world record. It is astounding how far we have come in such a relatively short time.

Is it reasonable to think that we can continue to swim faster and improve at the same rate that we have over the past 50 years or so? Certainly not at the same rate, but swimmers will get faster. If you think not, think back to athletes like Janet Evans and Michael Phelps. Janet held the 800m world record for an astounding 20 years while Michael excelled in both the 100m fly and 400 IM – two very diverse events. All world records will eventually fall (including those swum in the now illegal full-body slick suits of 2008 and 2009), albeit by smaller margins.

For those extraordinarily gifted swimmers and the coaches that are fortunate to coach them, the questions are begged: Where is the improvement going to come from? How is the improvement going to be made? It would be easy to generalize with answers such as, smarter training, tougher mental training, improved technique, more swim specific power, or all of the above. How does one get mentally tougher than Michael Phelps or train harder or smarter than Katie Ledecky or create more propulsion than Nathan Adrian? I’m not sure. I do think that when striving for more improvement in fast swimming, we need to uncover every stone. We will need to focus on areas where we haven’t paid as much attention in the past. The means to do that will be through better technology that increases our knowledge and leads to improved technique.

As the most successful swimming country in the world, the U.S. is not very technologically advanced. Technology will lift the hood of the car and allow us to get a much closer look at the engine. In a sport that is arguably the world’s most technique-sensitive, we are far behind where we should be in technology compared to other sports. In order for our swimmers to keep getting faster, that needs to change.

The lesson from the slick suits of 2008 and 2009 should have taught us that technology is the next frontier. Yet with the current rules, the technology will not come in the form of improving suits as it did then, but rather from improving the swimmer’s technique.

There are new technologies coming to the market all the time but swimming faster is not just a matter of having the technology. It is a matter of knowing what to do with it and how to interpret the data. Armed with that new knowledge, both the swimmer and coach will know exactly where and how to improve.

At The Race Club, we use two technologies that have made us aware of the extreme importance of technique and how to improve that technique to swim faster. The first is called the Velocity Meter. It measures changes in acceleration and deceleration (including velocity) at every 2/100 of a second through a stroke cycle. Before having this technology, I had no idea it was even possible for a swimmer to go from 18 m/sec2 of acceleration to the same amount of deceleration in less than 1/10 of a second (of course, that shouldn’t happen with an efficient fast swimming technique). By measuring peaks and troughs of velocity through the stroke cycle and the difference between them, we derive information on propulsion and frontal drag. These tests take time to analyze (around 10 hours per test) but we now have a much better understanding of what is great technique, and can identify and quantitate what is poor technique with more precision. 

With the second piece of technology we have recently acquired, we can measure a swimmer’s frontal drag and propulsion, the importance of which I have spoken about often. We are testing, studying and scrutinizing all of the advanced analysis capabilities this machine (called the Ben Hur) has to offer and integrating them into The Race Club methodology. We look forward to testing our clients with the Velocity Meter and the Ben Hur and seeing the performance gains from their improved technique.

Based on what I know now, two of the biggest opportunities that we have to improve swimming technique through technology will be in the kicking technique (and training) and in the more effective use of coupling motions to gain propulsion. We may have more understanding to gain with these two fast swimming techniques than with any others. In the next Aqua Note, I will discuss in more detail how and why I think kicking and coupling techniques may provide the next breakthrough for swimmers.

Yours in swimming,
Gary Sr.


Are You a Path A or Path B Swimmer?

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At all of our Race Club camps, we discuss with swimmers and their parents the importance of knowing what path the swimmer is on. Surprisingly, many don’t really know.

When young swimmers begin their competitive careers, they are, for the most part, on the same path. In other words, at their swimming clubs, they all go to about the same number of workouts per week for about the same duration and prepare fairly equally for competition. When they reach the ages of around 13 to 15 years, that all changes. From that point forward, there is a split in the road and swimmers can go on either path, which I refer to as Path A or Path B.

The two paths are very different, yet neither is right or wrong. What is important is that the swimmer, parents, and coaches all agree on which path the swimmer is on. It is also important that teams welcome and have a place and a program for swimmers that are on either path.

Path A swimmers are all in. They push all the chips to the center of the table and decide that they are going for it. They want to be as fast a swimmer as they can possibly be and are willing to do anything (legally and ethically) to get there. They have big dreams and goals and no interest in another sport. Swimming is their sport. Their lives are pretty much train, sleep, study, and eat. They also know and understand what it takes to become a world class swimmer. To the Path A swimmers, they are not making sacrifices. They are just passionate about swimming and doing what it takes to reach their full potential.

Path B swimmers are swimmers who love the sport, love the camaraderie of being on a team, love the health benefits that swimming delivers and in many cases, are important contributors to the team’s success. They’re not setting out to make the Olympic team. Swimming is not the only thing in their lives. They may have three other hobbies that they enjoy, or other sports they want to participate in, or they are just happy to be swimming and swimming well.

