MIDDLEBURY — Monday, July 2, brought this year’s Olympic swimming trials to a close. Audience members in Omaha saw some of the most decorated athletes in the world compete for the top three spots in each event, in hopes of taking them to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
While outstanding times by young swimmers like Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky were the week’s highlights, nothing was publicized in the world of swimming like the friendly rivalry between medal winners Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. As the world watches a program devised to celebrate the passion of pure competition, the Olympics become the centerfold of our attention.
The tension of the sport has reached an all-time high. As one of the most attended events at each year’s Olympic games, swimming features highly sought after tickets. The fanfare has become so intense that scalpers, including former Israeli Olympic swimmer Yoav Bruck, have allegedly been part of an international black market selling tickets for London 2012.
While the tickets scandal is definitely not good press for swimming, I do appreciate the extra attention being paid to the sport. After swimming competitively for 15 years in front of empty stands, I appreciate that people are more aware of how exciting the sport can be.
Nevertheless, it is easy to forget the simple pleasures of swimming — and athletics as a whole — in the midst of high-stakes competition.
Reflecting on many years of double practices and early mornings, the Olympics have inspired me to re-discover my passion for swimming by experiencing it in a different way. I am embarrassed to say that after all these years I had never swam in an open body of water. Untouched by a new side to an old sport, I was curious to see what lies beyond the confines of the lanes.
Taking to Lake Dunmore with the Middlebury masters swim team, the Muffintops, early last Tuesday morning, I was excited to extend my experience into a realm of swimming that I had never thought much about. I always believed open water swimmers as more intense variety than the rest of us lane swimmers, taking on the elements without the luxury of chlorine.
Diving into the murky, yet surprisingly warm, waters of Dunmore, I was surprised that a feeling of claustrophobia was creeping up on me. Accustomed to the clear lines guiding me at the bottom of the pool, this was an entirely different sensation.
I began to fall into a rhythm as I became more comfortable with my surroundings. With each breath I took, I could see the sun peaking around the mountains that surround the lake, very different than the normal pool surroundings of diving boards and lifeguards.
For beginners and veterans alike, opportunities to break free of the repetitiveness of the pool are all over Vermont. The Northeast Kingdom Open Water Swimming Association promotes and coordinates swims in legendary lakes all over the state. Swimming in open water allows swimmers the unique opportunity to be surrounded by nature while exercising and relaxing the body.
Spots such as Lake Memphremagog (Newport), Lake Seymour (Morgan), and Lake Willoughby (Westmore) attract swimmers from all over the state and beyond to experience their natural beauty, as well as compete in open water swim competitions.
The lack of stopwatches and lap counters gives a swimmer the chance to stop calculating and take the time to really think. As we focus on the competitive nature of sports during the Olympic coverage, we should keep in mind the other important benefits of athletics that are easy to forget.
While I will be religiously watching the Phelps/Lochte rivalry unfold throughout the summer, I will also make an effort to continue to get out into the open lakes. Athletics can be just as much an escape for the mind, as well as an exercise for the body.