Mentally Tough Stuff (Lesson #1)

Did you ever sit in front of the TV, dumbfounded, after watching a pro golfer like Tiger Woods sink a lengthy putt and ask yourself, “How does he do that?”


Or in 2016, do you recall seeing Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps blow everyone out of the water in the 200 meter Individual Medley in Rio de Janeiro?

Whether it’s completing The Tour de France or running a marathon, these athletes certainly have “the right stuff” when it comes to mental fortitude. It’s truly a gift that some people possess, many of whom are professional athletes.  This topic seems to surface a lot, so here are some questions to ponder, and perhaps answer:

How does a person acquire mental toughness?

Is it something you’re born with?

Does it take a serious life event or life experience to “toughen you up” mentally?

During my college swim meets, I would’ve loved to gulp down a can of spinach like Popeye did and kick all the “Female Bluto’s” rear ends in the grueling 500-yard Freestyle.  Unfortunately – there is no magic potion out there to mentally endure an athletic event – let alone life in general.

So, after consulting with some athletes, both young – and a little bit older – to get their broad perspectives, read these inspiring words which come from a golf pro, a female cyclist and a swimmer-turned-triathlete:

John Clare is a young PGA professional whom I’ve followed for many years, in fact, since he was on the Boys Golf team at West Genesee High School.  He shared his thoughts on how he deals with the constant mental challenges that golf throws his way:

     “Mental fortitude to me, not only as a professional golfer but as a person, is something in my opinion that I have developed over time. Though my professional career at this point has been relatively short, I have been lucky to have had both great successes and monumental failures.

      I look at it as a two-way street. What I may have succeeded in as far as golf has helped me develop mental strength that translates into my personal life. The same is true, however, when failure happens.  However, there is no doubt that I have been able to compartmentalize more memories of failure while staring down success because the best test of a person’s mental strength is not how fast they can forget, but more-so, knowing exactly where they went wrong – and still finding the courage to run towards that fear of failure until they have succeeded.” – John Clare

John Clare

Another perspective on mental fortitude comes from a great friend whom I’ve known since Girl Scouts (yes, Girl Scouts). She was not an athlete growing up, as she spent her high school years as a talented musician – and an extremely smart student.  It wasn’t until her freshman year in college that she began competitive sports, first with rowing on Syracuse University’s crew team, and eventually becoming an Elite Masters cyclist in her fifties.  Be it her husband, coach or trainer, Susan (Church) Andersson feels fortunate to be surrounded by the support and guidance to develop her mental toughness:

     “I have learned so much about myself through this odyssey. I know that I do best when I am given a task to execute. Thus, my coach and my personal trainer are essential to my success. I simply would not push myself this hard, and if I did I would probably injure myself. I am very competitive, but I really think that I do not have that extra “something” that makes me push beyond whatever limits I may think I have during an event. I think this extra “something” is what differentiates great athletes.

I think of it as a killer instinct. It’s the ability to put aside pain and discomfort and everything the body is saying and focus on the event and the outcome. I do not seem to have that, although I have had events where my focus on the result during the event transcended the pain. I think my mental toughness comes from my bias toward following rules. I will generally do my workouts as planned. Sometimes, if I’m super tired, I will not complete my workout as planned. I don’t like that.

Susan Andersson

     That being said, I do absolutely think you can increase your mental toughness. I think that because I’m competitive, I benchmark a lot and I want to beat the benchmark. I will race people at the airport (they are unaware of this!). I will walk as fast as I can with whatever I’m dragging/carrying to see if I can pass the folks on moving walkways or escalators; I will race my husband if we are both driving somewhere (not by going too fast, but by taking a better route). I think this mindset helps me push through stuff, and has made me faster.”       –Susan Andersson

My last “Mental Toughness Motivator” is Fred Dever.  Now in his early fifties, Fred was a D-1 collegiate swimmer (Marist) who embraced his physical talent – and mental skills – and evolved into a U.S.-ranked triathlete – and has run in 4 Boston Marathons:

     I believe “Mental Toughness-Mental Fortitude” is learned behavior that comes from a combination of natural instinct, coaching and the athlete’s environment.  I do not believe one’s ability to build strong mental capacity is limited due to past history, however, early athletic experiences do set the stage for sustained mental strength.

      I want to start with giving folks who are in a “Funk” in terms of athletic performance, inspiration!  Mental toughness is something that you one must believe in, visualize, and make certain you have people who can lift your mental strength around you.  Finding inner peace, making competition fun again can increase your mental fortitude.   Often, dips in mental strength come from long periods of sustained top athletic competition that always focuses on “Winning” – getting the best score, or beating a time.  This is unrealistic – and can be taxing.

Fred Dever

As a lifelong competitive swimmer and now multi-sport athlete, I have grappled with sustaining my mental fortitude.  I generally visualize past positive results, remember the folks who helped push me along the way, and position myself to find ONE good thing I can take away from an event or competition. The “fun” element of the sport must be brought into the fold, this is often the toughest task as mental toughness slumps can make competition all business.

