Swimming, The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever

I love swimming.  I started competing at 6 years old, swam in college, and transitioned to open water marathon swims in the years before starting medical school.  As a resident I don’t get to swim as often as I would like, but I take every opportunity available to get a dose of chlorinated endorphins.

Initially going to swim practice was a drag.  I wanted to play with my friends after school, not go to swim practice.  I used to try to get out of it, but my dad was firm and I dutifully, though a little resentfully, went to practice every day.  When I started to get a taste of success by the age of 8, Dad didn’t need to push me anymore.  I started double workouts (2 sessions in one day) when I was ten years old.  People told me I would burn out, but here I am in my 30s, still at it.  In the water I feel strong, powerful, and beautiful.  The rest of the world melts away, narrowing to the sound of my breath, the water flowing past, and making the next interval.  A lot of creativity and problem solving blossoms during a swimming workout – in fact, it was during a swim session that I had the idea for starting this blog.  No matter what else is going on in my life, swimming brings me joy and perspective.  My mother once commented that, “You never look as happy as you do when you are in the water.”

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Smiley Swimmer!

With that introduction, I am going to share why I think swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever.  Hopefully I’ll make a convert out of you…or at least talk you into getting your kids involved in this amazing sport!

Reason #10:  It’s not a popularity contest. 

Swimming is an egalitarian sport.  Beyond the clock, there are no judges in swimming.  There isn’t a points system or subjective evaluation criteria.  There is no “selection committee” for the US Olympic Swim Team.  There is no situation where two athletes compete dazzlingly well and someone else decides the winner.  It doesn’t matter how pretty you are, how popular you are, where you train, who your coach is, or how smart you are.  All that matters is who gets their hand on the wall first.

Reason #9:  Swimmers are nice. 

Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time in our own heads, and therefore crave human interaction.  Maybe it’s because we’ve been beaten into submission so often by killer workouts and the only thing that got us through was camaraderie.  Or maybe it’s because the nature of the sport involves sharing space and getting over the occasional foot tap or arm whack with a “sorry dude!” and an “it’s cool!”  Whatever the reason, swimmers are a really friendly lot.  We will strike up conversations with pretty much anyone.  Complete strangers end up doing workouts together.  When we join a new team or training group, we are immediately part of the family.  And we love sharing the joy of swimming and getting new people to try this awesome sport.

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Denver Dawn Patrol! My training group in medical school.

Reason #8:  Swimmers are fun!

Work hard, play hard.  When you don’t get much time off, you tend to make the most of the opportunities that arise.  Moreover, you have to have a playful disposition to get through the hours of training.  Swimming tends to breed outgoing people who aren’t afraid to be a little silly.

Reason #7: Swimming teaches valuable life lessons.

Success in swimming is all about what you put into it.  Again, there are no judges or selection committees.  Popularity, socioeconomic status, and appearances can’t help you in this sport.  If you want success, you have to work hard.  You have to overcome obstacles, push through setbacks, and pick yourself up after failures.  There’s no one who can do it for you.  Swimming teaches you how to set goals and go after them.  Swimming teaches mental tenacity, determination, and perseverance.  It fosters ambition and competitiveness, the audacity to dream big and the patience to take the multitude of small steps required to get there.  It teaches camaraderie and teamwork, trust and faith.  Swimming, especially while growing up, is a practice run at life.  By the time you arrive on the threshold of adulthood, you have experience setting goals, working hard, balancing commitments, shouldering discomfort, dealing with failure, and refusing to give up.  You have grit.

Reason #6: Swimming prepares you to be a Resident.

Honestly, after 15 years of getting up at 4am to dive into a cold pool and workout for 2 hours, waking up at 5am to round is relatively cushy.  What, all I have to do is go to work?  And I get to keep my warm clothes?  Sweet!  My husband, also a resident, frequently grumbles about how alert and oriented I am at 5am just moments after my alarm goes off.  If you want your kid to be a doc, swimming isn’t a bad way to prepare her for #residencylife.

