Letters from Connie: Why?

The second in a series of posts inspired by Conrad Wennerberg‘s classic Wind, Waves, and Sunburn: A Brief History of Marathon Swimming.

In a brief chapter titled, simply, “Why?”, Chairman Connie ponders marathon swimmers’ reasons. In the end he concludes, basically, Why ask why? – but he offers some intriguing thoughts and observations along the way. One passage is particularly striking:

In my twenty years of observing the world-champion swimmers I have discovered an interesting common denominator. It became evident while discussing their personal lives with them. Hours of conversation with fourteen swimmers… brought to light the fact that twelve of them were under severe emotional tension during the time they were champions. Only two were not under such tension and seemed to have planned a course of action that led to their achievement without emotional involvement.

The others were reacting to the tensions incurred by: (1) the breakup of a marriage and divorce; (2) loss of a job; (3) sexual maladjustments. Physiologists tell us that such serious threats to one’s personal life are manifested by bodily response. The pituitary gland lying at the base of their brain secretes more of the substances that monitor brain and bodily functions. One of the repsonses is extreme nervousness and tension. Luckily, those professional swimmers reacted normally to the stimulus by working it off in training. They were tranquilizing themselves in the most sensible fashion: action.

I think this is keenly observed… though my inner social scientist feels compelled to note: correlation does not imply causation. In two respects:

Wind, Waves, and Sunburn

First, the fact that many champion marathon swimmers’ personal lives were in disarray does not mean their swimming somehow benefited from the personal stress. On the contrary, I think it’s always better to approach a gargantuan physical undertaking such as a marathon swim from a position of stability – with a clear mind and a fat wallet. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way 🙂

Second, though Connie implies that swimmers’ personal tensions, in a sense, motivated their training and eventual success – the opposite relationship is quite plausible. Anybody remember this story?

Finally, apropos of nothing in particular, I wanted to reproduce the closing passage of “Why?”… I’m not sure why, I just love it.

All that can be said is that man is attracted to water in the same fashion as he is attracted to a beautiful woman or a tasty meal. Would we say it was a matter of chemistry? Such things are the mysteries of life.

6 thoughts on “Letters from Connie: Why?”

  1. I agree with Connie. I left swimming after high school, and returned 10 years later. What prompted me was that a bad knee made it impossible to do anything else (stress!). It was my last year in law school so I needed something to get me through (stress!). I swam for a year on my own and with a high school team over the summer while I studied for the bar (stress!). At Masters Long Course Nationals I swam 4:35 (400 meters) and 18:17 (1500 meters). I think the fastest I ever swam in high school was a 4:25 (400 yards – there was no 500 yard swim). I swam the 1650 once but have no idea what my time may have been. Stress did wonders for my swimming.

  2. That article in WSJ drove me nuts when I read the replies, the ignorance and personal attacks and judgement of others was astounding. I wonder how Jordan and his wife felt about it afterwards? I met him last year, he’s a really nice respectful guy.

    We all get asked “why”. I long ago gave up trying to answer the question. I think the people who ask the question won’t understand any response I try to give, and the ones who will don’t ask the question.

    1. Why does anyone do anything? There really aren’t that many possible answers. Because they find it pleasurable. To gain power, sex, money, or esteem. Because it makes them feel alive.

  3. I can see how you can add your own personal experience with your around Manhattan swim last year. U did awesome despite your outside world probs!
    I believe marathon athletes use “negative” personal issues and lock them down and use them as motivation during their events. i know I do and alot of the people I train with can.
    When everyone says about other athletes—“their home life is collapsing or they got “other issues” going on there is no way they can compete this year.
    Despite them, We just turn it around on those na sayers and rise to the occasion and still be successful and compete and sometimes win our marathon events.

    1. Thanks Josh, I appreciate the comment. I guess what I’d say about my MIMS last year is: What I accomplished “in spite of circumstances” is something I’m as proud of (or prouder) than anything else I’ve done in swimming. At the same time, I’m almost certain I’d have had a better swim if I’d had a clear mind, and if I’d actually slept the 5 nights prior, and not blown my taper.

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