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Moving Mountains

(or Look Over Your Shoulder from Time to Time)

Revised from an article which first appeared in Schwimmvergnügen in 1993.

My new wife Peggy and I recently returned from the Grand Canyon where we tied the connubial knot on Yaqui Point - one meter from a 1-mile drop.


It has been calculated that if Man were to dig the Grand Canyon on his own, using conventional excavation equipment and methods, the cost of the project (at today's prices) would exceed the combined gross national product of every nation on Earth accumulated from the beginning of recorded history. Big job. Kind of makes killing the national debt look like weenie work.

So I find myself dangling my feet over the South Rim, looking at the mere sliver of green that is the Colorado River some 5400 feet below. There is a huge and eerie silence that accompanies the calm that settles over the brink just before sundown. The breeze dies, the crickets grow quiet and the squirrels cease their otherwise constant scurrying and chattering. This encourages reflection upon matters weighty and profound.


For the past six million years The River, aided by wind and rain, has slowly and methodically carved away at the earth. Rock by rock, pebble by pebble, grain by grain The River has moved an incomprehensible mass of rock away from what was once a vast mountain plateau.

Today, a weathered geologist might tell us that, given a specific formation of rock and earth and given a constant supply of water to flow across the terrain and given a sufficient number of ticks on the geologic clock, the Grand Canyon was inevitable. Yet I'm sure that, standing in that spot six million years ago watching the first trickle of water creep across the unscathed land, had we been privy to that sort of speculation we would, at best, have been skeptical.

Persistence in effort. Attention to detail. Patience in results. These were — are — qualities indispensable to The River in formation of The Canyon. In short, The Project has required no small amount of perseverance.

(You are wondering perhaps how this relates to swimming. So am I. But I spent quite a bit of time at the Big Ditch and, dadgumit, I feel like writing about it.)


While perched on the verge of The Canyon I was not interrupted by thoughts of such inconsequential matters as swimming. I did, however, dwell on grand and abstract concepts — how a seemingly miniscule force like that narrow ribbon of water more than a mile below me could keep on pluggin', day in and day out, for more than one hundred thousand lifetimes. Not once could it look up from its work at the end of a particularly long day and say with satisfaction “Gee, we knocked out a big chunk today, eh mate?” Nor could it gaze into the sunset and see the final destination on the horizon and think something like “OK, now we're more than half way there - it's all downhill from here!” In fact the only solace that river could take is to look over her shoulder every million years or so and see where she started, see how much progress she has made up to the moment and perhaps dream about where she might end up. (I am confident The River is a “her.” Men, Job included, haven't this kind of patience.)


Come to think of it, there is a parallel I can draw here. Perhaps if we think of the long-term process of improving your swimming as The Project. And think of your daily training and learning efforts as The River. Recall the indispensable qualities inherent in successful execution of The Project — persistence in effort, attention to detail, patience in results. Just as The Canyon was formed a little at a time, perfect strokes and world records are the result of cumulative efforts over the long haul.

Keep pluggin' and look over your shoulder from time to time. v

© H2Ouston Swims, Inc. 2000

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Emmett Hines is Director and Head Coach of H2Ouston Swims. He has coached competitive Masters swimming in Houston since 1981, was a Senior Coach for Total Immersion Swim Camps for many years, holds an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Certification, was selected as United States Masters Swimming’s Coach of the Year in 1993 and received the Masters Aquatic Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He recently overhauled his popular book, Fitness Swimming (Human Kinetics, publishers) and the second edition was released mid-2008. Fitness Swimming has been published in French (entitled Natation, pub. by Vigot), Spanish (entitled Natacion, pub. by Hispano Europea), Chinese (entitled Jianshenyouyong), Portuguese (Natacao Para Condicionamento Fisico, pub. by Manole)  and, soon, in Turkish and Italian. Currently Coach Hines coaches the H2Ouston Swims Masters group in Houston, TX and works privately with many clients. He can be reached for questions or comments at 713-748-SWIM or via email.

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