My Letter to Swimming (6 months later)

To my love,

“I hated you. I really did. I wanted nothing to do with you, but you didn’t let me get away. And I didn’t let you get away. Whether I knew it or not, I always found an excuse to crawl my way back to you. And I did it again, but this time, a little different.  You put me through the hardest time in my life, but now I know why you did it. Like always, you did it to teach me a lesson. You did it to give me a tiny little taste of what real life would be like. As hard as it was to be put through that, it was a reminder for me that nothing will get in our way. We will always, no matter what, find a way back to each other. You reminded me of the strength that lies behind one’s passion. Once aware of your passion, the opportunities are endless, and what you must do then is take it and run with it. I’m so lucky to have had you to guide me through all of this. I’m so lucky to have you by my side no matter what we’re going through, reminding me that everything will end up the way it’s meant to, and that everything will be okay. For that I will be forever in debt to you.

I thought we were over 6 months ago. I really did. I thought that our time was up and that my goggles would come off for the last time. But thank you for showing me that our time will never be over. No matter what happens from this day forward, I know that you and I will be inseparable until the day I die.”

Discovering My Passion… AGAIN!

6 months ago, if you told me that I would be back in the water, in better shape than ever and captain of the team, I would have told you you were insane. But here I am, 6 months later, and I would have been wrong. You were not insane. It was a hard time to go through. All the lying and hiding and ditching practice, I’m hoping I never go through it again. But, it changed my life forever. I hated the sport, I wanted nothing to do with the water. I couldn’t stand to be around my coaches or the pool. I distracted myself, or at least I tried to. I kept everything inside for so long, not saying anything to anyone, even my parents. But finally, that day came when I had to let it all out. I had to tell people how I was feeling. That week, the day and the week after I told my parents what happened was the hardest week of my life. I thought I would never get over it. Someone close to me helped me gain some perspective at this point. She told me to take a step back. Take a couple weeks out of the water and see where it takes you. It might take you back to the water, it might take you somewhere very different. And whichever way I went, it would be okay. I knew that I had some other passions that I never had time to pursue. I was interested in nutrition, I was passionate about body image and I wanted to help others learn how to be healthier. But what could I do about this? Well, those two weeks out of the water ended up being the most clarifying two weeks of my life. I found so many opportunities that I never would have discovered if I didn’t pull myself away from the pool. I began working on projects that I became so emotionally attached to because of how passionate I was for those things. At that point I looked at my life and thought that finding these new passions meant that I was done with swimming. The time had come and I was ready to hang up my suit one last time. Boy was I wrong. Although it was a grueling process that took a long time, I found my way back. I started swimming again simply to stay in shape. I had no desire to go the extra mile or to race, I just needed to keep my body moving. And after a 1 month break, 2 months of swimming for exercise, 2 months of swimming on my own over the summer, and 1 month of swimming with our new team (shout out to Eagle Swim Club!!), I found my passion. Was it a new passion? No. Did I always know it was my passion? Yes. So why did I think I found my new passion? Because I did. I had lost touch with the water for so long, that I had come to terms with the fact that it was over. Discovering my passion again felt like no other feeling. It was a Tuesday afternoon about 3 weeks into school, and I was on the bus home after a hard practice and this rush of happiness fled over me. I couldn’t figure out why, but now I know. It was the moment I fell in love with swimming (again!).

Thank You, USA Swimming

This week, the behavior we have seen in some of the US Olympic Swimmers has been disappointing and sad, especially for me. Some of these swimmers are people who I have looked up to for the last 8 years, and to see them ruin their image, the image of the sport, and disappoint so many has been devastating, to say the least. So in light of all this, I thought it would be very fitting to write my thank you to all of the swimmers who made their Olympic experience extremely special, not only for themselves, but also for everyone who’s supported their career.