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OB/GYN Residents: we work a lot, but still have time to smile!

Reason #5.  The pool isn’t a bad place to meet people.

I will refer you back to #9 and #8 as a way of explaining that I have been asked on more dates on the pool deck than any other venue.  Swimmers honestly are interesting, nice people.  Moreover, when you meet a fellow swimmer, you know you are meeting someone who shares your values and understands your lifestyle.  It’s much, much better than meeting someone at a bar.

Reason #4: Swimming lets you travel.

Whether for national competitions, international meets, training trips, or open water swimming events, swimming is definitely a way to see the world.  Because of swimming I had visited the following places by the age of 25: Alaska, England, Wales, Scotland, Australia, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Aruba, Maui, and France.  Some of my friends who achieved even greater success in competitive swimming had traveled even more than I by the time they hit their mid-20s.

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Hiking in Maui after the Maui Channel Swim.

If you get into open water swimming, you also get to see things most people don’t see.  One of the neatest experiences I had was swimming around Treasure Island and under the Bay Bridge in the San Francisco Bay while training to swim the English Channel.  Looking up at the underside of the bridge I thought to myself, how many people really get to appreciate this view?  One of my 10 year vacation goals is to do a swimming tour of the Greek islands.  You can check out an example of these aquatic vacation opportunities here.

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Swimming by Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay.

Reason #3: Swimming just feels good. 

There’s something special about being in the water that is truly restorative.  Maybe it’s because our lives begin in the salt water of our mother’s womb.  Maybe it’s the fact that swimming is a total body workout that gets the blood pumping and the endorphins flowing.  Maybe it’s just the peace that comes from shutting out the rest of the world.   Whatever the reason, finishing a swim leaves you feeling wonderful and refreshed, whether you are pushing yourself hard or just doing a few leisurely laps.  I enjoy all sorts of exercise and activity – running, high intensity interval training, hiking, yoga, lifting – but nothing leaves me with the same feeling of simultaneous vibrance and languor as swimming.

Reason #2:  Swimming is a family sport.

My grandfather was a swimming legend (more on him below).  My father swam in college and went on to become a triathlete, and my uncle was also a triathlete, completing IRONMAN Kona despite being worn down by chemotherapy.  My mother learned to swim while she was pregnant with yours truly.  My sister swam until she transformed into a rowing prodigy in high school.  When I was a kid we would show up at open water events and all of us – my grandfather, my dad, my uncle, my sister, and me – would sign up for the races.  My childhood revolved around weekends at swim meets, which were basically big social events interspersed with bursts of competition. The younger siblings of my friends were all friends, and the parents of my friends were my parents’ friends.

My husband does triathlons and sometimes comes to the pool with me.  My parents still swim, and I often meet up with them at their sports club on weekends.  My mom and I grab lanes next to each other – we are ridiculously adorable – and swim next to each other.  I am destined to become a swim mom who takes her kids to swim practice and then works out with the master’s team a few lanes over.  It’s all in the family 🙂

Reason #1: You can, literally, keep swimming until you die.  

As swimming is a low-impact activity, you can continue to swim and even compete well after most other athletes need to give up their sport (how many 90 year old gymnasts do you see?)  My grandfather, Gary Weisenthal, was nationally ranked in his prime, and would have competed in the 1940 Olympics as part of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay, were the Olympic Games not cancelled in that year.  He competed in Masters Swimming well into his 90s, and was still participating in distance open water races into his 80s.  I remember that the first year I competed in the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim 3 mile event at age 13, he completed the 10 mile race at age 81.  He was a Masters Swimming All American 20 times.  He still holds world records in Masters Swimming for the 100 meter and 200 meter backstroke for age group 95-99, and he was still swimming the week he died at 101 years old.  He was an amazing man, beloved by all who knew him, and a true inspiration for me.  I always wanted to be like him, and I, too, intend to keep swimming for the rest of my life.

