I don’t particularly like that expression – I like to think that Wednesdays are no better or worse than any other day. However, I have decided that this week needs every bit of celebration I can find.
Last week I had bad allergies and spent a lot of time fussing about whether it was COVID. My walking challenge is starting to wear on me. The weather suddenly went from freezing to being hot enough to kill half my poor seedlings when I put them outside to start hardening off. My lanemate and I were both in the world of “I’m too old for this sh*t” after Sunday’s swim practice. We will not even discuss the state of the world, which has me filled with crone rage on many fronts.
So Happy Hump Day: a made-up internet hope that things can only get better.
My allergies are feeling better, so I have more energy. I updated my tetanus booster, donated blood, and will get my second COVID booster on Saturday, so I feel that I am doing all I can to be healthy.
At swim practice, I learned a fun new drill, something that rarely happens after nearly 20 years of swimming with a club. And at Saturday’s practice I got the comment that I have a very respectable butterfly and natural freestyle stroke for long-distance swimming (coach was commenting on technique, as I am not fast). Every little bit of positive reinforcement feels good, even at my age.
The geese along my walk to work are hatching, the trees are coming into leaf, and I may just combine one of my walks this week with a trip to the pond for an early morning or lunchtime swim.
I haven’t yet figured out how to channel my crone rage effectively; that is a feminist rather than a fitness issue, but I’ll keep working on it.
I have been swimming regularly since pools reopened after the most recent wave of COVID. I’m still a bit nervous, but I know everyone in my lane is vaccinated, we do our best to maintain distance, and we all still mask except when in the water. Last week, our Saturday swim time changed to accommodate the restart of lessons.
By going an hour earlier, we met up with another masters club just leaving the pool. Such a nice surprise after months of going into an empty space! People who shared our hobby! Even some people we knew!
After our practice, the pool deck and change room were full of parents and kids getting ready for the first lessons offered in well over a year. There was a woman in a beautiful burquini with built-in skirt and a matching hijab, her friend who wore a fairly standard tankini outfit, and a new mum in a one-piece with a plunging neckline and her four-month old baby going for his first-ever swim in a pool. One little girl asked her mom about why some people were not covered in the breast area, and mom explained that some people like to show more than others and everyone gets to wear what they like. It all made me smile.
I swim because I enjoy how it makes me feel strong, but it is also a huge safety issue for me. Along with all the children, I was delighted to see many adults and teenagers were there for learn to swim programs too. I hope they all get as much joy out of the water as I do.
Lia Thomas’ recent win at the NCAA swim meet has sparked another round of debate about the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports.
Here is what Sarah Sardinia wrote on Twitter: To all those pushing this false narrative that Trans People have an advantage in sports, and are using Lia Thomas as “proof”, let me lay down some stats here …
1650 yard distance Lia pre-transition: 14:54.765 Lia post-transition: 15:59.71 (lost 65 seconds) Male record: 14:12.08 (Kieran Smith) Female record: 15:03:31 (Katie Ledecky) She was 40 seconds behind the male record, now she is 56 behind the female
500 yard distance Lia’s best pre-transition, 4:18:72 Lia’s current, 4:34:06 Female record (Katie Ledecky), 4:24:06 Male record (Kieran Smith), 4:06:32
200 yard distance Prior to transition 1:39.31 Male record, 1:29.15 After transition 1:41.93 Female record of 1:39.10
See a pattern here? Not advantage, consistency
There’s a reason that with all the Trans Women competing in sports for years, she is one of the only top ranking ones, because she’s always been one of the top ranking. You can read more here about the data.
To put it another way:
And those images really need to be juxtaposed with the next one, which includes a photo of Olympic champion Katie Ledecky. Katie is 6 feet tall, which makes her one inch shorter than Lia, and two inches shorter than Missy Franklin, who set that NCAA 200 yard record in 2015. There is a lot of talk about how height, and size, and arm span give men natural advantages over women. Swimmers like Michael Phelps have natural advantages, including height, huge feet and flexibility, arm reach, long torsos and relatively short legs. That’s true both among men and women.
The reality is that the vast majority of youth athletes of any gender don’t compete at the elite level. However, even as amateur athletes they face discrimination, so few participate, especially trans girls. A recent Reuters article noted that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the Human Rights Campaign has said that, according to surveys, only about 12% play on girls’ sports teams.”.
Some do do compete as boys or men without too much attention, such as Schuyler Bailar, the first openly trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, and Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for Team USA and who competed in the Olympic Trials in January 2020. Others, such as Mack Beggs, the Texas high school wrestler forced to compete against girls even after starting to take testosterone, are forced into the same unwelcome spotlight as Lia Thomas. By focusing so much on biology and physiology, the impact is the dehumanization of those kids.