Katie Ledecky, thank you for showing us your grace (and speed) from such a young age. You have stayed humble and composed from the young age of 15, even after rising to fame. Your races are incredible and have everybody’s eyes glued to the screen (even though we know you will win).

Maya DiRado, thank you for giving us a glimpse to your short, but amazing Olympic career. Thank you for giving us an exciting race in your 200 back, and showing us all just how excited and proud you were.

Missy Franklin, thank you for keeping that Missy smile on your face, as disappointed as you were. You have inspired so many young swimmers around the world to keep on going, no matter what obstacles you face. You showed grace and support for all of your teammates, even when you were simply watching from the stands.

Lilly King, thank you for showing the world what “Lilly King’s finger wag” is, and for reminding us the values that all swimmers should have.

Dana Vollmer, thank you for showing the world that even a “Mama on a mission” can be an olympic gold medallist. I love you!

Eizabeth Beisel, thank you for always being so proud to be representing your country, and being there for your teammates no matter what. You are the team member that every swimmer wants on their swim team.

Ryan Held, thank you for being part of that legendary 4×100 free relay team (with Dressel, Phelps, and Adrian) and getting up there on the podium with them. Thank you for showing us just how grateful you were to be representing your country on that level. And thank you for making America’s hearts melt with joy after seeing your tears while the Start Spangled Banner played.

Ryan Murphy, thank you for being humble and excited at the same time. And thank you for leading off the extremely anticipated 4×100 medley relay in with a world record in the 100 back. American won’t be able to thank you enough.

Cody Miller, thank you for showing us your extreme excitement as you touched the wall third (for a bronze medal) in the 100 breast. It has been a long time since we’ve seen someone react not with disappointment, but with extreme joy to a bronze medal win. Very much deserved!

Tony Ervin, thank you for bringing me the most exciting race with your 50 free gold medal win. My whole family was on their feet, jumping up and down screaming for those 26 seconds, and the race ended with my sister and I in tears. You are by far the most inspirational swimmer to me, and continue to impress the world proving that you are never too old to win an Olympic gold medal.

And finally…

Michael Phelps, thank you for all the things I don’t have enough time to list. Thank you for starting from the young age of 15, and only getting better as time goes on. You have proved so many times that you are the GOAT, and will always be. Thank you for showing the joy you have when you win your medals (28!!), and for understanding that it’s a privilege to represent the US. Thank you for retiring, and then proving how strong the bond between the swimmer and the pool is by returning to the sport. Thank you for making us all scream, cheer and cry during each and every one of your races. Thank you for showing your emotion every time you get up on the podium, and for recognizing everyone who has helped you get to where you are. Thank you for tying for silver  with Czeh and Le Clos in the 100 fly, and being nothing but excited to see Joseph Schooling pave the way for where the sport will go. You have changed the sport in a way no other athlete will affect any sport. MP, thank you for everything you’ve done for the sport, and for going out with the biggest bang ever!

 

My Letter to Swimming

To my love,

“For most people, the first moment they fell in love was with a person. Perhaps their high school sweetheart or college boyfriend, but it was with a person. Not for me. I fell in love at a much younger age, and it wasn’t with a person, it was with you. You became a place of instant comfort, something so similar, yet so different. You were intriguing and mysterious. From the time I was a young 5 year old, you taught me grace, humility, and confidence. I didn’t learn to love you, I simply fell in love with you. That love lead to years and years of dedication and commitment, and I would have never learnt those things if it wasn’t for you. You showed me kindness when I wasn’t kind back. You showed me forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it. You taught me what it means to work hard for something you want. I’ve felt a rainbow of emotions because of you. Nerves come before every race, no matter how many times I’ve swam at a meet. Hatred came during every practice when we did those grueling 400’s. And joy came every single day when I pulled out my swimsuit and goggles to get ready for practice. You gave me the most meaningful friends I will ever make. You gave me coaches that cared so much about me and knew me better than I knew myself. I thought that our time was up, I thought our time together only existed in distant memories memories, but because of everything you’ve showed me, I know our time is not up, and it might never be over. We still have years and years to come, and no matter what form that comes in, you will always be my first true love. But if the time does come when I’m ready to hang up my suit for the last time, I want you to know that you will forever and always be a part of me. Thank you for making me the person I am today, and for all the memories we’ve made, are making, and will make.”