       My personal mental toughness was developed early as a young age group swimmer. Growing up in Central New York, I was fortunate to have coaches, family and friends who believed in me. I also looked at the kids who seemed to have natural skill or body types as beatable.  I never subscribed to the analytics of athletics such as “he or she is a natural.”   I have seen too many “Dark Horses” excel.

     I believe everyone has Mental Toughness and Fortitude –  the trick is to make certain you nurture it!” 

– Fred Dever

Questions answered?

This is a great mix of wisdom from people who’ve “been there, done that,” and want to continue to stay competitive in their sports.  My takeaway from all three of these athletes is that everyone, EVERYONE has Mental Fortitude – one just needs the courage to stick with it, don’t quit, learn from mistakes, and if you need help, reach out to those who can encourage you to keep going in a positive direction.

Life Coach – 3 Real Definitions

Life Coach – You’ve probably heard the term used by people from all walks of life in the past few years.  One definition states that a Life Coach is “someone that looks to empower others by helping them make, meet and exceed goals in both their personal and professional lives.”

And – for 8 months of online classes (and probably a large sum of hard-earned money) YOU TOO can become a “certified” Life Coach!

Oh, please

It was fodder for laughs on the now-cancelled “Roseanne” sitcom, after Roseanne’s sister Jackie announced to the family she was a Life Coach.  There is even an International Life Coach Federation, and maybe Jackie was even a fictitious member – but we will never know unless The Conners really, truly rise soon from the TV sitcom ashes, will we?

Now, there are those life coaches, then there are LIFE COACHES…the real ones.  Three of these amazing people come to mind immediately, and their experiences and qualifications are remarkable.

The first life coach who immediately comes to mind is Mike Messere,West Genesee High School Boys Emeritus Varsity Lacrosse Coach.  Google his name and you’ll find page after page of interviews, stories, and statistics of the winningest high school coach in the United States.  For 50 years he helped develop young boys into men, whether they liked it or not, with his classic boot camp-style of discipline, holding practices for hours on end (including the famous “Snickers Bar” practice), having his players walk in line, side by side, on and off the field, riding in hot school buses to games (sometimes for hours on end) with no talking unless they won.

His lifetime statistics speak volumes:

834-84 Win-Loss record, 15 NY State Championships, 33 Sectional titles, 11 undefeated seasons.

ABOVE: West Genesee Boys Lacrosse team at the 2015 State Championships, complete with “special” haircuts – a tradition ONLY when they earned a trip to States.

Not everyone agreed with Messere’s coaching rules, style, or mission statement, especially toward the end of his 43-year lacrosse career, but just ask any former player what they think of Coach Messere – and how he inspired them through his philosophy of hard work – and you’ll find guys who are now living successful careers in various fields, be it a physician, attorney, or one of the throngs of high school and college lacrosse coaches nationwide.  They say it’s all thanks to Coach Messere.

Coach Mike Messere

The second REAL life coach is a man I had the privilege to finally meet at a recent book signing in Oswego, NY whose name is Gordon “Pete” Sears. I met him because I contributed to a book called “My Kids Play Hockey” by Christie Casciano Burns.* This book reads kind of like a “Chicken Soup for the hockey parents soul” – style, and a great guide for the newbie parents who don’t know where to turn and how to start their kids on the youth hockey route.  Sears’ friend, Bill Cahill, another contributor to Christie’s book, wrote a chapter on this legendary athlete, coach and mentor to him and many others.  This description of Pete Sears is too good not to share, so with Bill’s blessing, below is an excerpt from his chapter titled “Life, Luck & Mentors:”

Life is complicated; it’s full of highs and lows and can be difficult to navigate regardless of your age. If you’re very lucky you may meet someone that becomes a friend and mentor, someone to help you navigate life. I’m one of those lucky people, growing up in Oswego NY in the 1970’s and 80’s, I had many great teachers and coaches. When I started playing hockey as a 7 year old in 1973 (I had big plans to be the next Bobby Orr), I had heard that there was this guy who played goalie at our local college Oswego State, and that he was on the Olympic Team the previous year. A few years later after pursuing a pro career, this guy decided to make Oswego his home and started coaching in the Oswego Minor Hockey Association. Little did I know at the time that this guy, Gordon “Pete” Sears would become one of my teachers, one of my coaches, one of my best friends and a person that would profoundly influence my life on a number of levels.

Although he was a multi-sport athlete in high school and college, Pete talked about hockey players like we/they were from a different planet. He always talked about how you can give a hockey player any task in life and they will figure out a way to get it done. All these years later I feel that he was right, hockey people seem to have a certain grit or toughness that you don’t see in most civilians. It is certainly something I’ve tried to pass on to the players I have coached over the years, and currently the young ladies (which include my daughter Monica) on the 19u team that I coach today. I have Pete to thank for that mindset and I hope to instill in them the confidence that he gave to me and so many others.

(Pictured left to right-Pete Sears, book contributor Bill Cahill, author Christie Casciano Burns, and another contributor 🙂 )

My favorite passage from Bill:

Pete’s biggest point of emphasis was always preparation, mental and physical. He has a list of several hundred “mind vitamins” many of which we have committed to memory, but one of his favorites is; “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Some of these sayings can be found posted in my classroom today. To Peter, these sayings are not just catchy phrases, but a way of life. He is the least hypocritical person I have ever met, he walks the talk. How many human beings do we encounter in life that make you want to be a better human being? My friend Pete Sears is one of those people.

