There are really only two types of story plots; a person goes on a journey, and a stranger comes into town. This exciting story is encapsulating both of these elements.
My journey towards the podium at the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio has taken me all over the world to compete for my livelihood, gaining priceless race experience in the process. Now the story gets even more interesting with the plot taking on a new twist as a stranger comes to town.
Unfortunately, it is still delusional to believe that it would be possible to attain such lofty heights in the sport of swimming while working towards it alone in Trinidad. I would love to be able to live in my own country while pursuing my sporting dreams, but the reality is that I would simply be putting myself at a huge disadvantage.
Being based year round in Trinidad as a professional swimmer is a case of trying to go above and beyond with very limited available resources, while my rivals from developed nations have everything that could possibly aid them in their preparations at their disposal.
It’s frustrating to say the least, but being a perpetual underdog is a huge part of what it means to compete for T&T in a sport that we still don’t have proper facilities for. The playing field, or rather gladiatorial arena, is definitely not a level one. The obvious doping that is being allowed to run rampant in the sport of swimming lately is heartbreaking. I am strong, and fit, and will surely get stronger and fitter over these coming months of hard training.
However the gut wrenching truth is that no matter how hard clean athletes train, we will never be able to be in better physical shape than doping athletes whose bodies have become pharmacologically enhanced so that their blood carries more oxygen, they recover more quickly and have greater power output.
Fortunately, this is swimming and not cycling or track. Due to the density of water, swimming is the most technical of all sports because we must rely on efficiency of movement and minimising frontal resistance and drag, just as much as power. It’s because of this dynamic that I believe that skillful, clean swimmers like myself still stand a chance, and so I continue to chase the dream.
Training for the Olympics in sprint freestyle swimming is analogous to forging a sword. Sparks fly as a lump of steel that is white hot with burning desire to become a sword is hammered. This folds the steel in upon itself thousands of times to make it strong in every direction. Then, once the strength of the blade is satisfactory, it must be sharpened.
Repeatedly hammering the white hot blade is like training for improved power, speed and endurance. Sharpening the blade of the sword is mastering technique. When wielding the sword, if the blade is razor sharp, then less force is needed behind it to slice cleanly through even the toughest armour. It’s this highest possible level of razor sharp technique mastery that I am seeking to use against those other gladiators that have the immense dark force of doping behind their dull blades next summer. And this is what brings the stranger to town.
I have settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the year to train with the Club Wolverine Elite team and work specifically with my longtime coach Mike Bottom and his protege Mark Hill. Mike first taught me to become a sprinter back in 2006, after a sudden, severe knee injury forced me to change events. Mike and Mark Hill, are simply the best coaches around when it comes to technique, and I am very fortunate and grateful to have them on my side.
There is no getting around the solitude that comes from going on a journey alone, coupled with being a stranger in town. However it has allowed me to realise that if you get lonely, then to put it simply, you are bad company.
I know my rivals read this column online, so, in this ultimate arms race I won't get into the fine nuances of technique here, nor the details of my training regime. It’s easy to get hung up on temperamental details and fixate on the things that aren’t exactly the way you want them to be yet, in this day to day quest for unattainable perfection.
It takes a special kind of long term vision along with nurtured optimism that comes from seeking out and patiently recognising the little things that are slowly coming together as the blade gets sharper. For a perfectionist, it’s liberating to realise that you don’t have to be perfect, just consistently great.