Goggles, A Swimsuit and a Dream

The rippling, aquamarine water laid ahead of me waiting for someone to dive in and make a splash. My Arena Lzr Elite was bandaged around my body, my Speedo goggles squeezed my head, and my EAGLES cap kept my hair tight. I performed my pre-race routine, ending with 2 jumps to get pumped. I looked down at the end of my lane to see everyone pouring into the pool deck and gathering around the end of my lane. For most swimmers, this was just another meet, but for me, this one was different. I had to succeed to prove to my coach and myself that everything I had done up had paid off. I looked up to see Coach standing in the bleachers as he looked down and yelled, “let’s go lil’ Fukada! 2:38.6, that’s all you need!”. Seeing his excitement reminded me that I owed this race to him. I looked back down at the end of my lane with a stomach full of butterflies. The starter approached the horn and there was one long *BEEP*.

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I rose to the block, stretching my shoulders and back one last time. “Swimmers, take your mark”, the starter announced in his heavy tone. I grasped the rough block, and pulled back through my lats and triceps. *BEEP!*, the starter blasted the horn as I pulled my arms into a tight streamline, kicking off as hard as I could. There was nothing I could change at this point. I had done all the work and now it was time for my 200 meter butterfly; it was me against the clock. The second I hit the water, everything around me froze. The cheers from the crowds became distant muffled sounds. The deck crowded with over-excited moms became nothing but the grey-tiled ground. All but two things had disappeared; the sight of my competitors ahead of me, and Coaches signature, “GO! Catch ‘er!”. As I came to the turn of my first 25m, I saw the girl 2 lanes down push off slightly ahead of me. I knew my strength was my fast last 75m, and I knew I couldn’t let myself go out too fast. As I approached the turn at the 50m mark, my body began to fatigue. With 150 meters to go, I relaxed my stroke and pace for the next 50m. At the next turn, I was neck-in-neck with the girl 2 lanes down from me, as I felt myself begin to die. My shoulders were numb but also screaming in pain, my lungs felt as if they were being filled with toxic gasses, and my legs felt like they were being torn off by a shark. In most other races, I would have given up and let the clock beat me, but not this time. This time was different. At my next turn, Coach yelled, “Come On! GO!”. Hearing the anxiety in his voice only pushed me more. I had a decision to make, and I had about half a second to make it. I was either going to give up and fail my goal once again, or I could put all the pain aside and push myself to my very limit.

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I knew the only choice I had was to push through for Coach. Thinking back to the first time I walked onto the pool deck to be greeted by an enthusiastic Coach, and knowing that there was no other sport I wanted to play. Thinking back to the many times that I got out after a race with tears of disappointment and seeing it in his face as well. I remembered the killer 2,500m butterfly sets that made me cry, the ridiculously early morning practices before school, and the 200 squat challenge that impaired me of walking for days, but it was all because he cared. He who had woken up extremely early on Saturdays to drive to practice, he who had spent hours writing our practices for the next week, he who spent countless weekends at swim meets with us, he who had made me cry hundreds of times, but only because he cared about how I did, and most of all, he who had believed in me when I hadn’t believed in myself. He made me the swimmer I am today, and I was not going to let him down, and I was ready to prove that all of my hard work, all of HIS hard work, had paid off.