Bill’s perspective on Pete Sears practically mimics my own coach and mentor, the third person in my Life Coach trilogy, but she is definitely not least!

Grace Mowatt Burritt, Emeritus Oswego State Women’s Swimming and Diving Coach, has held a myriad of roles for myself and other female collegiate swimmers for decades.  She has not been just a successful college swim coach, but Grace has been a surrogate parent (the “mom” for the hundreds of student swimmers who came to Oswego from out of town), that “fun aunt” you may have never had but always wanted, a fierce golf partner (I confess to using Grace as a “ringer” during ladies’ member-guest tournaments), a source of information of the goings on in Oswego during my reporting years, and the most important quality, a friend who has listened to me via phone, text, email or in person.

(Grace on the right at her 29th birthday surprise party in 2017)

Grace has always kept herself well-informed about current events, and has her own successful athletic history, another factor to her vitality and spirit.  She is a big reason I began swimming again…it’s given me a reinvigorated mind – and quite simply, there is just nothing like it.  I suppose it’s why old hockey players want to keep on skating, or why runners keep running (I am not one of them).

To those of you who have your own special – and real – Life Coach, you are truly blessed.

*Just a Note:  Forgive the shameless plug, but “My Kids Play Hockey” is now available at Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, NY (buy local!!) and also on

Workout Etiquette

My mother taught a “social graces” course to young girls which was called “White Gloves and Party Manners” many years ago.

Aside from learning proper grooming and dressing, how to correctly arrange place settings, and using the gentile way to stand up, curtsy, and greet people, the emphasis was on good old-fashioned etiquette.

“How do you do?”

“May I please…?”

“Thank you very much.”

grayscale woman photography

Pretty basic, but a wonderful experience for these girls back in the late sixties and seventies.  Today, and very sadly, good manners, common courtesy and kindness are becoming a thing of the past. The “me” generation (is that the X, Y, or Z generation? It’s hard to remember) is even rubbing off on some of our middle age brethren, which is even more disheartening.

I miss friendly greetings, the basic “please and thank yous” – even when in a grocery store or a clothing shop.  How did our culture get so rude?

As for etiquette at the gym – as Tony Soprano said often, “Fuggetaboutit.”  Zero politeness.  I understand that people are there to do their thing, but when walking in there, I feel I get stared down as if people are asking themselves “what the heck are you doing in MY gym?”   There are rules posted in gyms, which most people have the decency to follow (wipe down the equipment after use), but some are “machine hogs,” completely oblivious to the next person who wants to use the free weights, the stretching mats or the few best ellipticals the gym offers.

person holding black and silver steel barbell photography

Then there’s the person talking on their cell phone – loudly- while next to you on the treadmill.  Seriously? Not everyone there is cordial, friendly, or even civil, but maybe they don’t want to be there in the first place and would rather be home watching Netflix with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.  This is why I choose to hit the Cycle Room when the spin classes are over, keeping those lights off and having that time to myself.

Lap pool etiquette rules are similar to those in the gym, with a large sign requesting various courtesies when using the competition pool.  Eight lanes are open for most of the day, opening at 5:30 a.m. (Nope, NOT FOR ME!), then closing at 1 p.m., then reopening at 3:00 p.m., but most lanes at that afternoon time are reserved for high school team practice. You’d think that showing up at 12:30 p.m. would be a great time to take a half-hour swim. Your thought process says well, frankly, everyone probably swam in the early or mid-morning, and it’s a school day and work day, so it won’t be busy. Right?

Wrong. So very wrong.

At a recent visit, all 8 lanes had a swimmer, and 4 out of 8 lanes were “doubled up,” meaning 2 swimmers were swimming side by side, also known as splitting the lane. Circle swimming is listed on the rules sign, but that’s really for a team. That involves swimming up one side, turning at the end then swimming down the other side in a counter-clockwise, and rather long circle. Not good (or safe) for the mix of fast and slow swimmers who are there to do some laps and those who don’t swim competitively.

I planted my towel against the wall at the deep end, and surveyed the situation. If a lane was free, I would normally dive in from the deep end and kick on my back until I was able to touch the shallow end, put my cap and goggles on, and proceed to swim.  If all lanes are “taken,” out of courtesy, I’ll walk from the deep end around to the shallow end and sit on one side of the lane with my feet dangling in the water until the person in the lane notices and moves to one side.

That didn’t happen today. Even after I used my best White Gloves and Party Manners ammunition.

“How do you do?”  Ignored.

“Excuse me – please, may I share the lane with you?”  Ignored.  And ignored again.

