Forever is a mighty long time, and I'm here to tell you:
I’ve heard it many times as I was coming up; “You have to find your forever stroke”. So, in response, I searched, and searched, and searched some more. I swam great distances in open water, and the pool in search, and did not find a forever stroke. There was never a singular lightbulb moment, where I thought, I’ve got it. I found a couple of things instead, and I believe that these may be the keys to a forever stroke.
1) Buoyancy is very important, I know this seems obvious, but for me, it’s extremely true. I’m rather muscular and dense, so my buoyancy comes from large lung capacity and efficient oxygen use. To assist in the longer swims, and to offset temperature, I have been known to pack on ten extra pounds prior to a long swim. This brings me to my second point concerning buoyancy, having a higher body fat percentage will assist providing buoyancy. A longer stroke pattern can also offset more water, allowing you to glide on top of the water. These are all factors in finding the forever stroke.
2) Strength, another obvious piece, but what specifically am I speaking of? A) Physical strength, just put in the hard laps, the miles in the wind and rain, and you’ll gain the physical side, good rule of thumb, if you can do it in a week, you can do it in a day. B) Mental strength, I call it the F-off button (This name came to me after 28 miles on a particular rough day, no intent to offend), it’s this magical button in my mind where I can tell my body to stop hurting (in a not to eloquent way). I’ve been asked if this can work in reverse, and I absolutely believe that it can. When it comes down to it, mental strength is what makes the distance. Once you have the mental side of things handled; the strength to operate under duress for long periods of time, and the mentality to clear great distances without stopping, then you have found your forever stoke.
So, is it a real thing?
In my experience there is no forever stroke, because if it exists, it will be made up of all kinds of stroke patterns. In search, I found a whole bunch of stroke flaws, and a realization that the swim stroke is something that cannot be perfected due to the continual morphing of conditions, physical and environmental. So "Forever Stroke" creates a contradiction, but maybe only in terms. Your muscles will fatigue, and your frame will begin to fail. I generally start with a deeper draw that fades in closer to my chest over time. My overhead cast, and entry point will change depending on how my upper back is feeling. I’ll vary my kick schedule, change stroke rates, depth, placement, you name it. In the end new distance hurts, and causes your body to run through varying cycles of failure.
So I’ll say this, if there is a forever stroke, it exists in your mind. If you find a way, if you persevere something that prior to completion you would have considered impossible, that’s a forever stroke. It will be unique only to you. In the end, it may not look much like a stroke at all, so just keep swimming, and do it with a smile.
I’m please to write an article on someone who embodies the warrior spirit. I’ve recently met a warrior in heart, and mind, his name is Eddy. He is a dreamer, made the choice to overcome all of the odds, and adversity to make his dream of becoming an Ironman true. This would be an amazing feat for anyone, but I believe Eddy is special. Upon the opportunity to ask Eddy questions about his dream, and the process, he provided very insightful answers.
Eddy comes from a family, where swimming is the norm. His Grandmother swam in the Helsinki Olympics, and as a youth he swam at a country competitive level. This went on until school became the priority. An intelligent young man, he walked away from swimming to pursue education. “I couldn’t fit everything in, something had to give.” Eddy would continue to play water polo, which any swimmer will tell you is a grueling aquatic workout.
After years of being a formidable athlete Eddy found himself diagnosed with Leukemia, undergoing chemotherapy, and dreaming of swimming. “All I could think about was going back to my natural habitat in the water.” Being unable to act on this dream, and being in a weakened state must have been torture for an active young mind. As a testament to his character Eddy’s mind focused on overcoming his own adversity, while giving back, and benefiting others. He decided to make his Ironman dream come true in the most difficult way possible, retiring the hospital bed in the process. Eddy chose take on the most brutal mental and physical challenge known to mainstream sport, to support the Teenage Cancer Trust.
“Preparing my Ironman race was probably a lot different to the average person’s training plan. After all I had to go from being bed bound to completing 140.6 miles of exercise. I took it very easy to start with. I set myself little goals IE walking up and down the stairs a couple of times. This then led to taking the dogs for a walk. I slowly increased the distance and made sure I listened to my body.”
Imagine being bed ridden, having a severely compromised immune system, and setting this goal. An Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 122 mile bike ride and finishes with a 26.2 mile run. Starting with the note of walking upstairs brings a tear to my eye, such adversity, to dig yourself out of a hole like this will take the heart of a lion, a graced spirit, and an unbreakable mind.
“After a few months I managed to go for my first run. When I say run, it was slow and with a few breaks in-between but I managed to complete it and it felt amazing. My body remembered how amazing exercise is. The endorphins released and I couldn't stop smiling.”
The swim dream would also come true, described as incredible the first time he dove in. Eddy began training for events that would challenge him, and allow him to gain his once elite confidence as an athlete. “For the Ironman challenge I needed to put some hard lengths in. My fitness soon increased and my times were getting faster and faster. I knew much I had improved when I came 11th out of over 2000 competitors in The Great North Swim.” As he continued to increase the distances of each of the three disciplines Eddy competed in the Paris Marathon. The marathon was more difficult than expected, causing illness, and knee problems that would keep Eddy from training as much as desired in the run discipline, leading up to his Ironman attempt.