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My Old Grand Dad circa 2013, age 99.  He was the brightest light in any room.

In conclusion, swimming is The Best, Most Fabulous, Sport Ever.  It does wonders for the mind, body, and soul, and it is something you can keep doing forever.  If you aren’t a swimmer yet, I hope you give it a try sometime – maybe I’ll see you in the water!

 

 

Stoic & Genuine

The Denver restaurant scene has always been impressively good.  Most of my favorite dining experiences have been in Denver, and it’s hard to fight the urge to go to the same favorites whenever we visit.  Still, Denver seems to have been stepping up its culinary game ever since we left, and there are a number of delicious-looking new places cropping up.  As such, we have been making ourselves branch out more often.  While it is almost painful to skip over classic favorites such as EDGE, Il Posto, Root Down, and Shanahan’s, we have for the most part been rewarded in these endeavors.

We keep wanting to check out Beatrice and Woodsley, but this popular joint was fully booked on Thursday when we got around to looking at reservations for Saturday night.  Perusing the various offerings on Open Table, I chose Stoic and Genuine, a seafood restaurant that opened in the newly renovated Union Station.  I was attracted by their offering of caviar and an extensive oyster list, but further examining the menu I discovered I would gladly sample virtually everything on it (which, being someone who doesn’t eat any red meat or pork, is saying something).

Saturday night was the night of a Rockie’s game, so we opted to take the light rail into Denver instead of slogging through traffic and circling aimlessly for parking.  It was a pleasant experience and made for excellent people watching.  Our train deposited us at Union Station, and it was a pleasant stroll through the warm Denver night to arrive at Stoic and Genuine.

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On the light rail to Stoic and Genuine.

So how do I say this nicely…Union Station used to be a little bit of a…dump.  The last time I was there was maybe 3-4 years ago, when other than some construction there wasn’t much happening.  Needless to say I was utterly shocked when we rounded a corner and the facade of Union Station came into view.  The place is now utterly gorgeous!  The main building soars majestically overhead, with several restaurants complete with outdoor dining areas dotting the walkway.  A pretty and fun series of jumping fountains graces the sidewalk, and kids were chasing each other around the jets of water laughing merrily.  People bustled about or simply lounged, taking in the surroundings.  Apparently, Union Station was now a happening place to be.  Well done, Denver!

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The new Union Station at night.

Stoic and Genuine was one of those restaurants with a patio seating area looking out at the bustling walks and jumping fountains.  We entered to find the kitchen area and raw bar ahead with a relatively intimate dining area to the left and a nautical-themed driftwood bar to the right.  Dark wood tables lined a wall with a blue couch and pleasant, soft, blue-tinged lighting.  The decor accents included old timey diving attire, metal chandeliers, and rusted mirrors that looked as though they could have been pulled out of the sea.  It was casual and yet elegant.

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Stoic and Genuine interior.

We were seated promptly and selected a Patz and Hall Chardonnay from their wine list.  I wanted to start with the caviar, which we ordered first and then continued to peruse the delectable menu.  I should at this point present my one criticism of Stoic and Genuine:  the service was unimpressive.  The caviar took forever to plate (what, did they have to go harvest it fresh from the sea?); I had to ask for a wine chiller for our bottle of Chardonnay (I mean, isn’t that Wine Service 101?); they couldn’t seem to get straight which oysters they had and which they were out of (I had to change my order 3 different times because they kept making mistakes); and empty plates were left to sit in front of us for far too long (we had to finally flag someone down to please clear them).  So that aspect was annoying.  The food though…

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Black River Oscietra caviar served with lemon crème frâiche.