Middle-aged men (some who think they are still high school swimmers) pretended I wasn’t there, and didn’t move over. Maybe they had water in their ears and foggy goggles.  If you recall the scene from the musical Chicago where the poor, confused husband of Roxy Hart sings “Mr. Cellophane,” well, there I was, starring in the water-based revival, with a rubber cap on my head. Then, I looked 3 lanes down and saw one of “The Regulars.” They’re the folks you see just about every time you go, even though your own workout time varies.

water swimming competition pool
Photo by Pixabay on

I’ve never wanted to swim with one particular “Regular” man, because rather than swimming strokes in the water, he gently floats along…kind of like a jellyfish does in the ocean.  I’m afraid I’d wash him over to the next lane or he’d start to sink. But, somehow, this older gent saw me, and immediately moved over to one side of the lane.  Slipping into the shallow end so as not to create splashing or whitewater, I gingerly started breaststroke. Then I practically hugged the lane lines while swimming freestyle, nicking my fingers occasionally on the hard plastic rings, because disturbing this nice man was the last thing I wanted to do.

Then he vanished! I was scared initially, but after swimming closer I noticed he had moved over to the next lane of the pool that is closer to the stairs. I stopped next to him and started to apologize if I’d startled him, and he was kind and gracious, assuring me he was just finishing up. Then with his European accent, he told me he was 91 years old, swims 3 times per week for 20 minutes at a time and that he and his “young wife” (she’s 86) were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary today.

Reaching over the lane line to shake this gentleman’s hand, whose name is Marcel, I congratulated him on his anniversary and for swimming as often as he does.  While I wanted to curtsy, that would’ve been just wrong in a pool, but I thanked him for being so kind and courteous.  It warmed my heart to spend a little time with him, and because of Marcel, I was able to enjoy the rest of my swim and not dwell on the oblivious “others.”

So, in these not-so-friendly times, please try to be kind and gracious wherever you are, just like my mother taught those young girls so very long ago.  Maybe I can teach a course called “White Swim Cap & Pool Manners?”


Rear Veranda

If you’re old enough to remember the classic film “Rear Window” starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr, perhaps you will understand the title of this new post. We are currently stranded in our beachfront condo due to a day full of thunderstorms, just like Stewart’s wheelchair-bound character L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries was stranded in his apartment due to wearing a cast from hip to toe.

Thankfully, there are no murders going on in Hilton Head, but in this Oceanside building resides quite a cast of characters we have observed – and listened to – who are just as quirky and eccentric as Stella, Lars Thorwald and Miss Lonelyhearts.

While sitting on the rear veranda, facing the ocean and witnessing the Atlantic’s fierce skies, the thrill of hearing the “surrounding cast” is addicting…

Below us is Unit 8104, which features an elderly couple who are currently solving most, if not all, of our world’s problems. Let’s call them Ralph & Alice.  Fix the environment? On it. Politics? Alice sounds like a Democrat and Ralph is very likely a Republican, so their martial longevity must be explained by nothing more than true love. The most pressing issue of the day is what to have for dinner, and grilling outside in a thunderstorm is NOT happening, so perhaps it’s Chinese Take Out Night for Ralph & Alice, giving them more time to figure out how they alone can defeat Isis, or determine if North Korea will ever reduce its stockpile of missiles.

Above us are the people in Unit 8304, also known as Wonder Mom and Kids. Packing EVERYTHING – toys, baby bottles, towels, beach chairs, umbrella, and snacks in a double stroller (baby included) and escorted by an adventurous toddler, undaunted Wonder Mom heads to the beach – with the sound of thunder!!! Yes, real thunder! Lightning too!! We sit, dumbfounded, at how Wonder Mom is able to push the heavy stroller onto the beach, single-handedly, and enjoy her children’s company during a storm. Then it started raining rather hard (never mind the thunder and lightning still going on), so out of fear of melting, she re-packs and swiftly retreats with children in tow. Amazing.

(If you look closely above, there she is in the literally thunderous, death-defying retreat)

Our neighbors to the right are in 8203, which was our original unit 20 years ago. We sold that condo to a couple for a larger one, which has 3 bedrooms and no neighbors to the left, making for a slightly more serene setting. This couple, I will refer to as Mr. & Mrs. Foster Budlight.  Whenever they chat, or whenever they don’t, the sound of clinking beer bottles fill the air. We cannot see The Budlights while sitting on the veranda, but they seem to toast to just about everything you can think of:

“Honey, the news is on!” (Clink)

“My swimsuit is still wet!” (Clink)

“Look, a bird just flew by!” (Clink)

“What time is it?” “It’s Happy Hour!” (Clink, Clink)

After the rain stopped, we took our evening beach walk, and saw Mr. and Mrs. Budlight sitting on the beach, bottles in hand, although they had enough beach etiquette to use coozies. Clink. We sat on the large storage box that holds the overpriced rental umbrellas and old wooden beach chairs, and observed our neighbors. Mrs. Budlight slowly stood up, stumbled a bit and folded her chair. Sadly, she couldn’t quite make the long walk back toward our building to return it to the racks, so it was leaned rather crookedly against a post stuck in the sand. Clink.

She mumbled something to us, and wobbled over to Mr. Budlight where they proceeded to take their version of a Beach Walk…but just for fun, let’s call it a Beach Weave. It’s been kind of quiet since that evening, so one wonders if they ever made it back to Unit 8203.

