June 01, 2005
How to improve continuously, no matter how long you swim.
After 39 years of purposeful swimming (as opposed to merely "doing laps") and 33 years of coaching and teaching, I consider myself fortunate to have achieved a rare distinction: I think I've become one of the best swimmers on earth. While that claim probably sounds staggeringly presumptuous, my definition of best-- unlike one that applies to, say, Michael Phelps--doesn't hinge on how fast I swim. Instead I mean that, among the billions in the human race, I think there are perhaps only a hundred or so swimmers on earth who use their available energy and power as efficiently as I do, who enjoy every stroke as fully, and who practice effectively enough to keep improving continuously.
It's that last definition of "best" that excites me most. There's a Japanese term kaizen, which means continuous improvement; specifically it denotes incremental improvement through cleverness, patience, and diligence. At age 54, I feel I am the embodiment of kaizen swimming. After 39 years of swimming, coaching and teaching, after over 15 million meters in the pool (I average about 500,000 meters per year), I'm still making regular advances in my control, efficiency, and ease. My 1500-meter time now is faster than when I was an 18- yearold college freshman in 1969.