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Elite-level Fish-like Swimming

Spring 1997

I had no idea what was awaiting me. I had just finished swimming in the winter Swiss National Championships and my future looked bright. Even though my left shoulder had been starting to hurt a little, I was happy and had no real concerns. I went to see the doctor about the pain, and he told me that it wasn’t anything of serious. I believed him when I won my first Swiss Championship title in the 50 meter freestyle (27.16 LC) that summer. I had only started swimming more than once a week four years before, and had already been asked to join the “Elite” Swiss National team. What more could anyone ask for at 17 years old?

Fall 1997

But my pain was still there in September, and so I decided to go see a shoulder specialist. That was the beginning of a long “battle.” According to him, my swimming career would be over, and he told me that I would never win anything again. I wouldn’t believe him, and I went to see other doctors, physiotherapists, a chiropractor, and many more. Each of them had different opinions on the matter and came up with different ways to try to help me. But nothing worked.

Winter 1998

Three months went by when I could only do 1-2 small workouts (10 to 20 min.) per week, then spent six months out of the pool. I asked my team and national coaches to help me, but nothing happened there. I realized that nobody was willing to give me the support I needed and decided to find the solutions by myself.

Spring 1998

I started surfing the net and e-mailing around the world. To my great surprise, most of them replied with encouraging notes. Two of them happened to be the ones I needed. First, Terry Laughlin redirected me to Max Zeller, a swimmer and former coach in Zurich. He had been learning a new swimming technique and was willing to try to help me. The second person was Sam Montgomery, coach at that time of the West Vancouver Swim Club, Canada.

I got in touch with Max and met him two month later. He explained to me the principals of “Fish-like Swimming” and showed me drills and exercises to do. At the same time, Sam was helping me with my motivation through e-mails.

Summer 1998

I was able to go to Calgary and Toronto to swim in the junior and senior Canadian National Championships with him. Even though my results didn’t come close to my best times, the feeling of coming back and competing in my native country, and most of all the feeling of being respected as a swimmer with a future, was an amazing source of satisfaction and happiness. That in itself was a great reward for my efforts. Having a good coach gave me the feeling of being special. By the time I got back home to Switzerland, I realized that the only solution for me to be able to swim without pain was to change my technique. So every two weekends I went to Zurich (2h30 train one way) to get a feedback on my work from Max. And what an honor it was when he asked me if I wanted to go to Houston to meet and get some more advice from the specialist, Emmett Hines!

Winter 1999

I swam in a Texan pool for the first time. And by the time I came out and flew back home a few days later, I had discovered a whole new swimming world. I realized how much I didn’t know about the sport, and therefore how much I had to learn.

After a little less than a year of swimming mostly by myself the “TI” way, I swam in the winter Swiss National Championships in March 99. That was a big disappointment. I didn’t make any finals and felt like I was missing something big: my winning instinct and all the fun that goes with it. I was getting too serious and was losing my more instinctive and impulsive state of mind to thoughts on how to manage my races. How could I have fun and be relaxed in competitions when during the past six months I had worked eight hours a day (apprenticeship); prepared my own workouts; tried to motivate myself the best I could; go to go to the pool when all I seemed to do was to bother the rest of the team, swam and thought of technique?

July 1999

I was invited to Vancouver by Sam and the Osberg family to swim the British Columbia Provincials and have a coach for a week. My main goal was to find that happiness of competing again. I was able to have a taste of it when I came in second in the 50 meter freestyle. I also got (for the first time) some very encouraging comments on my swimming (the butterfly especially) from an experienced coach. So my main goal of the following season (99-00) was to get my technique down while having fun. And in order to do that, I forced myself to trust the coach of the team I had been swimming for and tried to follow more or less his workouts while integrating some drills during warm-up and cool-down.

September 1999

I was able to go to Houston again. It turned out to be a very successful trip. I learned to feel the technique rather than to think it. For the first time since my National title in ’97 I was able to feel powerful while sprinting. The first real encouraging results came when I matched my old best times in short course in December ’99. Is this the beginning of the end of my shoulder injury episode? Not completely, because the first two month of 2000 were hard and nothing seemed to work. No motivation at all, and I was very close to giving up. I wanted to do other things, have a “normal” life, go out more often, go snowboarding on weekends... Then I thought of everything I had taken for me to get this far, and all those people who helped me get there. So I forced myself not to let go before the next Nationals in March. I would make my decision after that.

March 2000

Winter Swiss National Championships (LC): 29.34s in the 50 m butterfly (1st) and 27.12s in the 50 m freestyle (4th)! Was this for real? I just kept asking myself that question, I wasn’t sure if it was all a dream. Everybody was telling me that finally my work had paid off, that they were happy that I was able to show all those people who never believed in what I was doing that I was right. As for me, I would just like to thank them. Without their uncooperative attitude, never would I have learned so much, have swam in so many places, met so many new friends and coaches, and most of all, never would I have walked up that podium with so much pride!v

© Agnès Godfrey 2000


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For more information about:
Masters Swimming, contact United States Masters Swimming usms@usms.org.
H2Ouston Swims, contact Emmett Hines.
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