Mental fortitude, and doubt in your body’s ability is always present, but when a training event provides unforeseen adversity, it can knock you backwards. Eddy, would continue to surge forward, putting that nervous energy to a positive goal, but said in relation to the Paris Marathon: “Physiologically this was really hard because I didn’t know how I would be able to cope during the run. One of the hardest parts of ironman training is staying injury free. I have spoken to people who couldn’t attend on the day due to injury. The last thing I wanted was to not compete, especially as I had raised so much money for charity already, I would have felt like a fraud if I couldn’t have participated.”
Eddy would continue to feel this pressure until on the course: “I had told so many people about my challenge which did put some pressure on me. Can you imagine I couldn’t finish. I had raised over £6,000 by this point. All that money had come from people donating for me taking part on the Ironman. I had to finish.” “All I had to do was finish. I mean how hard can that be?
Eddy, I’ll answer that for you: according to “The internet”, by all probable estimations since the first event in 1978, less than 700,000 people have completed an ironman. You’ll have to figure yourself into the .01% of the global population, although the internet admits it’s probably half that. I think it’s a fitting answer for how hard could that be? Really freaking hard, and that would be for people who start as established athletes. For someone who starts from a hospital bed, battling a life threatening condition? Until Eddy, I’d have said impossible, especially considering the timeframes. It boggles my mind!
Eddy: “When I was lining up to jump into the lake pure excitement took over. I was so ready. I had been waiting for this day for so long. I knew I could do it, I just have to stick to my race plan.” Just prior to diving into the water Eddy uttered the words “Good luck” to a lady that had recognized him from his prior blog posts. “It’s amazing the power of social media. That moment made me think of how far I had come and where I am now.” It’s always good to reflect, and this moment tells you a lot about Eddy’s spirit, taking time to connect with another competitor when about to embark on a test of such magnitude.
Three, two, one…Go! Eddy is now inside of his longest open water swim. “I dove in and a sense of relief engorged my body as soon as the water hit my fingertips. My big day had started and I was feeling great. I knew I was going to be one of the fastest swimmers so I just tried to stay calm and not let the emotion take over. Half of me wanted to sprint, and put in an amazing time but the other half (sensible eddy) took over and told me to do long and efficient strokes.” With the swim behind, Eddy he transitioned to the bike, it had been raining; a slight drizzle through the morning and swim, and this kept up through the first quarter of his bike. Then: “After about a quarter of the ride the heavens did open, I had just reached the top of sheep house lane when it really started to rain. I did start to worry that I might fall of bike, but I just took it steady. After all I just wanted to finish, I wasn’t bothered about the time.” “I do remember cycling up one of the steepest hills in the race and talking to the guy next to me, just saying how much we love it. Most people would hate every second, but I just loved the grueling challenge.” With his race plan in check Eddy cool, collected, social, and having the time of his life.
With the sun full in the sky, and Eddy completing the hardest portion of his day; the last thirty miles of the bike, where upon transitioning into the run Eddy began to overheat. This could be perilous with an entire marathon still looming overhead. “For the first lap of the run I was wondering whether or not I could keep running. I was starting to struggle but it was as if someone was looking over me because as soon as I started to struggle the sun started to go down and it started to cool down. After the second lap I knew I was going to finish and just enjoyed every last minute of the race.”
“The end of the race was the most incredible experience, everything I had dreamed about. I lived up to all the expectations. I remember seeing my amazing family, girlfriend and friends cheering me on in the home straight. I put my hand out and high fived every last one of them. I had finally completed my dream. How on earth had I managed that? Everything I had been working for during that past year, I had become an IRONMAN. As soon as I crossed the line I started to cry like a baby. Emotion filled my body. I was so pleased with myself and I had done it. Even thinking about it now brings a tear to my eye.”
Eddy, a jewel of a person has made writing it a lot of fun. I’ve not ever written for someone so quotable. This is how I know the passion that breaths through this guy. Amazing! I digress, one thing I’ve learned in my time writing is never walk away from an interview with someone without capturing the unconventional wisdom. Eddy, wise beyond his years had this to say: “I believe to be comfortable in your body you have to be comfortable in your mind. If your mind is in the right place your body will soon follow. Your body is capable of amazing things as long as you believe in it. I mean look at me. Less than two years ago I was bed bound unable to get out of bed to go to the toilet, now I’m doing what some say the ultimate endurance race.” “I have learnt that if you devote yourself to something, it will happen. If you truly apply yourself to your dream, it will come true.”
Lastly his thanks and acknowledgements: “I would like to thank everyone who made it possible, you know who you are. I couldn’t have done it without you. I love you all.”
Please take the time to support Eddy by reading his entire story via the blog he wrote. I asked Eddy about future plans, and although he doesn't have anything to share at the moment, I'm sure that his drive and ability will find love to give in the future.
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