My Man, Will

Back in April, I wrote a blog entry called “Swimming Causes Ripples; Ripples Cause Effects” about meeting a guy while I was swimming on a Sunday afternoon at the YMCA.  We had a nice visit, and he had told me about his son, a nine year old, who is an age-group swimmer.

Will’s dad is a very good guy (naturally, his name is Doug) and told me that he wanted his son to experience the same enjoyment he had as an age-grouper, but he also said that his son had been frustrated with the intensity of the workouts and what he thought was disappointing results in meets.  About the time that he was discouraged, there was an article about A Long Swim in the local paper.  Doug said, “Actually, it has been a long season and he was getting pretty sick of it.  That is when the article about you swimming the Channel came out.  We read the article, talked about it, cut it out and taped it to the fridge.  He read it, and he was inspired about swimming again.  So, thanks for doing this, and good luck to you.”  I was floored.

Over the last few months, I have thought a lot about this boy and his dad, and the differences in their experience-driven perspectives about swimming.  I have felt the frustration and disappointment of the swimmer, and I have felt the eagerness of the father to share something so important with his kids.  I saw Doug at the YMCA a few other times, and we got to know each other to the point where we shared email addresses and phone numbers.

Today, I got to meet Will.  Doug and I traded emails late last week, and he invited me to join them for their Sunday morning jaunt over to Dunkin’ Donuts.  After a couple of hours of swimming in Lake Michigan this morning, I met them a few minutes after 10 a.m.

Will is hardly your typical nine-year old kid.  When I introduced myself to him, Will stood up, looked me squarely in the eye, and shook my hand like an old pro.  He is a good looking boy, with a fresh face, inquisitive eyes, wavy blond hair, a deep summer tan and a quick smile.  He carries on a conversation like an adult and even uses words like “natatorium.”  He said that he had read the blog entry I had written.

We talked about the English Channel and all the questions he had about it, like the time it takes to swim, how you are able to eat along the way, and how you deal with the cold water.  He was particularly interested in the jellyfish.

I told him about how I had dealt with the jellyfish in Tampa Bay, and he was pretty impressed with the scars I still have on my forearm from them.  I told him how it felt when I was stung, and that I was glad that it didn’t end my swim by having to get in the boat.  Mostly, though, I told him how it had taught me so much, and that I felt like I would be better prepared and more confident when we go to England.

Then we talked about his swimming.  It turns out that Will likes to swim butterfly, like I did.  He has had a good summer season, and seems pretty upbeat about it.  He agreed that sometimes he gets down, but is starting to taste some success that is the reward for all that hard work.  He is really looking forward to this coming year when he will be old in his age group.  He looks at the team record board every time he walks into the pool, rather, the “natatorium.”  I encouraged him to stay with swimming because of the lifetime of enjoyment he will get from it.

I gave Will one of the A Long Swim caps that we had printed up, and he told me that he would wear it at his next meet.  His dad and I told him about the Yankee great, Lou Gehrig, and the connection between the disease that borrows his name and the Channel swim.  I explained how Lou Gehrig’s disease slowly takes away your ability to move your arms and legs, and eventually your ability to breathe; I can do all of those things, and this is what I have chosen to do about it.  It would be a lot to take in for most nine year olds, but Will was with us every step of the way.

I would never be so arrogant to think that my words will make one iota of difference to Will, but I really do hope he stays with swimming.  Will is brilliant, and is the kind of kid that will excel at whatever he decides to pursue, whether it be chess or the cello.  Swimming will be lucky to keep him, and swimming will be better off if it can keep guys like Will competing.

I am lucky to know Doug and Will, and I had great fun at our visit at Dunkin’ Donuts.  After all, it isn’t every day that a nine year old looks you straight in the eye and tells you how much they love to swim butterfly.

I was right; he is me, and I was him.

See you at the beach.  I will report back