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Chasing unicorns

SwimDream76 by Thomas Voller

SwimDream76 by Thomas Voller

Have you heard of Ben Hooper? Ben is a Brit who attempted to swim the Atlantic Ocean for charity. The Danish media reported his story back in November as he set off on his monumental adventure from Senegal to Brazil. I saw the news in a Danish forum for open water swimmers on Facebook. To my great indignation, one of the first comments to this post was from a swimming coach decrying Ben’s technique during the 30 seconds video coverage by the Danish television. I just couldn’t believe my eyes! I mean – Ben Hooper sets off to swim 3,000 km across an ocean, ending up fighting for his life after a Portuguese man-o’-war attack, and all this coach can do is scorn Ben? Really?

Where has all the awe gone? Is there nothing left these days we can admire without feeling the urge to criticize?

The way I see it, a perfect technique is the unicorn of the swimming world. Everyone talks about it, but it’s never been seen. Even the greatest swimmers in the world are not perfect. But it doesn’t make their achievements less impressive!

Maybe this is just the product of the “Janteloven”, that most Danish form of envy (or miserable collectivist commandments meant to keep anyone from sticking out of the pack, as columnist Michael Booth once wrote), or maybe it’s a more common trend due to a highly competitive sport? Either way, the attitude seems like a disease to me. The more you get exposed to it, the more it spreads. Last year, I suddenly found myself scrutinizing people in the water, searching for flaws in their technique and I hated myself for it. So, I decided to add a new category to my training logbook. I named it “The Others” and I rate it on a scale from 1 to 10 after each workout depending on how much attention I’ve been paying to other swimmers’ technique or ability. The higher the score, the bigger an assh*le I am. And believe me – it’s helped! Facing my arrogance in black and white every single day quickly made me drop the attitude and refocus on my own technique, on my own unicorn.

Perfection may not be attainable, but it doesn’t mean we should quit the chase. Striving for perfection invites progress. Refining our imperfections bit by bit, day after day, is what pulls us forward. Olympians or newbies, there is always some work to do. Technique is essential, but it’s also individual. Some of us may have physical impairments after an accident or a surgery. Others are quite new to swimming, while others again have lost their flexibility through the years. Perfection lies in the effort we put into improving what’s within our reach.

Unfortunately, some critics tend to forget it. Sitting on the bench, I hear all kinds of comments at the pool or at the harbour. Once, it made me so furious I decided to confront the annoying faultfinder who was covertly deriding another swimmer, but her answer was even more appalling than her comments – “We, proper swimmers, don’t do this and that”. “We, proper swimmers”?!? I was shocked! 😮

Apparently, if you’re not part of “them”, if you haven’t been swimming since the right age, in the right club, clocking the right times and winning the right medals, then you’re nothing but a fake or a wannabe. Is that it? Is this bigoted attitude of “us and them” really the spirit? Does it mean I’m supposed to feel like a fake, because I can’t make proper tumble turns? Well, as it hit me after talking to my coach Susanne one day, many swimmers doing proper tumble turns wouldn’t dream of swimming 25 K butt-naked in the ocean in shitty weather conditions. But they’re still swimmers, then so am I! There is no true or fake, there is no us and them. It’s all about passion, and no one needs to be perfect to be passionate.

All we need is the right state of mind and an environment that lifts us up and helps us progress. Everybody has a different unicorn to catch and a different chase to focus on.

In a world where perfection is unattainable, all we can do is work for progression.

And today, that’s good enough for me.


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