Sneaking in Through the Back Door

For swimmers in the 1970s, it was all about the daily training regimen, most often measured in yardage; every coach wanted more.  They figured that if 3,000 yards a day was good, 6,000 must be twice as good.  If the swimmers can handle 6,000, let’s go to 10,000.  I bought in to this philosophy, so I was looking for more pool time and precious yardage, and my age group-oriented YMCA program just wasn’t geared for that.

As a junior in high school, I had one of the great bits of luck of my life.  I had a call with Coach Jim Hamrin at Elgin High School, whom I had known from years earlier, who asked if I would like to participate in pre-season practices with his squad.  I jumped at it, and Jim even explained how to let myself in through an unmonitored back door of the school so the school’s higher-ups would remain unaware.

One thing led to another, and when the regular season began in November, Jim suggested that I keep training with the team.  Suddenly, my training load went from three hours a week to three hours a day, and the additional workload was showing up in my times.  What Jim Hamrin did for me was more than selfless – by inviting a swimmer from another school to train with his squad, he put himself in a position to be criticizedpersonally for a situation from which he could not possibly gain anything.  I cannot conceive of a coach in 2010 that would dare to do what he did.  I would have jumped off a cliff for Jim Hamrin.

At about that time, Dundee got an “indoor” pool.  It was an inflatable structure that the Park District bought to cover what was then a 30 year-old outdoor pool.  The concept was great, but the reality was a challenge.  The ability to keep the water warm in a steel plate pool, surrounded by frozen earth, was a losing battle.  Even things that sound like luxuries – heated decks, for example – were conspicuously absent immediately.  Without shoes, you had to do a quick-step from the locker room for fear that your feet would stick to the concrete like your tongue would stick to a frozen flagpole.  There wasn’t much activity over there at 5:30 a.m. (including a chronically tardy lifeguard, but I knew how to sneak in to that pool, too) so I was often alone in a dark pool.  It was brutally cold, but I was able to get in a bit of yardage.

I continued to compete for the YMCA program and was able to take advantage of a rule in our state that allowed athletes in “unsponsored” sports to compete in the end-of-season championship meets.  I became a one person swimming team for Dundee High School as a junior and senior – my classmates saw it as a funny novelty.  I made the Illinois High School State Meet cut in the 100 butterfly and, for all my complaining about a lack of competition in the YMCA program, I got all the competition I could handle at IHSA State.  I remember being there quaking with trepidation, surrounded by all the big teams that were chanting and cheering incessantly, and being all alone but for Cousin Bruce and Jim Borello, a chemistry teacher I recruited faculty representative to be a “coach.”  I am pretty sure that Jim hadn’t been to a swimming meet before then, and I am certain that he hasn’t been to one since.  I placed 15th as a junior and 8th as a senior at that State Meet.

See you at the pool.  I will report back.