There are 20 condos that face the ocean, each with its own big, boisterous family, young couple, or lonely widow, and each with their own scenes from their lives. Our condo certainly has its unique collection of visitors from 20 years of ownership and we wouldn’t trade the memories for anything. Boogie boarding, jellyfish stings, pizza ‘n’ pitch night (I still can’t play it well), ice cream trips, sunburns, cocktails and juice boxes, drying beach towels, bad joke telling, you name it, we’ve experienced it. If L.B. Jeffries was a guest here, I wonder what he would’ve thought of our neighbors, and if he’d figure out the many mysteries of the condo…

Risking It

Timing is everything, really it is. Just one week ago, a woman was tragically killed by an alligator while walking her dog near a lagoon in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. And here I am, waiting at the airport, on my way to Hilton Head. No, I don’t go near lagoons, nor have I in the 20 years we’ve been vacationing there, but that uneasy feeling was with me all week. You know, that feeling of “what if….?” And a friend who has lived down there for years we spend time with when visiting gives us our annual reminder about the shark-infested waters just off the South Carolina coast (thanks, old friend).

So – do I cower in fear of alligators and sharks (and the occasional jellyfish)? Stay home and miss the great world out there? Heck, no! Life is full of risks, and while some aren’t worth taking (for me, skydiving is a pretty good example), other risks may be worth stepping out of your norm and living life to its fullest. I’ve jumped off cliffs into dark water, flown in helicopters, gone white river rafting, and skied down a black diamond mountain trail that I had no business skiing down. Memorable, of course, and stuck in my middle-aged brain for good. Perhaps the sheer vividness of each jump, splash and tumble created a bright green check mark in my mental diary of life.

There are people we all know who’ve certainly taken much greater risks. One brave man who first comes to mind, fought in the terrible war over in Afghanistan, was shot and seriously wounded, yet recovered, and has a happy marriage, a child and a sweet golden retriever.

Another definite risk-taker flew those insanely fast F-15 fighter jets. When he wasn’t swirling and spinning up in the air at 10 bazillion miles per hour, he would be out at all hours on the lake at his family’s summer camp, waterskiing……barefoot.

Then, there are the other risk-takers, people who haven’t repelled off cliffs or faced the enemy in a foreign country. One woman has faced death, square on, as she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer years ago. Her recent risk was to use an experimental cancer treatment, and happily, is now facing remission. Her risk was unimaginable, but she took it, and has won her battle. She still has those “bad days” from the side effects and recovery of the treatment, but they pale in comparison to the quality of life she previously endured. A different type of risk-taker for sure, but she is a warrior and truly a hero in the hearts of her family and friends.

That kind of risk makes one appreciate life, and all the gifts God has given us. We take risks daily, just by hopping in the car and driving to work, or slicing vegetables with a very sharp knife (yes, well, that is another story at another time).

Whatever risk you choose, face it with positivity, embrace the experience and cherish the memory. Those sharks and ‘gators will probably never see the whites of my eyes when I land in Hilton Head, but there will be some type of risky adventure to create when we are down there. So stay tuned!

Middle Age Remedies

Middle age…yikes, how long does it really last?

I’ve been fighting this middle age “condition” for a while now, and so far, so good.  There are the occasional aches and pains in the morning, but as the day goes on, I feel pretty darn good.  Here is why…just 3 pieces of advice, or my own personal remedies, to offer to you:


Don’t complain.

Be thankful.

It all begins with that Move thing.  I head upstairs to the “Y” Cycle Room, alone, on a spin bike, lights off, fan on high, water bottle nearby, and it’s just me and my good friends Billy Joel, Elton John, Peter Gabriel, The Eagles, Sir Paul McCartney and a host of other musical motivators in my head.  Before I know it, I’m done with my 20-30 minutes of song – and sweat (which is why I refuse to take a group class…it’s all about vanity!).

When I head downstairs to change, rinse off and head into the pool, I modify my swim workout by mixing up strokes (yes, including an entire 25 yards of butterfly), and using fins and a kickboard.  There is also plenty of stretching out before and after my swim, and NO flip turns (see my previous blog).  I also don’t swim what would be considered a “decent” Masters swim workout, which up here, is about 3,000 yards, and 3 times per week – at 5:30 am!  My yardage is cut in half and supplemented by my cycling and lots of walking (no running).

Then…there is my “other” exercise, if you want to call it that.  It’s called golf.  Sadly, I only play once, sometimes twice per week in an afternoon ladies’ 9-hole league.  While I keep my step tracker nearby since we walk the 9 holes, my golf game is, well, just not up to par.  Me, the former college athlete who is always competitive and should have a simply fantastic golf game – is just terrible!  Clinics and frequent advice from my husband and son (who is currently a D-1 golfer) help somewhat, but it’s the consistency that is lacking, and I just don’t play with enough frequency to improve and look like this:

So, Caroline, Don’t Complain! You have no one to blame but yourself.  You had your rear end handed to you in league last week by a remarkable woman named Cara Cahill.  Cara plays 36 holes of golf EVERY DAY, and it’s reflected in her game.  In fact, just yesterday, Cara decided to celebrate the Summer Solstice by playing 100 – yes 100 – holes of golf at our club.

