My first attempt at a triathlon is still vividly imprinted in my memory, during the swim start I was telling myself I can do this but then after the swim starts my heart rate skyrocketed, and got pulled out right about before the 200 yards mark. One thing for sure I was NOT ready for that one, but wait there is a great story that happened after that. In time I learned that swimming is not an individual sport at least where I swim at GO MAC! The reality of me learning how to swim is next to impossible but with the help of Gunnie and MAC, the impossible became possible and a reality. 

With the help of the Team and Gunnie, I progress from drowning, to sprint tris, to Olympic distance tris, a 70.3, and a 5k open water swim. Gunnie and team thanks for the gift of swimming! Below is a story about my swim journey by Gunnie (I asked her to write it down for me, she’s a great storyteller too on top of everything she does!), read on.

Sam’s Master Master’s Swim Story by Gunnie (Suzanne Grebe)

The MAC group was out at Spring Mill Pond doing a morning workout in mid-august (2010).

As we swam back and forth btw the buoys we noticed a guy swimming back and forth in the shallow water. In the waist-deep water, he would bend at the waist and place his face on the water then release his feet from the bottom and take about 3-5 frantic strokes. Then he came up spluttering and gasping for air. After watching this repeated about 3 times we approached him and began to talk. Sam was practicing for a triathlon in a few weeks which his buddies had convinced him to try. I immediately encouraged him to join MAC and not do the tri. Sam did join the group practices at the pond and progressed slowly in the final weeks of August. He learned to breathe and maintain his body position but still had a LONG way to go before being open water worthy.

In September the group moved to the Milford High School Pool and my surprise Sam joined us, definitely not a quitter. He confessed that he had tried the triathlon being unwilling to back down from the challenge his buddies put forth and was pulled from the water before the first buoy. It took a lot of humility and inner strength to come back. I was VERY motivated to get him swimming, no ever deserved my attention so much. In the first few practices, Sam was unable to overcome his fear of the deep water and used a kickboard and fins to go from the wall to the line demarcating the deep end. Lifeguards were posted at both ends of the pool in case he lost the kickboard.

By week 2 Sam progressed to breathing drills with no kickboard just hand buoys. He was putting his face in the water and breathing with minimal spluttering, earning his nickname to this day SPLASH. At this time his struggles had captured the attention of the team and they cheered his every effort. It truly became a team effort. As fall became winter Sam began to swim, he could make a length of the pool, catch his breath at the wall and return. The lifeguards were no longer assigned to his lane. We removed the fins and as expected for a top-class runner his feet and legs sank to the bottom. Sam had to develop incredible core strength and control to overcome the solid musculature of his legs. With time and unprecedented determination he did. Sam progressed from swimming 25's and battling the water to 100's and 200's swimming.

Next up we convinced him to try a swim meet. Ever the athlete and ready for a challenge he prepared. His dives left his chest red and raw but he lunged off the block ready to slay his personal dragon, the water. His performance was inspiring, Sam moved out of the rookie lane and was now given intervals and introduced to other strokes. While he struggled he never quit and while he pleaded for mercy he never quit. By the end of that first season, Sam could complete a timed 500, 20 lengths of strong swimming.

The team that had cheered his every effort next challenged him with state meet in that spring, Sam agreed. He joined the team to our championship banner and brought home some bling himself. His times amazed us all and earned him the name sandbagger Sam. Sam entered the tri season-ready but nervous. Open water is a mental challenge to overcome the inability to see the bottom, have no walls and no escape but your own ability. We knew Sam was ready physically and thus we returned to the pond for the mental preparation. We started by swimming the buoys where it was shallow and Sam had the comfort of the bottom for walking, which he used a lot. After convincing him he could not use his natural talent of running to complete the swim he tried to overcome the temptation of walking on the bottom.

The next step was taking him out to the middle of the pond with a tube escort. Sam's biggest challenge was believing in his own ability and not letting the depth defeat his desires. With time the tube got less attention and Sam gained confidence. He now challenged his buddies to the tri and was ready to school them. Sam was ready and the team was ready to see him accomplish what a year ago had seemed impossible. Sam finished the swim and the tri. He continues to race both in swim meets and tris as a force to reckoned with.

His biggest asset is he never quits, I fully expect to see him complete an IM event in the next year, the true definition of a "swimmer". Working with Sam has been one of the most inspirational moments of my coaching career, swimming career, and life. I have truly honored the trust he placed in my hands to overcome what is to many a debilitating life long fear. He is my hero.

The picture with #badass Jim at my first state meet ;) 


Kindness Knows no End


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