In the past, in many USA Swimming Clubs or YMCAs across America, there has been no place for the Path B swimmer. The rules were: if the swimmer didn’t make x number of practices per week, or took more than a few weeks off per year, or missed too many meets, they were off the team. I am not sure those rules ever helped our sport or many swimmers. Fortunately, I believe that the trend is changing.

Today, more and more swimming clubs are welcoming and creating programs for both the Path A and the Path B swimmers. Perhaps if all clubs were to do that, we might have 2 million registered swimmers in the USA, rather than the roughly 500,000. A two-hour meet format wouldn’t hurt, either. Further, there is no rule that states a swimmer must remain on the same path. I have seen many Path B swimmers that suddenly decided to go all in and jump over to Path A, achieving great success. Path A swimmers can also become Path B swimmers, yet still find great joy and love for the sport.

At The Race Club, we say that life is worth swimming. We love this sport and want to see everyone swim for life. For those who are on Path A, we will try to help you achieve your swimming goals and be the best swimmer you can be, using our vast knowledge in the five disciplines of swimming; swim and strength training, mental training, nutrition, and recovery. We will improve your technique with the best swimming technology and experience available. For those on Path B, we can help you swim faster and also reach your goals, whatever they might be.

We are blessed in America to have many pools, many great coaches and fine swimming programs. Let us welcome all swimmers who want to swim on Path A or Path B, and encourage them to swim for life.

Yours in Swimming,

Gary Sr.


Full Circle of Life

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What Goes Around…

Before the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, I decided to catch a flight to Vienna. I had been invited to swim in the Czechoslovakia Grand Prix meet in Bratislava, where I had swum two years earlier. Munich had not turned out exactly the way I had hoped for with my poor swim in the event I had been favored to win, the 400 IM. Figuring that this had been my last shot at winning Olympic gold, I saw no reason to stay for the Closing Ceremony. Besides that, the tragic murder of the Israeli athletes by the Palestinian terrorists put a huge damper on the Games. The Olympic Games were no longer safe.

While standing in line at the Munich International airport, Steve Prefontaine, the great American distance runner was right in front of me. We talked about our futures. Mine was medical school, while his, after not medaling in Munich, was to come back and win in Montreal in 1976. The conversation made me even more depressed, as I knew there would be no more Olympic Games for me. Things don’t always turn out as we plan, however.

Less than a year after that conversation, Steve tragically died in a car crash in Oregon. Four years later, I was leading Team USA in Montreal, carrying the American flag, and winning a bronze medal in the 100 meter butterfly. That was the greatest honor of my athletic career.

When I got off the plane in Vienna, I was met there by the Czech meet organizer, who drove me the 60 miles or so to Bratislava. The town hadn’t changed in two years. It was drab, gray and poor; a suppressed Communist city. I was there as much for my desire to get out of Munich as I was there to please the meet organizer. Nonetheless, I smiled and pretended to be happy to be back.

The meet was uneventful. I swam mediocre times that were good enough to win against the Czech swimmers, but it was not fun. Were it not for having my memory jogged, 45 years later, I would have completely forgotten that a 14 year old Czech swimmer named Anton Zajac came up to me on the final day of competition and asked me for my Team USA Olympic t-shirt. Those shirts meant a lot to us, and we didn’t receive many of them, but I do recall that from the look of Anton’s eyes, he wanted it more than I did. So I took it off and handed it to him. A big smile broke out on his face, as if he had just won the Olympic gold medal. I never thought about that t-shirt again for 45 years.

We were in Coronado California in May 2016 celebrating the heroic life of my nephew, Charlie Keating IV, who had given it for our freedom in Iraq. CIV was a Navy Seal, a warrior, who earned the Navy Cross for his brave actions in Iraq, fighting against the radical Isis Islamic terrorists until a sniper took him out. It was an emotional ceremony with tens of thousands of Coronado residents coming out to pay tribute to him. That weekend, another nephew of mine that lived in Coronado introduced me to his boss, Pieter Zajac, son of Anton Zajac, the swimmer from Czechoslovakia. Pieter was now running a real estate company in Coronado, working for his father.

Pieter told me the story of giving his father the Olympic t-shirt in Czechoslovakia years earlier, something I had completely forgotten about. I had no idea of what had become of Anton after that. Anton did not go on to become a great Czech swimmer, but he did go on to do something very special and now had a home in Coronado. For many years, Anton had worn that USA Olympic shirt, washing it sparingly, as a reminder of freedom. To Anton, it served as an inspiration to somehow leave Communism and enter the free world of business. To him, it was a source of motivation to reach an Olympic level in something. He wore it for many years until a hole in the front of it finally made him toss it, albeit reluctantly.

