I associate the month of April with grief. The first few weeks are bookended with the anniversaries of two tragic events that occurred while I was studying at IU, though neither involved anyone I was intimately close to. The first is on April 7, the day that Madeline (Maddie) Spohr died in 2009. Her parents are friends of my brother and his wife – Maddie’s dad, Mike, and my brother were friends in college and each was best man for the other at their respective weddings. Maddie was born premature and with many health complications to come, the result of under-developed lungs, if I understand it correctly. During her short life, I followed her parents’ blogs about her story and their experiences raising her, from the NICU to their home. Maddie’s passing was tragic. I consider it a privilege to read Mike and Heather’s accounts of their experience with grief and the process of raising two more adorable and hilarious children.
Heather and Mike started a charity - Friends of Maddie -  to support families of children like Maddie. Together with their family and friends, they also raise a ton of money for the March of Dimes each year.

The second tragic event that I associate with April happened on April 20, 2006, the morning that five IU music students were killed in a plane crash on their way back to Bloomington from a rehearsal in another town. The five of them – all singers - were well known in the music school and their deaths utterly transformed the school for the rest of the term. Several courses canceled their finals, no one went to class the day after it happened, and especially since I was a singer, most of my friends and I spent the whole next week going to a different memorial service every day. It was rough, but it was also a remarkable time at IU. It felt so personal. It felt like everyone actually cared about each other. And it reminded us all that our grades and our recital dresses weren’t the most important things.

I mark both of these deaths each year in various private ways. I always donate to Heather and Mike’s March of Dimes team and I usually spend a few minutes on the 20th reflecting on each of the five IU students. I’m now older than they were when they died, which is hard to believe. From Heather’s writing, I gather that one of the most important things is to simply remember them. I think of these two events similarly, as they both involved children – even though the IU students were in their 20s – whose parents now live without them. Heather has written that the scariest thing now is that we’ll all forget Maddie, that no one will talk to her about Maddie, that we’ll all let April 7th pass without thinking about her. Truthfully, I think of Maddie and the victims of the plane crash often, not just in April, but I make a special effort on those days to remember what it was like then.

It’s always struck me that I associate April with grief, because I also associate April with life. It’s the time of year when the snow actually starts to melt and we see the first green shoots around campus. It’s the time of year when a lot of wildlife starts to return to Ontario (or pass through on the way further north). In our area, it’s the time when we regain hope that winter will truly end. More frequent sunny and warm days mean we all shake off our collective SADs and spend more time outside. I associate April with feeling alive again, and I try to remember that as I grieve and mark the premature passings of these people who were too young and so talented. I’m not grateful for their deaths, but I try to be grateful for the things I’ve learned from grieving them: finals aren’t the most important thing, grades don’t determine human worth. My sanity and health are worth more than a clean paper draft. This year, 5 years after Maddie’s passing and 8 years since the plane crash, I want to focus on the feeling of being alive and remember that it, too, is a privilege.


Masters Swimming Ontario Provincial Championships 2014

Last weekend John and I went to Windsor for the 2014 Masters Swimming Ontario Provincial Championship.

It was held at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Center, a brand new facility that really knocked my socks off. The pool was beautiful and there was a nice seating area above it with a lot of natural light. But, even more amazing, they also had this indoor water park in the next room:


I kind of wanted to ditch the meet and go hang out in there. If I were a kid in Windsor I would want to be there 24/7.

My first event, 100m free, was on Saturday morning. My time: 1:17:11. Faster than my seed time but basically the same as I swam two weeks ago at a time trial. It's hard to make big improvements in this distance in a period of weeks. Every second means a lot in the short distances so I was pleased that I was able to maintain the same time as the time trial. Over all, I've dropped over two and a half minutes in that event over the course of the year.

In the afternoon I also swam the 50m free in 34:08. That was a drop of more than 3 and a half minutes over the course of the season, but again, the same basic time I'd achieved a couple weeks prior. It's even harder to drop seconds in the 50m free and I'm happy that I maintained the same time. That race didn't go quite as I'd hoped. I only planned on taking one breath on the first length, but I got too much water in my mouth and had to take two more before the turn. But I did as well as I could.

50m start:

50m after the turn:

The final event on Saturday was the 400m free, which I entered sort of on a whim. I wanted to do about 4 events, mostly on Saturday, and it seemed like the lesser of the other evils. In high school, I only ever swam this event once, after which my coach and I agreed that it was just not the event for me. But things change. The shorter, faster distances seem to get harder to maintain as I get older. As my current coach, Alex, pointed out, our triathlon club training is geared more toward longer distances so it's no wonder that this distance is starting to agree with me.
In the fall, at a time trial held at practice, I swam the 400m in 7:30. About 3 weeks before Provincials, I swam it in 6:35 and I was shocked and thrilled with the huge drop. Then, about 2 weeks before, I swam 6:07 at a time trial, so I was hoping to come in around the same time (especially since the two other times had basically stayed the same). Instead, I came in at 6:00:07. Third place in my age group! They organized the heats for this event by seed time (instead of by age) so my 7:30 seed time put me in a very slow heat. I lapped the other people in the heat more than once, but I knew it wouldn't effect the over all place until all the 30-34 swimmers had finished. But after I learned that I got 3rd place, I went to the lobby to collect my medal.