Oh, did I mention Cara has been fighting Lyme disease for the past 14 years?

This is where Be Thankful comes into play.  Cara has worked very hard from being confined to a walker and unable to even crack an egg open to walking unassisted and hitting a very accurate ball.  She has a wonderful outlook on life and is truly a fighter.  When I briefly visited her on the course yesterday (she had to start at 6:30 a.m.) she was teeing off on her 68th hole, wearing a big smile, and was just happy to be outside enjoying the perfect weather and conditions.  Flanked by her husband and her mother (who also is her league partner and hits a mean ball), Cara continued on her way down the fairway, loving all that life has given her, including a wonderful support system through family and friends.

Combine these 3 ingredients and chances are you’ll have the recipe for a healthy and long life.  If you don’t swim, walk. If you can’t walk, try a bike, or put some of your favorite music on (loud!) and dance away for a half hour at home.  Tell your family you love them.  Brush your dog and then give him a treat. Buy some colorful flowers and put them in the center of your kitchen table.  Think about what Cara has endured and feel blessed you don’t have Lyme disease, or some other debilitating condition.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, and enjoy your time here – and now.

“Back” To Reality

By Caroline Stanistreet

For competitive swimmers, there is a part of the body that seems to be taken for granted and vastly under-appreciated, until something extremely bad happens to it.

Take one guess…and no, it’s not the usually-overworked shoulder.
It is the spine, that all-necessary part of the central nervous system and the pathway to all great things our amazing bodies do.

I never had back issues until I began swimming. Before my college swim meets, I would lie flat on my back with my bent knees against the wall, stretch it out, then ice it after my distance events. But I could never figure out why it would hurt from time to time, and neither could my coach, nor my trainer.

You’d think in that choosing to swim over playing hockey, tennis, lacrosse, baseball, or most other sports, you’ve introduced your body to one of the most benign physical activities ever. You believe that training and competing as a swimmer will keep your joints happy-happy and body injury-free with this non-contact, non-invasive, virtually perfect way to get in shape.

Those “big” injury risks include whacking arms or hands with another swimmer in your lane, hitting your heels at the end while performing a flip turn too close to the wall, or, the occasional shoulder twinge from too much rotation from freestyle. Those injuries pale in comparison to concussions, torn ACLs (the “old football knee”), and limb breaks and sprains.

So when does the back issue come into the picture? Probably not while you’re young, but years later, when you return to the pool and think that flip turns are habitual, still a timesaver, and look cool to others who can’t do them. Never mind that you spent all those years flipping at practice, then flipping even harder and faster during meets. Your veteran ego tells you “Yippee, you’ve still got it, Sister!” Forget the fact that repeated, hard pushing from the wall then the quick twisting motion to the same side wears your spine out as it grows older. Poor technique may come into play as you age as well, especially if you have no coach hovering over you from the pool deck.

I learned this the hard way when I entered the pool 2 years ago, to train 3 to 4 times a week for an annual team sprint triathlon. My practice consisted of a couple thousand yards of freestyle, often with my head lifted to practice sighting the imaginary orange buoys in open water. With hundreds and thousands of yards of freestyle come the flip turns, and many, many of them.

Since my husband and other friends have suffered a host of shoulder injuries and eventual surgeries, I would often mix up my strokes to ease the shoulder rotation purely out of fear. However, the flip turns just a-kept-on-rollin’ along whenever freestyle was the stroke of choice.

Three weeks before the team triathlon, I bent over to tie my sneaker (Please…I won’t say training shoe, I’m a Baby Boomer), and then…suddenly…it happened.

Snap! Crackle! POP!!!

My lower back got its angry revenge on me. I practically collapsed to the floor, the shock and pain took my breath away, then I gingerly dropped to my knees, immobilized, and baffled as to why this would happen to a perfectly healthy and fairly fit fifty-something.

No one was home at the time, so the tears flowed, accompanied by an immediate effort to stand up. Failure. Just take some deep breaths, this is just a temporary nightmare and you’ll be fine, I told myself. I eventually waddled to my “stressless” chair and sat, but the discomfort persisted. The time grew longer and there I was, hunched-over, agonizing, and still in pain.

My husband eventually came home, took one look at me, and said in an effort to cheer me up, “ah, there’s my Old Lady,” which is a standing joke between us, but this was no joke. It hurt. Standing up straight? Nope. Breathing correctly? Nada. The triathlon…oh, no! I had to do something. My husband said to me “you really need to see a doctor if you even want to THINK about swimming in a few weeks.” I agreed, but where to start? Lucky for me, my husband is in a brotherhood of sorts, with friends who’ve run the gamut with injuries, aches, and pains in every body part imaginable. As a result, most of them have had surgery, physical therapy, and a breadth of other treatments and holistic remedies. Their lists of medical contacts is endless (likely on speed-dial for some of them) and he immediately contacted his best Go-To Guy, who gave us the name of his chiropractor.

So there I went and waited with all the other poor folks who are experiencing back problems, but I was surprised when I observed the mixture of ages, young and old, and in-between, like me.