Lots more research is needed on the impact of hormones on performance, and there are legitimate concerns about putting competitors of significantly different sizes/abilities in the same categories when there is a risk of injury. The Christian Science Monitor has done a decent job of trying to summarize the latest research and how it is interpreted. But the bottom line for me and most of the people I know can be summarized like this:
It is Tuesday, 22/02/2022, so break out your tutus for whatever sport you love.
These fun-loving swimmers are the Lost Otters, a diverse group of mutually-supportive friends in the seaside town of Torquay, in Devon, England. Their motto is “We came, we swam, we ate cake”, a motto shared by many open water lovers.
They swim every day, year-round. A small group goes early in the morning due to work, and a larger one later, but they all get together on Sundays.
Whatever sport you love, make today a tutu day. You don’t need an actual tutu, just the spirit of fun as you enjoy your strength (and sweat, or the wind, or friendship, or whatever gives you joy as you move your body) today.
In fact, make every day a tutu day! We won’t have another one with this many 2s for 180 years, and that will be on a Monday.
It has been two months to the day since I last hit the water. My club closed down for Christmas, and the Omicron hit, so this was the first practice of the new session for my Masters swim club.
I spent a ridiculous amount of time yesterday checking my gear to be ready for this morning. Before and after our time in the water, everyone was chatty and excited to be back.
Because of the gradual reopening, we are back at the temporary pool we have been using since the first reopening, but at slightly different times. We had been scheduled to return to our regular pool, so we are very grateful to the Ottawa Parks and Recreation staff who managed to accommodate my club on short notice. Given that our regular pool has less parking and is closer to downtown, this switch has worked out well, at least while the protests continue.
How was the actual swimming? It was hard work! I felt like I was losing circulation in my arms for a while, and I was definitely very slow. My lane mate and I put on flippers for the last bit but we still managed only 1650 M. The muscles on my weaker side reminded me why swimming is such a good overall fitness activity. I needed a little nap afterwards.
I did it! I had set a goal for myself of doing a 10k, or marathon swim, this summer. I fell somewhat behind on adding distance each week, but I was doing decent weekly totals. I had experimented with drinks and snacks, and had a good idea of what I would need. My best swim buddy had told me a few years ago that if I could swim 5 or 6 k, I could do 10, and knew I had that solid base of conditioning. Then I got scared.
Why? This was my own personal goal with no expectations of speed or fundraising or any other external pressures. Except that I was afraid I would fail in front of the friends who have been so supportive about doing this. Last week, I told one friend that I might just go and do it at my local pond when no-one was paying attention. So this week, that is exactly what I did.
On Thursday I rode my bike to the pond, and coated as much of my back and shoulders as I could reach with diaper rash cream. It looks ridiculous but it is better for the environment than sunscreen. Then I laid out four bottles of various liquids (tea, a juice, honey and water mixture, and plain water) plus a packaged of golf ball-sized energy bites and a banana on the rocks at the edge of the beach, convinced myself to stop hyperventilating and started to swim.
I went around and around in circles 29 times before the pond closed at 2 pm. I stopped about every 2 loops for a drink, and every kilometre or two for an energy ball. I ate my banana after loop 14, which was my estimated half-way point. It took 5 hours and 23 minutes, but I swam 10.5 km. Most was freestyle, but I did switch to breaststroke from time to time to rest my shoulders and back.
I felt great! I could have gone further, had there been more time. 12 km felt completely within my abilities. My strokes were still regular, smooth, and strong. I was sore, but not in great pain.
So what’s next? I may try another 10 in the river, with friends, now that I don’t have the fear of failure. I may just do shorter swims and shift my focus to a cycling goal.
Or I may go back to my Alice Dearing and FINA watch. The Olympics have started. The women’s marathon swim is scheduled for August 3rd. Will FINA allow Dearing to wear the Soul Cap after banning it because “there is no demand”? What will she use instead? I have been checking for updates daily, but there is still no word on this.
FINA has reportedly apologized for the exclusion and invited Soul Cap to reapply for approval in September. Too late #FINA. Dearing and other athletes with voluminous hair that grows up should be able to use a #Soulcap now, rather than caps designed for Caucasian hair. If you really were concerned about inclusion, you would use the opportunity of the Olympics to encourage Black swimmers, by allowing a cap designed for their needs.
Not the fear that open water swimmers might feel about sharks, jellyfish, tides, weeds, or snapping turtles. This is the fear that open water swimmers might have too much fun. Or start a lawsuit. Or something. It is rapidly becoming a trend and I am not happy.
First up, Walden Pond, the idyllic home of philosophers Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Last week, state legislators in Massachusetts banned open water swimming there, as part of an effort to address water safety following a spate of drownings across the state. Of note, I could not find reports of any drownings at Walden Pond itself. Thankfully, as of July 9, open water swimmers will be allowed back in, only at times when there are no lifeguards on duty, and only if using a swim float (which most already do).