Anton was unusually talented, not is swimming, but in computer programming. He used that talent and a lot of hard work to design and patent the most sophisticated cyber-security system in the world. He then built the largest cyber security firm globally, Eset, that has clients such as Microsoft, Apple, and many governments. His system has a proven impeccable record of protecting vital computer systems from malware.

In the fall of 2016, I had the opportunity to meet Anton again in Coronado and share a couple of workouts with him. He still tries to swim at least three times per week, even with a brutal travel schedule. He invited my wife and me to dinner at his Coronado home where, with tear-filled eyes, he shared the Olympic t-shirt story with a small group of friends and business associates. He could barely get the words out.

Anton also invited us to come to his Austrian home this year, just outside of Vienna, where he is completing his own indoor 25 meter pool. We will dedicate the opening of the pool and celebrate a renewal of friendship that began 45 years ago in Bratislava and his successful life. Our roles have reversed. Once an idol of his, I have become an admirer of his vast accomplishments, and very proud to have helped inspire them.

In life, we often hold on to things that could help others more than us. I had no idea what a t-shirt could do, until I re-met Anton. Through Eset, Anton earned his gold medal.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.


The Race Club is Hiring Swim Coaches for Islamorada and Coronado Locations

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JOB DESCRIPTION:

The Race Club, with locations in the amazing tropical paradise of Islamorada in the Florida Keys and in Coronado, a beautiful island in San Diego, is hiring for staff coaching positions ranging from 3 month internships to Senior Staff and Site Directors for experienced, professional coaches and everything in between. Currently we are looking to hire lead coaches based in San Diego, CA and Islamorada, FL.

The Race Club’s Primary Focus is on Swimming Technique and the Technical aspects of swimming. This non-traditional coaching position emphasizes teaching and the science of swimming where the coaching staff is expected to have or develop technical expertise and be on the cutting edge in the sport. This is a great opportunity to launch your coaching career to the next level by learning from world-renowned coaches and world-class athletes while applying proven fundamental progressions to a diverse population of swimmers.

Our Coaches must have a passion for swimming, curiosity and a likable personality with the ability to communicate positively and effectively with others. Swimming experience and success as a coach counts, however, all experience levels of coaches will be considered. Applicants should have talents, skills, experience and/or education outside the sport that effectively demonstrate intellect and capacity to learn. Specific skills in computer science, social media, technology, graphic arts, marketing and business administration are particularly valuable.

Benefits. Every day on the pool deck as a Race Club Coach is a step into the lab to learn at the highest level in the sport, develop and practice your coaching skills, both technical and interactive. Off of the deck, you will have the ability to contribute to building the preeminent swimming organization in the world. Opportunities for significant additional income, international exposure, and growth in a dynamic leader in the sport will be available for the best members of our staff. We are also a leader in swimming social media and online delivery of services, making a coaching position with the Race Club one of the most technologically innovative opportunities for coaches in the sport.

Join the Family. If you, or someone you know, is interested in this unique opportunity of coaching/teaching positions, please contact us. Email your resume to info@theraceclub.com.

HOW TO APPLY

If you, or someone you know, is interested in this unique opportunity of coaching/teaching positions, please contact us. Email your resume to info@theraceclub.com.


California Memorial Day Swim Camp May 26-29, 2017

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The Race Club swim technique camp is unlike anything out there! In this Memorial Day Swim Camp, we try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

Swimmers will focus on all 4 strokes, starts and turns and the 5 disciplines of swimming. Triathletes will focus on everything freestyle technique to become a faster triathlete swimmer. We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions over the 4 days.

Friday, May 26th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Saturday, May 27th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Sunday, May 28th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Sunday, May 28th 11am-12noon Velocity Meter testing option
Monday, May 29th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Monday, May 29th 11am-12noon Filming for Video Analysis option

Morning Camp sessions are $250 and afternoon camp sessions are $150. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions on or before April 25th, you get a $300 discount. The regular price of the whole camp is $1600. If you sign up early, it is $1300.  The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Brian Bent Memorial Aquatic Center, 818 Sixth Street, Coronado, CA 92118. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


Summer Swim Camp in Florida June 16-19, 2017

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The Race Club Florida Summer Swim Camp is unlike anything out there! We try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us, your Race Club family. 

Swimmers will focus on all 4 strokes, starts and turns and the 5 disciplines of swimming. Triathletes will focus on everything freestyle technique to become a faster triathlete swimmer. We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions over the 4 days.

