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Monday, January 14, 2013

Parenting In The Open Water - Part 1

Parenting is a joy as much as it can be challenge. But parenting of an open water swimmer takes on special meanings for parents who are experienced in open water swimming and, especially, those who are not.

The veteran swimmer, as both an athlete and parent, knows intimately well the joys and challenges of the sport. They know on a profound level what their children will experience: the good, the bad and the ugly.

This parent understands the immense feeling of satisfaction when the child comes safely up the shore, often with raised arms and wide smiles. And they can feel the intense feeling of disappointment and frustration when their child's swim ends prematurely. These swimming parents have first-hand experience with the commitment and training sessions - morning and night, weekdays and weekends, that are the foundation of success. And they know well how much a non-finish hurts inside because of this commitment.

Mike Miller whose daughter Mackenzie replicated his 1978 Molokai Channel crossing in 2010, says, "Mackenzie's goal was actually the English Channel. But not completing the English Channel was ultimately responsible for one of the all-time best learning lessons ever, a true "teachable moment".

Her coming up short [in the English Channel] is driving her now in a learning curve that really surpasses swimming. Her life is setting goals of all kinds and finishing the goals. Mackenzie was driven to swim the Molokai Channel because she was not happy with herself not finishing England. Gearing toward Molokai, she trained alone, doing 6-7 hour training swims all by herself. The day of her crossing, she swam nearly 15 hours and was not tired. Her stroke count increased in the last two hours, by nearly 25%.

I purposely went through a basal cell removal, the week prior to her Molokai swim, so I could get out of her way, thus confined to be crew. While not minimizing the swim itself, I think parenting in open water is more about parenting than anything else. The swim is a by-product of swimming parents and a swimming keiki (child)

Sally Minty-Gravett who has touched all of the marathon swimmers in Jersey in some capacity over the past four decades explains another perspective as a full-time swimming instructor and coach. "I see much potential in many children...and often. In all these 40+ years, I see potential on a regular basis in children of all ages from 4 months upwards to academy children. That is, they are strong and efficient swimmers who may not be necessarily fast, but they have an affinity with water and love to be in it. And over here in Jersey, loves to be in the sea.

This is one of the first questions I ask them. I then ask the parents if they do love the sea. If the answers are yes, I then ascertain if the parents are keen to commit. Then, I ask them to come try club pool training session. These take place on Tuesday evenings, from October to the end of May. During these hour-long sessions, they get stronger, and as important, they get to know others who swim regularly too.

Then, when we start regular club swims in the sea at the beginning of May, they are soçially and physically ready to jump in and have fun safely in the sea. We have wonderful clean seas over here.

The club sea swims are supervised in groups, according to ability..and each little pod is supervised by one of our committee, round island or channel swimmers who escort them from the slipway or beach to the buoy and back with each weekly swim gradually increased according to sea and weather conditions. We then not only see their strength building, but personal confidence and character developing too. The parents wait patiently on the beach or slipway for them and after their swims are treated to a social cuppa and chat after. And this happens from May till the end of September by which time, many of them are happily enough to swim along the shore under supervision or very happily with kayak supervision

Conversely, parents who have not had the experience of open water swimming can be a nervous-wreck when their child heads off in the open water. They see their child pushing themselves to the fullest without knowing exactly - or even vaguely - what is going on. The depth of their fatigue or the feeling of hypothermia is unknown to them.

This unknown can be even more worrisome than if the parent knows well what happens to the body and mind of an open water swimmer.

Ned Denison, a leader in the Irish swimming community, gives a different perspective from the role and responsibility of a swim organizer. "The situation with an involved parent is easy - they are often our best volunteers at formal events. Our challenge is with the absent parent. They either do not realise that their child is swimming in a meet at 6 pm casual swim or they try to use swim organisers to mind their under 18-year-old while they head off to another child's soccer match, shopping, or to the pub. This presents all manner of legal and child protection issues for the adult swimmers. In Ireland an adult should not even transport a child to the hospital without a witness present at all times. Unless it is a very specific open water program for kids, parents need to understand that it isn't right or fair to expect random adults to mind their kids."

And, in previously unimaginable development increasingly occurring in the open water swimming world, the community is seen parents over the age of 50, 60, 70 and 80 who are doing the swimming while their sons and daughters are doing the watching and worrying onshore.

The circle of life continues.

Photo above shows the start of the Midmar Mile where there is the world's largest family mile swim. All team members must be immediate family. All team members must have a direct link to at least one other member of the tea (e.g., Father – Son, Sister – Brother, Father – Daughter, Brother – Brother, Mother – Son, Husband - Wife, Mother – Daughter, Step Father – Children, Sister – Sister, Step Mother - Children).

Parenting In The Open Water - Part 1 is here.

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