The chiropractor took a spine x-ray and placed it on the light board. It looked like a yellow road sign for “Dangerous Curves Ahead.” He asked, “So… what did you do when you were about 15 or 16 to do THIS to your back?” Uh, no, it couldn’t be from swimming! I described to him the somersault, pushoff and twisting motion to my right side from flip turns and he said, “well, that’ll do it…and I can fix it!” That reply was my first sign of relief. That serpentine spine of mine was finally going to get straightened out!

Three weeks and several visits later, I was cured, for the most part, and swam a highly successful half-mile in the triathlon. However, flip turns are no longer part of my training regimen. I just can’t. There’s really no reason to since I haven’t had the opportunity to compete in Masters meets recently, but that day will come. I came to the realization that open turns aren’t really a sign of not being cool. It makes me a little sad, but it’s my new normal and I need to prevent any future injury to my back. The chiropractor gave me a list of stretches before and after ANY workout or activity – especially if I’m driving for a long period of time. He said that truck drivers are his most common patient, and sitting in a car is THE worst thing you can do to your precious back.

Lesson learned, make the commitment to take care of your back. No matter your age or swimming ability, STRETCH before and after your swim. Of course, that’s the obvious and first rule of any workout – although some of us tend to forget. Consider eliminating flip turns – unless you are young and competing, or if you’re older and think you absolutely “must” in a Masters swim meet. Moreover, if you want to look cool while practicing at your local pool, wear an extra suit, load yourself up with fins, paddles, a kickboard, an extra pair of goggles and a water bottle in a mesh bag – and skip the flips.


Taking The Plunge…Again

When I was a kid, there was nothing more exciting than heading to our club pool, swimming at team practice, and then waiting until the pool opened at 11 am for the entire day. The Almighty diving board beckoned, and my friends and I would spend hours performing all varieties of dives, flips, and of course, cannon balls (except when we were rudely interrupted for 15 minutes by “Adult Swim,” sigh…).

After my country club’s swim experience ended, I began attending, then working at, an overnight YMCA camp in the mid 1970s. Naturally, there were plenty of swimming opportunities for me, but this time it was on vast and beautiful Millsite Lake. There, I learned waterskiing, sailing, and even snorkeling, but the biggest thrill of all was taking a boat to the opposite side of the lake, crawling and climbing my way up a 30-foot cliff, then jumping off some jagged rocks into the dark water below. I thought I was invincible – especially since I was donned in my swimsuit, cutoffs, and navy-faded, trail-worn Converse sneakers, so my feet wouldn’t smack against the water nor get cut open in the nearby rocks. We would jump like it was an effortless feat, and back then, well, at least to me and my cliff-loving colleagues – it was just another fun experience at Camp.

Then came lifeguarding jobs and water safety instruction, and there was usually a diving board nearby. More fun for me! Combine that with 8 years of high school and collegiate swimming, and thankfully I never experienced pool burnout. The cool thing about our college pool was that it had a separate diving well with two 1-meter boards, and one 3-meter board. My talented housemate was on the diving team and performed the most amazing flips and twists with barely a splash. Sometimes after our swim practice, I’d head over to “the well” and stand on the end of the 3-meter board and simply jump in, knowing that an attempt at something stupid off that board would likely end in some nasty bruising and endless teasing and laughter from my diver housemate and swim teammates.

Fast forward to now, where I can be found swimming at our local Y about 3 times a week. I’m almost always there on “My Sunday,” which is my hour and a half away from work/family/dogs/life to enjoy that precious alone time, usually in Lane 3.


On the Y’s monthly competitive pool calendar, I noticed the 1-meter diving board was open from Noon-1 p.m. on My Sunday. Well now, wouldn’t that be fun to re-live my childhood diving prowess after a swim workout? Why, of course! So, I strategically planned a 30-minute swim at Noon (sharp!) then I’d spend the remaining half-hour doing what I thought I did best, demonstrating to the world my awesome, signature inward dive. Ah, such a daredevil am I!


I stepped up the 3 rungs and stared down at the long, gritty, sea foam green behemoth.

I timidly shuffled a few feet down to the adjustment wheel and spun it forward with my foot to avoid any extra bounciness. Then I ever so gingerly walked to the end, which started sagging, just like my confidence. I looked down at the shimmering water below, and I might as well have been back on that 30-foot cliff or at the end of the 3-meter board looking down at “the well.” I continued to shake and was about to “about-face,” but then, an angel appeared.

Along came Alice, a senior citizen who knows no fear. She and her friend Bill show up to use that board faithfully every Sunday, chamois in hand, to dive, and dive some more (Alice even flips, I kid you not). She took one look at the terror in my face and said, “I’ve seen this all before honey, just take a practice jump!”

Practice jump? Who in their right mind “practices” on this thing?

(Sorry, Alice, but this is NOT practice, this is SURVIVAL)

My ego, quite deflated by now, told me to humbly obey her orders and just get it the heck over with. So I turned around and just stood there, shivering, with my toes curled over the end of the monster. I took just a moment to recite a quick Hail Mary, and performed what we called at our club pool “The Dead Man’s Walk” – just step off the end with arms at one’s sides – so that one step I took – and with little fanfare.

