Monday, 25 April 2011

Missing you already, Bexley Pool

With the rainy, cool weather in the past few days, I haven't been able to swim outdoors for a while. I miss it. An inside "gym swim" just isn't the same! Here's hoping for some nice sunny and warm late autumn days to come - just like this one.

The future of Bexley pool is under a bit of a cloud. It urgently needs a large investment, as it is leaking 20 000 litres a day, and though open year round, needs some indoor facilities for lessons and leisure swimming over winter. So far Rockdale Council has not committed the necessary funding. As well, the current management has been replaced....all very murky indeed.

Read more here:
Prospects for Bexley pool remain a mystery
Bexley pool operator sacked
Bexley pool users back operator

Monday, 11 April 2011

Helen Pitt - They never told me ... I wasn't a champion (Sydney Morning Herald 12 Jan 2011)

Above: My Safe Swimmer Certificate, 1967. Seemingly lost are my "Intermediate Star" and "bronze Medallion" awards!

The following piece appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald's Summer section on Wed 12 January 2011. I couldn't find it on-line to link to, so quote it in full here.

I love this article because I identify with a few points in it:

  • Though I never swam competitively, I have had a lifelong love of swimming, since I stood a little way off from kids who were being taught in private lseesons at the local pool, and followed what they did and taught myself
  • I too see swimming as "therapy' and swim through all sorts of emotional turmoil. It clears the mind in a meditative way and sometimes a solution will find its way into my head
  • I had parents who never believed in limiting their daughters and encouraged their every endeavour. There was no sense of girls being limited in my house!

They never told me. . . I wasn't a champion

by Helen Pitt

"Like many Sydneysiders, Olympic swimming coach Forbes Carlile taught me to swim. One whiff of a heated, chlorinated pool today takes me immediately back to the indoor pool in the backyard of his Ryde home, where he and his wife, Ursula, taught legions of us tadpoles, dolphins and turtles to master our strokes. He's of course best known for his star student, Shane Gould - whom he coached to triple Olympic gold medal status and who is the only person to hold the world record in all freestyle distances from 100 metres to 1500 metres. I doubt he'd even remember but I remember him and his shock of jet-black hair following us up and down the pool. My Carlile-endorsed two laps of dog paddle certificate took pride of place on my bedroom noticeboard for many years.

Thanks to the benefit of a backyard pool, swimming became my favourite sport - the only one I was ever any good at. I made it to the area and district school finals in freestyle and breaststroke on several occasions. Not only did it become my sport; swimming became my preferred form of therapy. There's no sadness I haven't been able to swim myself out of; there was no homesickness a few laps of Australian crawl wasn't able to cure during the many years I lived outside this country.

As the big man of swimming, Mr Carlile, who turns 90 this year, said, 'to swim well is an asset for life." It's an asset that has certainly served me well.

But he also said something on our last day of swimming lessons that I didn't hear. I must have been barely six. As I was getting out of the pool, he gave a deep sigh and said to my mother: "Take her home - she's as good as she's ever going to get."

My mother never told me this. She wasn't going to let my swimming career be eclipsed by his dire predictions. Instead, she let me loose on the backyad swimming pool, cheered me on at every swimming carnival and packed our tiny Morris Mini Minor with other young swimmers to go to swim meets all over Sydney where we could compete and display our prowess. I've often wondered if she did this to spite him, though I doubt it. She was just never a woman who was going to let her daughter be told anything that was in any way self-limiting or had the words "this is as good as you are ver going to get."

It wasn't until I hit my 40s and had a lifetime of swimmign cerificates to vouch for my competence in the pool that my mum told me what Mr Carlile had said. Frankly I was shocked and glad I didn't know at the time. I have often thought to write to him tell him he was wrong: I did become a better swimmer.

I don't blame him, though. I was probably pretty hopeless when he trained me. I've come to see this story as less of a random comment, or maybe, a joke from an exhausted swim coach and more a parable on parenting: don't necessarily let the experts tell you about the talents of your child; instead, stand back and let them show you. And never underestimate the power of finding something you love and practising to improve. Which is how it's been for me and swimming; it's been one of the most enduring love affairs of my life.

As I watch my mother slip into an Alzheimic fog, forgetting names, dates, places and people, I know there are many things she'll never be able to tell me now. But I've become grateful for the things she purposedly never told me. Sometimes, being a good parent is about the things you don't tell your children. "

Below: Malvern Baths in 1927. Little changed 40 years later when I earned the Safe Swimming Certificate there.

Below: Mum would sit on this grass or one of these benches when I was very young - 4, 5 - cavorting in the water. Later, by the time I was 8 or 9 I was going to the pool with my friends on our own. As the best swimmer, I was often "in charge".

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Famous Swimmers: Benjamin Franklin

Illustration above: found at Picture book directory of children's illustration. This picture is by David Austin Clar. I am sorry I could not contact you to seek permission to use the image, but am happy to do so if you see this and leave me a message.

 Yes, that Ben Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, author and printer, political theorist, politician,  postmaster, scientist, inventor, satirist,  civic activist,  diplomat, anti-slaver.  He formed both the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania.

He was also an enthusiastic, proselytising swimmer and inventor of a prototype hand paddle / swim-fin.

Franklin is recognised in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. The entry on him includes the following information:

" Benjamin Franklin was a competent swim coach and teacher; he advised on water safety, lifeboat rescue escape from shipwrecks, and the advisability of universal learn-to-swim classes.
One of United States first "ornamental swimmers", on a Thames River excursion in 1726, he swam from Chelsea to Blackfriars (3½ miles) 'performing on the way many feats of activity, both upon and under water, that surprised and pleased those to whom they were novelties'.

Ben wrote about his swim fins:

"When I was a boy, I made two oval palettes, each about 10" long and 6" broad, with a hole for the thumb in order to retain it fast in the palm of my hand.  They much resembled a painter's palette.  In swimming, I pushed the edges of these forward and I struck the water with their flat surfaces as I drew them back.  I remember I swam faster by means of these palettes, but they fatigued my wrists.  I also fitted to the soles of my feet a kind of sandals, but I was not satisfied with them because I observed that the stroke is partly given by the inside of the feet and the ankles, and not entirely with the soles of the feet.

Franklin as swimming teacher:

According to the Hall of Fame entry, Franklin wrote:
' 'Tis supposed that every parent would be glad to have their children skilled in swimming, if it might be learnt in a place chosen for its safety and under the eye of a careful person . . .'tis some advantage besides, to be free from the slavish terrors many of those feel who cannot swim, when they are obliged to be on the water even in crossing a ferry.'

"Franklin was also a competent coach and teacher.  He taught his friend Wygate and a friend to swim 'at twice going into the river'  but turned down an offer by Sir William Wyndham to open the first American swim school in England.  He was homesick and returned to Philadelphia where among other things, he proposed that all commonwealth schools should have swimming programs.

Max Connors - SeaChange

Like Andrea Camilleri's Sicilian detective, Salvo Montalbano, Max Connors is a swimmer. Like Salvo, he swims through his troubles.

In Series 2, episode 5, after his wife dies, Max can only seek solace in swimming. In fact it also brings him closer to his father, a former champion swimmer.

Max, played by actor William NcInnes, was the (second) heartthrob love interest in Australian TV series, Seachange, which ran for three series, 1998-2000. McInnes appeared in 24 episodes. The show also starred great Aussie acting icons, Sigrid Thornton, John Howard, David Wenham, Kerry Armstrong, Kate Atkinson, Jill Forster, Kevin Harrington, Georgina Naidu and others.