Then we have the Cam, where people have been swimming at least since the time of the poet Byron in the early 1800s. Technically, Grantchester Meadows, the access area, is owned by King’s College Cambridge, but they are managed by the local council as public space. King’s College abruptly put up no swimming signs last week, as they said their legal advice was that “use at own risk” was insufficient. Again, no evidence of actual drownings. Following another outcry and 18,000 signature petition (known as the peasants’ revolt) the decision was reviewed but the ban will stay.
A spokesperson for the university stated “We have every wish to temper the language of ‘no swimming’ to a less prohibitive form of words, but feel unable to do so without the express support of the [district and parish] councils and their health and safety officers. We hope they will be willing to co-operate on this and bring the ‘ban’ to end.” But it will not officially reinstate swimming unless its insurers agree the college is not liable should anyone be injured while swimming. Meanwhile, there are no plans for lifeguards, patrols, or any of the normal provisions to increase water safety.
The Hampstead Ponds near London are former water reservoirs, originally dug in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are three separate swimming ponds: for women, men and mixed. Access to ponds has been cost-free since at least the 1920s; though a fee had been charged since 2005, payment was not enforced. Last year, a mandatory payment system was put in place, and prices more than doubled (and were subsequently raised again).
Some free swims were still available, but times did not align with when low cost public transit was available, which meant those with mobility issues or low incomes could not benefit. According to the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), the ladies’ pond had historically provided a sanctuary for women and girls, including those with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse, and those from faith groups that demand modesty, but the new charging system was proving exclusionary for many people. Even before the most recent price rise this year, the KLPA conducted a survey of 600 swimmers and that found the charges had affected affordability for 58% of them. As a result, more than half now swim less often and 25% can no longer afford to swim at all.
Closer to home, several lakes managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC) and used by open water swimmers for many years are now under new rules that limit the ability of open water swimmers to train. At Meech Lake, the most popular spot, parking hours have been shortened, and swimmers must either swim along lanes marked by buoys, or within 30 metres of the shore. This seems to be counterproductive, since one of the main issues noise complaints – until now, most swimmers have preferred to stay nearer the centre of the lake). Swimmers must wear a colourful cap and a float, which most already do.
The conflict arose because of complaints by homeowners about noise and traffic on the main lake late at night. I can’t speak for all swimmers, but all those I know prefer to swim early in the day, so I suspect swimmers are getting the blame for other partiers. But really, it seems to be boiling down to the NCC’s unwillingness to uphold its mandate of protecting the ecology of the area. Why are all these new monster homes and powerboats being allowed? What will it take to stop power boats from traveling at speed through the designated swim lanes? So far, complaints to the NCC, supported by photos and videos, have not been effective. But there is an active alliance of open water swimmers on Facebook that is working hard to make the best of the situation.
And just down the street from my house, we have the Pond. It has always been an elitist spot. When I first started swimming there, I was questioned about how long I had lived in the area. It was nice to be able to say “25 years”, but it would have been nicer to have known about this closely guarded secret much earlier. I found out about it because my son hung out with the rich kids and mentioned it. It only became popular after a local blogger spilled the beans.
The swimming hours are from 7am to 2pm, supposedly because it is a conservation area. But really, turtles and herons can’t tell time. It is more about keeping out potentially rowdy teenagers who don’t wake up before noon.
Now, thanks to complaints about overcrowding, one or two Bylaw officers are at the beach every single day, to keep the numbers down to 10 in the changing area and 10 on the beach. I just love seeing my tax dollars at work (insert sarcasm emoji here).
As one of my friends said, “In every one of these cases, the increased access to information has in many ways just underscored how actively shitty so many people are.” Keep on shining a light on inequity and fight on for access to public swimming spaces, my friends!
Last week, FINA (the world governing body for swimming) rejected an application by Soul Cap to have their caps authorized for the Olympics. The reason given was that they do not conform to the natural form of the head and no athletes “need caps of such size”. Really? The application was brought forward because Alice Dearing, a UK swimmer and co-founder of the Black Swimming Association, had just qualified for the Olympics. She has natural hair and swims using a Soul Cap to accommodate her hair.
Soul Caps were developed after the two founders decided to take swimming lessons as adults and discovered there was a big demand for caps that accommodate Black hair. Black hair tends to be more easily damaged by chlorine, it is more voluminous because it is curly, and many wear styles associated with their heritage, such as braids and dreadlocks.
Historically, there has been a lot of systemic discrimination against Black swimmers, and larger caps such as Soul Caps are just one small piece of getting kids (and adults) into the water and learning a sport that can literally save their lives. But they aren’t just for recreational and learn-to-swim programs; they are worn by competitive swimmers around the world. Let me repeat that FINA: they are worn by competitive swimmers around the world. Claiming that there is no demand is simply nonsense.