I'm still shocked by the 400. It was never my event. I was never a distance person (and in a lot of ways I still prefer the mental aspect of the shorter races). But this one has changed my mind. In large part, I think the improvement comes from my coach, Alex, who gave me a new strategy for the 400. It goes like this:
150 "easy speed," just maintaining something fast but holding back a bit
100 build, increasing speed
150 everything you have left.

I think I can work on this to improve my time and go below the 6 minute mark. I think I'm still sandbagging a bit too much at the beginning (all the distance stuff still seems so new). But mentally this just makes it so much easier and I had enough left to really haul ass on the last 50 meters.

This picture is from just after I finished. If you expand the pic, you can probably see my name on the black and white screen up top. Only three times are listed because only three of us were done and mine has the (1) next to it. Woohoo!

My final event was the 100m IM on Sunday morning. I swam it in 1:30:04. That was probably less than a second slower than I swam it two weeks before, but I had to just let it go. Competing in short spurts with long stretches in between was much harder mentally than I'm used to right now. It's still a drop of almost 3 minutes over the course of the year and I have to feel good about that.

This year has been tough, mentally and physically.  Since my dissertation proposal was approved in May I've been writing as fast as possible and I've felt the pressure of the clock as I try to finish my degree. I also haven't made as much progress as I would have liked in terms of healing my stress fracture. After 6 months without running I went to the doctor, who really didn't have much more to say. I've had an MRI and I'm in physical therapy, and I just have to wait until it feels better. Not running has been hard in some ways - I missed doing the fall races and running in the beautiful fall weather (although I can't say I was sorry to miss running in the horrible Winter we've had). I'd still like to be able to run with the dog. But honestly, I'm kind of over it. I kind of don't care anymore if I get to run again. I'd just like it to not hurt while I'm walking around. My PT likes to hear that because it means I won't run again until I'm absolutely ready, but it feels more like apathy than patience.

In light of all that, returning to swimming and discovering the Triathlon Club have both been such blessings this year. I sacrifice much less for swimming than I did for running, in terms of injuries and time, and I get a lot more in return. It's so apparent that I'm a much better and more efficient swimmer than I ever was a runner. Swimming in meets has been fun, but I also get so much enjoyment and stress relief just by getting in the water. I'm grateful that I've been able to do that this year. Plus I've made new friends on the Triathlon Club and I've gotten to experience some multi-sport events as part of a relay team. If I can run in the fall, then I'll participate in those events as an individual, and that would be nice. But I can still enjoy masters swimming without all of the physical pain I had to endure to run long distances.

Swimming all the time has had a visible affect on my body. I'm not as lean as I was when I ran all the time and it's been hard to understand that as it's happened. In the past I had used my body weight to determine how healthy I was and I've been challenged to measure my health in other ways this year, while still trying to maintain a healthy weight. The Provincial meet was interesting on that front, too. Lots of the participants are older - I think the oldest woman was 88 and she swam the 200m free! - and you know old ladies are uninhibited in the locker room! I saw more naked old ladies than...I normally do. I also saw some women much closer to my age and even a few years younger who were clearly competitive swimmers all their lives and were built like tanks. Impressive, strong tanks built from pure muscle. They weren't thin, either. It occurred to me that they probably have trouble shopping for clothes, too. It was really encouraging to see these women who didn't fit the conventional feminine body type but who were absolutely killing it in the pool.

John and I were both way too impressed with Windsor in this way that makes me think it's time to leave London. Windsor seemed to draw more money from tourism, being a border town, and that meant more interesting restaurants and bars than we have in London (of course, if I lived there for a year I might change my mind). We ate at some fun restaurants: The Loose Goose (great happy hour specials), Carrots and Dates Cafe (perfect mid-day swim meet veg food), and Capri's Pizza. Sharing an excellent pizza and a bottle of wine while watching House Hunters was the perfect activity for Saturday night after a day of competition. John also enjoyed a trip to Salute Espresso in between the morning and afternoon events. We also had a great brunch at the Twisted Apron on Sunday before leaving town.

Just before dinner on Saturday we went to the tap room of the Walkerville Brewing Co. This picture obviously doesn't do this beer any justice, but I had the milk stout and it was pretty great. We were impressed with everything we tried. The only one I didn't get to try was the IPA, but the Kolsch, the lager, and the milk stout were all A+. The brewery is fairly new so they are still in the process of getting ready to distribute. They said they expect to have cans in the LCBO by this summer and I would definitely buy their beer.

The Provincial meet was the last big meet of the year for the masters swimming community. In the mean time, there's a more informal summer meet in London that I hope to do in July. And this weekend is the Western Triathln Club Spring Fling - 500m swim + 5K run or 750 swim +7K run, or a relay. I'm swimming in a relay and I'm thrilled that I get to participate. After I swim I'll be there to time other participants and help keep things running smoothly. I didn't know I was swimming in it until two days before and it may be hard to compete two weekends in a row. But the point is just to have fun and get more points for Western so I'm pretty excited!

Also, classes end for me on Monday which means I can finally write at home in my py-jams instead of coming into campus to teach. Hooray for "summer" break!