Plunk! Bubble bubble bubble…..

I popped right back up to the surface, all thanks to The Good Lord giving me the wonderful gift of extreme buoyancy. Alice applauded and exclaimed, “you did it!” – just like a schoolteacher would say to a child after reciting her ABCs. That inner child in me beamed with pride. I looked up at her, smiled, and thanked her, then thanked God again, knowing that surviving that first leap was truly was a miracle in my mind.

So now, part of My Sundays are spent “at the board” with new friends Alice and Bill. I watch with admiration Bill’s careful practice jumps and Alice’s skill to easily balance with her heels hanging at the end of the board, all before doing a back flip. Their unique ability to thwart any fear of height or potential pain – and as senior citizens – is amazing to me.

I continue to overcome that strange anxiety I developed from simply NOT diving off a diving board in almost 35 years. Currently, my repertoire consists of a solid forward jump and a front swan dive from a few steps back with little – or very little – bounce. That “signature” inward of mine is being slowly revisited. While my diving list is fairly short, each week I get a bit surer of myself, as there is still a lot of fight left in me. But, I can promise you this…those navy Converse sneakers will never, ever, EVER see the heights – or depths – of Millsite Lake again.

Ode To Lane 3

I finally did it. I started my own blog which lets me just write and have a great time doing it. This blog is dedicated to everyone, young and old, and in the middle, who just want to take a little time out and read about an event, a challenge, or special activity that they may also have experienced, or who may want to give it a try.

Here is something I wrote several months ago when venturing into the competition pool for the first time in a long, long time.  This very first blog post is dedicated to former competitive swimmers who loved to swim back then, and may return to the pool someday…. even though the whitewater we make these days may not be as white!   So read on and enjoy!


It only took me 2 minutes to jump into you today. That’s rare for me. That first minute to adjust to the water temperature was always the worst part of practice. It used to take 5-10 minutes before my Coach would become frustrated with me and would give “the final countdown” before adding laps to my warm up.

I had to briefly share you, Lane 3, with someone who was unsure of proper “circle swimming etiquette” but we got through it. Sharing you with someone else challenged me to swim harder and faster. I made small goals of passing the swimmer – and catching up again.

Your close-to-the-middle spot in the pool enabled me to look at other lap swimmers on one side, and secretly cheer on the children taking their deep water test on the other side. Their goal? Swim one length, pass and graduate to the Almighty Water Slide. But you’re not a proving ground, Lane 3, you are there for people like me who get the privilege to escape for an hour and simply forget about the day to day challenges in life.

My arms felt weak when I started, but you were forgiving and allowed me to warm up and take as much time as I needed to get used to you. The instep of my right foot even cramped up like it used to (I forgot to eat a banana prior to heading to the pool). Hey, it’s been more than a few years since I swam “for real” in a 25-yard pool, having enjoyed much shorter laps in my backyard pool in the summer.

Common sense also told me not to overdo it on my first day back. So I stopped at one of your ends and used a starting block to stretch my arms, rest briefly, and return to my private workout. You and your fellow lanes were non-judgmental, and remained completely unconcerned about my age or ability if I had to stop.


You were also the perfect distance from the side with the pace clocks, one which was digital – and the other clock that most competitive swimmers grew up with. From you, Lane 3, I could see that large white face and easily read the single black hand for minutes, and the red sweeping second hand…which at times seemed to spin too quickly.

Placed at your shallow end was a large whiteboard with a handwritten workout for “veteran” competitive swimmers, also known as Masters. If you know who the “Not Ready For Primetime Players” are from Saturday Night Live, then you may appreciate the group I began toward the end of my swim, the “Not Ready For Masters 4,500-yard Workout” – not yet at least.

Thanks to you, Lane 3, I was able to simultaneously swim and fill my head with an array of songs and even a few memories of past swim competitions. I’m pretty certain that I solved some of the world’s problems – without the use of a cell phone and social media. Imagine that!

I may have brought home a little bit of you…I swallowed some water after a flip turn, which I can still do fairly well after so many years. But my memory must’ve shorted out since every coach will tell you NOT to breathe out of your turn! (Gulp)

It’s no secret that swimming is THE best sport when it comes to maintaining flexibility, improving endurance and strength, and increasing lung capacity. So working toward those fitness goals may cause some aches and pains. But they don’t stem from you, Lane 3. I am not pounding my feet on pavement or jumping up and down on a floor. You are so kind to my joints and knees. You allow me to pull myself through you and resist just the right amount. For that I am grateful, especially on my first day back.

So thank you for the most satisfying exercise I’ve had in a long time, Lane 3. I’ve been gone too long and I can’t wait to see you again, and if you’re not available, perhaps you won’t mind if I spend some time with Lane 4?



This is the post excerpt.

Welcome to Sink or Swim!  This is dedicated to family, friends, former colleagues and especially all competitive swimmers, past and present.  My objective is to share my experiences and observations, and not to bore you non-swimmers too much with some of the swimming jargon used from time to time.  So scroll down and read below! Thank you for stopping by.