Originally from beautiful Vancouver Island, I started my swimming career due to a physician?s prescription for asthma - clearly this was back in the ?olden days?...In any case, for me it was a sport I excelled in almost immediately. Perhaps it was a good connection to the water but more likely it was something I was just good at, unlike my tries at most popular ?ball sports?. My first real coach was Peter Bradstreet who now runs the U of Brock swimming program, and he taught me mostly how to enjoy and succeed in the sport. I plateau'd at Division 2s in the early 80?s then basically gave up swimming as I ventured out into the world. I returned some 15 years later, swimming to regain fitness and as a maintenance program against ?middle age spread? and general aging. I discovered for the first time technique in my strokes and began a process of exploring technique in all 4 strokes ? I?d always been great at fly and IM. Later, I joined Masters swimming and found my way into helping other swimmers with stroke technique. Oh, and I ?found? Total Immersion? too, which enlightened me on technique for distance freestyle. I?m now coaching for the Downtown Swim Club, Oannes Swims and am directing Oannes Athletics which aligns triathletes, competitive & solo swimmers with professional qualified coaches for spectacular training events.
Birthplace: Vancouver B.C.
Number of Years in Swimming: 20 years competitively, in both Age Group and Masters
First Swim Club: Vernon Kokanee Swim Club
Favourite Stroke: Butterfly?the most impressive stroke of them all!
Preferred Training Toy: I love my Zura Alpha Fins. Perfect in design, light to carry and you can walk with them on deck!
Favourite Set: 12 x 300 ? Free Pull with focus on 3, 5 7, 9 breathing.
Favourite Pool: The U of T pool is currently my fave - great water, not overly chlorinated and the showers just go on and on with a never ending (or so it seems) supply of hot water!
Favourite Post-Swim Meal: For meets it has to be porridge with walnuts and raisons.
Hobbies: Cycling, cross country running, making costumes and fundraising.
Current Reading: I?m an Egyptian buff ? The Book of the Dead.
Favourite Sports Movie: Sunset Boulevard
What brought you back to swimming in 1992 after a 10-year absence?
Suddenly, it just struck me that I could swim again. For the longest time, it didn?t occur to me. I was working in a night club and my life schedule was more late night, which was exciting for a while and swimming just didn?t seem to fit into this new life. Finally, I guess I just started back in the water and realized that I really needed swimming in my life again.
Who is Oannes, and how did you first come up with the idea for a coaching business?
When I started coaching and needed to have a business, I naturally wanted a name that had something to do with water and that was a bit odd to pronounce and spell?thinking these are ways people will remember the name. In searching ?water gods? I came across a Mesopotamian mythological character who, while dressed in a fish carcass, came from the sea to teach mankind the basic arts of civilization: agriculture, metallurgy, architecture, navigation, mathematics and medicine. Perfect! As far as I was concerned ?Oannes? filled all my criteria. Further, it creates curiosity as people are always asking, ?Who is Oannes??
How would you characterize your coaching philosophy, and personal coaching style?
I think of myself as a Stroke Technician and not so much an overall coach; I?m a specialist. Strong stroke technique was always mandatory for me as I was so much smaller (physically) than any of the swimmers in my clubs. I had the same endurance as they did based on our training program, but had to step it up in the technique department. Creating efficient, economical, precise technique is my philosophy. This takes a lot of focus. My coaching style is very relaxed. I?m not a ?yeller? ? always hated it as a young swimmer and swimmers can?t hear you anyway. Since I mostly coach adults I can be relaxed and rational with them. I want my swimmers to swim smart, not just fast.
You?ve been the head coach of Toronto?s Downtown Swim Club for almost a decade now ? tell us a little about the club and what you enjoy most about it.
Yes, I?m into my tenth year the DSC. When I started, the club specifically outlined that their social aspect was more important than a highly competitive program; I was drawn to the idea that there could be both. Furthermore, I appreciated that in the Toronto area, with so many Masters clubs, there was one club that called itself GAY. Although I think that to be the best swimmer you can be, you should not marginalize yourself, I understand that everyone needs to feel a sense of belonging. Gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer swimmers have felt unaccepted in most sports, including swimming. Those that founded the DSC really wanted to create a space where this was not an issue and they accomplished it. As the Head Coach I like to think I just coach swimmers and in fact, this is the absolute truth. Gay swimmers have the same training and technical needs as any other swimmer. Ten years later, I?m glad to report that I don?t know which of the swimmers on the club are straight/gay or otherwise as the club has developed to be much more diverse then when it started. I would imagine that when a straight swimmer first swims with us that it?s just a regular Masters swim club. This pleases me as I think meeting 4 times a week to swim is the real point of the sport.
What?s the process you use for evaluating and enhancing the programs you deliver?
I suppose ?monitoring results? is the right answer but?in teaching proper technique to a new swimmer, this can?t be accomplished without time. When you teach technique 1-on-1 the way I do, I don?t always get the opportunity to see the end result. I do what I can within the 10 hours or so contracted with the swimmer. So, for me, I first assess the swimmer?s current skill. I evaluate what I can impart to the swimmer in the time contracted, you know, the skill that this particular swimmer will be capable of ?getting? while forecasting that when they ?get? these skills, what will they be ready to ?get? next. I enhance this by imparting confidence to the athlete. I try to give them tools to monitor their own progress by swimming cognitively (in their head). I?ve seen lots of success in swimmers I?ve met again, years after our sessions, who?ve continued to work hard on their skill.
Tell us about your Aquaphobia classes.