Friday, June 16th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Saturday, June 17th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Sunday, June 18th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Sunday, June 18th 11am-12noon testing for Velocity Meter option
Monday, June 19th 8am-11am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Monday, June 19th 11am-12noon filming for Video Analysis option

Morning Camp sessions are $250 and Afternoon Camp sessions are $150. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions on or before May 15th, you get a $300 discount. Full price is $1600. If you sign up early for all sessions, you get the whole camp for $1300.   The Velocity Meter option is $1000. The Video Analysis option is $600. The pool is located at Founders Park Pool, 87000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.

 


Easter Swim Camp April 14-17, 2017

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The Race Club Florida Easter Swim Camp is unlike anything out there! We try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us, your Race Club family. 

We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions and 4 enhanced sessions over the 4 days. Enhanced sessions are just a continuation of camp. We try to cover all 5 strokes, starts, turns and all 5 disciplines of the Race Club during the 20 hours in 4 days. Jammed packed so you can improve in just a short time!

Friday, April 14th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Friday, April 14th 10am-11am enhanced session
Saturday, April 15th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Saturday, April 15th 10am-11am enhanced session
Sunday, April 16th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Sunday, April 16th 10am-11am enhanced session
Monday, April 17th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Monday, April 17th 10am-11am enhanced session

Camp sessions are $150 and enhanced sessions are $100. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions and 4 enhanced sessions on or before March 13th, you get a $300 discount. Full price is $1600. If you sign up early, you get the whole camp for $1300.  The pool is located at Founders Park Pool, 87000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


Florida Spring Break Swim Camp March 24-27, 2017

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The Race Club Florida Spring Break Swim Camp is unlike anything out there! We try to cater to each individual swimmer. Just ask around and read our testimonials to hear what people say about their experience with us. 

We encourage everyone to attend all 8 camp sessions and 4 enhanced sessions over the 4 days.

Friday, March 24th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Friday, March 24th 10am-11am enhanced session
Saturday, March 25th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Saturday, March 25th 10am-11am enhanced session
Sunday, March 26th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Sunday, March 26th 10am-11am enhanced session
Monday, March 27th 8am-10am and 3pm-5pm camp sessions
Monday, March 27th 10am-11am enhanced session

Camp sessions are $150 and enhanced sessions are $100. If you sign up for all 8 camp sessions and 4 enhanced sessions on or before February 23rd, you get a $300 discount. Full price is $1600. If you sign up early, you get the whole camp for $1300.  The pool is located at Founders Park Pool, 87000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL. Please fill out the registration form and submit online here.


Unique Swimming Methods at The Race Club

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Keep Your Elbows Pointing Forward

Teaching swimming technique is very interesting. Every client we have at The Race Club is different. Some learn easily. Some don’t. For those that struggle more with adapting to changes in technique or stroke mechanics, we find that our success often depends on taking a different approach or by using a different description or drill. A concept that is easily grasped by one swimmer may be completely incomprehensible to another. Our methodology in swim camps and private sessions gets down to the bottom of what each swimmer needs. Teaching the correct pulling motion in freestyle is a good example of this challenge.

For every event, other than the 50-meter sprint, the pulling motion of elite freestylers is strikingly similar. We often refer to that correct motion as the high elbow pull. Some call it early vertical forearm. I have written extensively about why it works, but that does not make it any easier to learn. There is really nothing very natural or intuitive about this motion. Some would consider it downright awkward. It requires flexibility. It diminishes propulsion to some extent. Yet it may be the single most important change a swimmer can make in improving freestyle technique.

Of all of the freestyle pulling motions we see with our Race Club clients, I categorize them into four different techniques; the out sweep, the in sweep, the deep pull and the high elbow pull. Excluding the 50 sprinters, I would say that upwards of 95% of our clients manage to find one of the three wrong pulling techniques. Very few learn the correct high elbow pull without some help.

Through years of teaching, we have developed three of our favorite drills for teaching this high elbow pulling motion. Yet, even after spending a great deal of time and effort using these drills on this one important technique, many still don’t get it right. So we are always searching for new ways to teach an old subject.

Recently, I was working with one of our clients who struggled to pull correctly, so I decided to give her some advice that I had never given before.

“Once your arm enters the water,” I started, “initiate the pull with the hand and the forearm, but keep your elbow pointing forward, toward the end of the pool for as long as you can…in the direction you are swimming.”

Presto, she got it. It made perfect sense. Suddenly, her upper arms, the cause of most of the frontal drag during the pull, were less in harm’s way. They weren’t sticking out so far. She felt like she was slipping through the water. Not surprisingly, she was swimming faster.

So now, when swimmers are challenged by the high elbow pull in freestyle or the correct pull in backstroke, I simply tell them to keep their elbows pointed toward the end of the pool for as long as they can. For many, it really helps them with both freestyle and backstroke pulling technique.

Sometimes, old dogs like me can learn new tricks.

Yours in swimming,

Gary Sr.