I breathed to see that my opponent was a mere fingernail ahead of me. I blasted through the last 75m; my arms windmill-like, my kick dolphin-like, and my determination like a bear hunting it’s prey. I began to edge ahead. First it was a fingernail, then it was half a body length then a full body length. At my last turn, I saw my family and all of my teammates at the end of my lane cheering for me as loud as possible, and I heard Coaches excited cheer as I neared the wall. 5 more strokes, now 4, 3, 2, and1. I flung my arms around jamming my fingers into the wall. Without even taking a second to breathe, I spun around to look at the scoreboard. I ripped off my cap and goggles waiting for my time. The scoreboard flickered, then in bright numbers read, 2:32.94! Everyone erupted in “Woo!”s and “Yeah Aime!”. I threw my hand over my mouth in disbelief, and as soon as everyone finished I jumped out of the pool.

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I ran over to my teammates and parents as they all swarmed me with “congratulations!” and hugs. The tears continued as my parents told me how proud they were. “Little Aime Fukada!”, Coach exclaimed walking through, “Woo! 2:32.94”. I looked up at him teary eyed, not knowing what to say as he gave me a hug. Thinking of the times he yelled at me for not trying hard enough, the countless weight sessions, the hundreds of times he had made me laugh until I peed my pants, and the times that he looked me in the eye and told me he believed in me. Through blood, sweat, and tears, we had been through it all together. I was, am, and will be eternally grateful that Coach inspired me, pushed me and allowed me to live out my dreams. I looked up at him, choking on my tears, “Thank you! This was all you.”

The Benefits of Yoga

 

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“Aummm, Namaste”. When most people hear this phrase, they think of a relaxing, low intensity workout called yoga. While that phrase does in fact represent yoga, many are mistaken about it being relaxing and low intensity. Yoga can have a relaxing element to it, however it requires an enormous amount of core and back strength (helping to create a good sense of balance). Using your core and back to keep you up and balanced, yoga works to stretch out and elongate your muscles, keeping you aligned at the spine. For swimmers, flexibility and keeping your muscles long is very important to hold your technique together, and allowing that extra reach at the end of each stroke. Most swimmers will get tight very quickly from all the dry-land, weight, and swim workouts. If swimmers don’t take time to stretch properly after every workout, they are going to get tighter and tighter every time which can result in injury, especially around the shoulders. Yoga and swimming have always been two activities that have gone hand in hand. The minimal gravity effect of swimming leads many to believe that you cannot get injured through swimming. It is true that you won’t break an arm in a matter of seconds or get a gash in your leg, but over time, your muscles and joints will start to wear and tear, unless you are taking care of your body. Yoga is a great way to make sure that you are keeping your body in tip top shape, to reduce the chances of getting an injury. “Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel” -Kevin Trudeau. Allow yourself to look inside and see how good your body can feel.

Butterfly or Butterdie?

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One of my favorite swim quotes ever is “The stages of a 200fly: Butterfly, Buttertry, Butterwhy, Buttercry, Butterdie”. I love this quote because it is hilarious, but also 110% true. All of my swim buddies think that I’m crazy for wanting to swim the 200fly at a meet, or not minding doing a 2.5k fly set in practice, and sometimes I think I’m crazy too! Here’s what I’ve realized about the 200fly; after the first 100m, your arms are hurting so bad that they become numb and you can’t even feel them anymore. At that point, all you need to do is move your arms in circular motions (which you are an expert at) and try to move through the water as quickly as possible. You don’t even need to think about what your arms feel like until later. After the race finishes, you will be so excited that you did well (hopefully) and that you finished! When you are floating there in the water desperately trying to grab onto the lane line, is when it hits you. You are gasping for air and using the lane line to keep you above the water, while also trying to rip your super tight goggles and cap(s) off your head. So here’s my point: a lot of people think that a 200fly is super long and really hard. Well it is really hard, but at the end of the day the 1st 100 is painful, but after that you feel so dead and numb everywhere that you can’t even feel the pain anymore. For all you swimmer’s out there who are terrified of the 200fly, maybe you should try it! And who knows, maybe you’ll fall in love with it like I did!