So interesting. What amazes me most is that most athletes who step up to the plate about their fear of water just need to know more about how to be ?at one with? the water. Breathing, floating balancing, kicking and sculling are, to me, basic swimming skills ? most of which are not taught at all or properly. For example, control over breathing issues allows you to move forward into floating, while understanding how to float being balanced in the water comes into play. Once athletes are in control of their breathing, and are floating and have some control over balance in the water, then they are open to learning about how the body moves in the water, as in kicking/sculling. I do all I can with these athletes to offer a positive experience in the water, each time we meet. Sure, there are clients who have a true phobia about water for many different reasons and for them, we have to work out these issues before and along the way to tackling the water. For the most part, I create a space where it?s ?OK? for my adult athletes to have a fear of the unknown. We work on understanding and experiencing how our bodies react and move in the water. From here, they can become swimmers.
What were some of the key points you took away from Total Immersion? training?
TI technology is great. Terry has found a clear, concise dialogue around teaching swimming. I like that kicking is faced up front in TI, not so much for speed as it is to be sure the action is offering 100% forward momentum - not inhibiting forward momentum. This idea of slipping through the water is tangible and when attained is remarkable. Swimming deep or downhill is a remarkable feeling that, when mastered, can be done with ease and comfort. In TI, swimming is presented like choreography where there are a series of steps, sequences of action, and with timing. Learn the ?routine? and you are swimming an easy, efficient, economical stroke. Lastly, I like the idea of swimming slowly until you know the routine perfectly and then just doing it all faster. It all makes good sense.
You?re a very busy guy, with a successful coaching business, writing for various publications plus organizing swim vacations and training events?how do you keep it all together?
I suppose I?m doing so much in order to keep it interesting for me?Coaching a club with regular athletes is quite different from doing private 1-on-1 sessions, and I like them both. Writing allows me to gain confidence with the subject matter I?m teaching to athletes. This feels essential. Swim vacations are really about getting out into the world and out of our local pools. The thing that makes it easy for me is the athletes who come are excited about it all.
Tell us about your upcoming swim vacation/training camp in Margarita Isle, Venezuela (www.oannesathletics.com), and what goes into planning such an experience.
The planning for this event is amazingly simple. We?ve found an all-inclusive airfare and accommodation package that has a great outdoor 50m pool and we just add a coaching package. Swimming twice daily generally causes athletes to need only two other things: food and sleep. Margarita Isle, in a way, is perfect as there aren?t a lot of distractions (tours, sights to see, shopping, etc.) so it?s easy to just focus on swimming. This is perfect for an athletic vacation. This camp has run 3 years now at this resort and it has proven to be a good fit. Some people come thinking they?ll get to explore a new country, when in fact, these types of vacations are more about training in a new beautiful environment, learning some new skill/technique or just a new perspective about their sport in general. I?m excited to return and hit the water in January 2010!
What?s the value of attending a swim camp, versus conventional day-to-day training?
As Masters swimmers we generally train year around. Attending a camp, such as the Margarita swim camp, shakes that routine up. New place, new pool, new lane mates, new sets, new coaching perspective ? makes swimming exciting again.
What makes a training event ?spectacular??
Location, pool, weather, clean fresh air, swim training that teaches you something new/exciting, and? one of those fancy drinks at the end of the day!
You?re primarily a distance and open-water swimmer ? give us your thoughts on what seems to be a lack of distance events at meets these days.
Naturally, I want to see more events, but first I think we have to do what we can to promote and attend the events that are out there. This means thinking more about swimming events within 1000 miles of our hometown and not just in our hometown. With the Internet and email, we are (more and more) getting the message that there are quite a few events out there. So, yes, we could always have more events closer to our hometown but this means that people have to start considering hosting events. The other thing I?ll boldly state (thanks for the forum) is that swimmers have to REGISTER in ADVANCE for these types of events and not just at the last minute. Organizers need this! I?d like to arrange a straight course 2km, 5km, 8km and 10km event at Cherry Beach in Toronto and am working on it.
Any advice on how swimmers can best prepare for distance events and/or open water races?
Yes, the biggies here are to train your distance(s) and IN open water. By doing these, you take out the variables like, ?Can I swim the distance?? and ?Open water is scary.? With these two out of the way, you?re ready to swim fast and with confidence.
What is your personal philosophy or credo?
Personally? be kind, thoughtful, responsible and conscientious. Swim training offers a place to work each of these things out for me. When swimming at the Y or with my team, being kind to those training in the lane is easy and feels right. There is no room for aggravation in the pool.
Be thoughtful in what you are all doing ? be focused and don?t just do mindless swimming. We are each responsible for our state of mind while training to be sure we are our best in the pool. I know that being there to train with focus creates a better training environment for everyone. And we all need to do what is ?right? by each other. When these ideals spill out of the pool into work, home, love, I believe that they make us all/me a better person.
Who inspires you?
Naturally, all our sports heroes are on the list but true inspiration comes, I think, from it being close and tangible. I?m inspired by Richard, who makes his way to Aquaphobia sessions even though his stomach is in knots all day in anticipation. Jennifer, who comes back to swimming with a goal of going from a size 18 to a 14 over a 1-year period. Alan, who finally discovered that elusive ?catch? at the top of his freestyle stroke and who then realizes that it works in breast and butterfly too. Amy, who discovered that pushing off the wall deep is more efficient than plowing at the surface. Lionel who is frightened of diving off the block but who stands up and dives in, all for knowing that by doing so he will get over his fear and learn to embrace the freedom of flying over the water like the other swimmers. Donna, who can't seem to become faster but who attends all the workouts and works at finding her breakthrough to speed. And anyone with the goal of enlightening our swimming culture.