December 25, 2007

Before we left for Venice, I was a little worried about our team. Don't get me wrong - they're a great group of guys. They're fun to be around, generally hard-working, enthusiastic, and incredibly talented. What they hadn't yet revealed however, was that aggressive, almost mercenary-like competitiveness that great teams and great swimmers have. While they'd been a pretty close-knit group at the beginning of the season, I still hadn't felt like we (the team and I) hadn't pushed them to their fullest extent.

Talent and training aren't enough to be great. The greatest champions always seem to have some type of adversity to overcome - the type of adversity that makes stepping onto the blocks when the money's on the like seem like an easy task. To overcome and to thrive, you need to trust in yourself, your abilities and your teammates. You need to be willing to risk something.

So that's what I set out to do last week - create an environment where guys were forced to challenge themselves and to support one another. "Survival" wasn't the goal, afterall we know that survival is a battle of the fittest. Instead I was hoping to see how effectively guys dug down deep to push themselves further than they ever have.

Overall, I think we were largely successful. Several guys definitely revealed themselves in ways they hadn't before. This was the trip where Stephen Schranck pushed himself to the breaking point (on a set of 4x300, 4x400 and 4x500 IM's), where Steve Zimmerman added a little fury to his swimming, where Bryan Pelka, during an 17,000 meter day cracked then came back, where Alex VanHuis matched BP stroke-for-stroke on that 17K day, where Alex, Ben Healy, and Tom Stowe competed "The Fly Set" for the first time, where Paul Bussee and Bryce Davis dropped 1:52.5 and 51.9's respectively, where Andy Bax - ankle throbbing - refused to back down from a set of stand-up 50's after I told him he didn't need to, where Ripley continually pounded himself into near-submission only to come back every day, every practice a little stronger.

Those are just some of the things that come to mind as I reflect on the week that was. As I read their essays from "The Venice Diaries" I think we've got the makings of some tremendous things ahead of us. Of course the challenge is to keep pushing ahead. For those guys who are already qualified for NCAA's, January is going to be an extended Training Trip. Even for those who aren't qualified - the days leading up to CCIW's take on an added urgency, but they're days that I think they'll be better-equipped to handle.

Happy Holidays,




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