FINA’s ruling has sparked a huge backlash in the swimming community and the media. There have been petitions, many critical articles, and much commentary on social media. The good news is that FINA seems to be backing down. It has promised to review the ruling, but there are only three weeks left until the competitions begin. I’ll be watching closely.
In an article on how burqini bans prevent Muslim women from enjoying the health benefits of swimming, I found this: “A woman playing a sport and using her body for her own pleasure and power is transgressive. Historically, a woman doing this, especially if it falls into public space, has been met with resistance. Violent, verbal, all forms of resistance.” – Victoria Jackson, sports historian and clinical assistant lecturer of history at Arizona State University.
In Hydromania, an essay by Robin Jarvis, we have “In the eighteenth century, cold water bathing, largely for medicinal purposes, became increasingly popular, and this trend was accelerated and transformed by the Romantic cult of wild nature. Swimming was now deemed productive of a range of bodily, mental, and spiritual pleasures; at the same time, it was a source of anxiety on multiple grounds and held a transgressive potential.” I’m guessing the transgressions related to the activities reported in Victorian-era Ramsgate, a seaside resort in England, where, according to a local journalist quoted in The New Yorker, “the men gambol about in a complete state of nature, and the ladies frolic in very questionable bathing garments within a few yards of them.”
Roger Deakin, and his book Waterlog, are widely credited with the current upsurge in open water swimming, which is transgressive in that many open water swimmers push back against privatization of waterways and water access, environmental degradation, and government overreach in regulating swimming activities.
I see this in my local swimming environment, where an association of swimmers has been formed to negotiate access to a popular lake; open-water swimming has been a popular activity in that government-owned park for decades, but some of the cottage owners are pushing to remove their rights. So far, we have managed to secure swimming “lanes” marked by buoys in two areas, with anyone swimming outside those lanes required to stay within 30 metres of the shore. All must wear a swim float and bright cap. The last two are not bad things, but weren’t really necessary until one cottager decided to bring in a speedboat and use it recklessly.
I have chosen to stay away from that lake for now, because the reduced hours combined with more limited swimming areas make it a less viable option to get in longer swims on a schedule that works for me. Instead, I swim in the river, where there are three marinas and several spots for seadoo launches. Last year, that river spot was mostly for me and a few friends. This year, there are many more individuals, plus swim club training groups and even a water polo team. As I do my laps from the beach to the nearest marina to a channel marker and back, I wonder what the sailboat owners think about all those swimmers taking up what was formerly their exclusive space.
A couple of weeks ago, this question came up as some of my friends and I were swimming. None of us are particularly large, but definitely at the top end of size ranges for most manufacturers (40-42 European, or 14-16 Canadian). Often, it is a luxury to be able to pick a suit because you like the colours rather than madly clicking away to get it in your shopping cart before someone else does. Supplies are extremely limited even though we are pretty sure there is a huge demographic (pun intended) that swimsuit companies are missing out on.
We want actual swimming suits because we are athletes. The roundest in our group is also the fastest and, around the age of 60, she completed SCAR. That’s a four-lake challenge over four days, for a total of 40 miles swum.
I put the question out to medium-larger swimmers who identify as women on Did You Swim Today, a very popular Facebook group for swimmers from around the world. I asked for their favourite suppliers of suits suitable for more athletic swimming, with a preference for companies worldwide or shipping to Canada.
Most of the answers were for brands I already knew, with maximum sizes being 40-42. A few people commented about specific challenges even in those sizes, such as having a longer torso than average. Others noted that options for fun prints disappear in the larger sizes, with most offerings being in plain blue or black.
Many commented on the difficulties of finding a suit to accommodate larger busts. One company was suggested because it does three versions of its suits, to accommodate a broader range of bust sizes. But expensive and maybe not really for athletic swimmers.
There were a few other interesting suggestions, though I’m not convinced that they offer the flat seams and snug fit with no chafing that I would require. One was for a company that has a unique fabric capable of stretching (and returning to its original size) to accommodate life changes including pregnancy. Another does bespoke suits catering to women above UK size 14, at fairly accessible prices but in only one style.
The last word goes to a contributor from Australia: At size 18-20 Australia (14-16 Can) it’s rare for companies to even stock suits in my size (and I can’t afford to order from overseas – shipping is a killer). If I do find something it’s plain black and I suspect not so much a ‘swimmers’ suit as something a more mature swimmer would like (ie lots of coverage, low leg cut, wide straps). It’s so annoying not being able to choose from the same range as my smaller friends. I compete in half Ironmen – I may not be the fastest but I’m definitely fit under my extra layers. Don’t get me started on trying to find a swimming wetsuit (I’ve so far managed to avoid needing one). I’m sure the demand is there – but it’s hard to measure demand if you don’t make the product available…
That last point bears repeating. It’s hard to measure demand if you don’t make the product available.