The caviar, while it did take literally 30 minutes to serve, was beautifully prepared.  Unfortunately by the time it arrived we were borderline desperate with hunger, and the delicate morsels didn’t last very long.  A more polished me would have savored them with less haste.  I can comment, at least, that they were tasty.  I loved the twist on the crème frâiche – I think lemon just makes everything better – and admittedly I was scraping it off the plate with the mother-of-pearl spoon.  And I don’t apologize 🙂

We next sampled the Spanish Octopus appetizer.  I love octopus – raw, grilled, fancied up, it’s hard not to like.  This particular dish was grilled and flavored with molé, cilantro, and lime, and while not my favorite octopus dish ever, it was definitely in the top 5.  We moved on to salads next; I had the Panzanella, bursting with flavor from the heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, and smoked Ricotta, while Brian selected the S&G House.  Both were artfully plated and delicious.

For his main course, Brian chose the Alaskan Halibut with English peas and black truffle crème fraiche.  They did a fantastic job with this dish.  The fish was golden and flakey, and paired beautifully with the black truffle and peas.

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Alaskan Halibut. Brian was actually jealous of me – note his two oysters on the side.

Brian’s dish was attractively plated and I was almost jealous.  Almost.  Until our server brought me my main course: a dozen oysters that I didn’t have to share with anyone!   While I will admit, I have seen more attractive presentations, these were some of the best oysters I have ever tasted.  They were fresh and sweet, and the champagne mignonette was perfectly balanced.

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Sometimes, you just gotta have a dozen oysters.

Brian, envious of my oysters (which I staunchly refused to share), ultimately ordered a few of his own.  We finished the meal by sharing an angel food cake dessert with fresh berries and basil meringues.  It was light and delicious, and the basil meringues were surprising and delightful.

I loved the ambiance of the restaurant space, and I thought the food was excellent.  All in all, it was a pleasant dining experience.  I would definitely recommend checking out Stoic & Genuine, with a few tips:

  1. Don’t arrive starving.  Maybe their service will improve, but in case it doesn’t, be prepared to be patient.  A glass of wine (or a bottle) definitely helps with this.
  2. The portions are very small (which is how we were able to sample so many things comfortably).  As such, most of the dishes at Stoic and Genuine are not very share-worthy.
  3. Get the oysters.  If you do nothing else…get the oysters!
  4. It is a popular restaurant, and reservations are a good idea.  However, there appeared to be space at the bar, so even without reservations a couple would probably not have a problem.

 

An Unexpected Colorado Mountain Escape

Soo….August, not such a good month in my little blogging world.  The balance of my life tilted more toward work and less toward, well, anything else.  September promises to be better, so I’ll kick things off with my discovery of a lovely little retreat in a little corner of the Colorado mountains.

I grew up in Southern California, and while I’ve lived a lot of interesting places – Bath (England), Boston, and San Francisco – I’ve never felt at home away from the sunny beaches and majestic palm trees of my youth.  That is, until I moved to Denver, Colorado for medical school.  I fell in love with the beautiful mountains and ubiquitous parks, the outdoorsy spirit of Coloradans, and the relentless sunshine that lightens the heart even in the middle of winters mild enough for my frail Southern California constitution.  It was also in Colorado where I fell in love with the man who became my husband and his wonderful, welcoming family.  Colorado now feels as much my home as SoCal, and while I’m happy to be back in Southern California for residency, I look forward to every opportunity to return to my second home.

The most recent opportunity came in the form of the best of celebrations, a wedding!  Brian’s cousin was getting married in Granby, Colorado, and we looked forward to the trip with alacrity.  We merrily made our travel plans for the last flight out on a Thursday night, thinking, what could possibly go wrong?  This is how we came to find ourselves at 3am the morning of the wedding at the Advantage Rental Car agency at Denver International Airport- after a full day of work, a 3 hour trek to LAX in rush hour traffic, a 2 hour flight delay (because LAX, alas, is the antithesis of “efficient”), and a 2 hour flight to Denver through turbulence – facing our vehicle for the next 2 days:

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The Tank. (Photo taken hours later – the full scale was difficult to appreciate in the dark).

 I raised an eyebrow at Brian.  He gaped back at me in exhausted consternation.  “I swear, I ordered a Camry!” he exclaimed.  Well, obnoxiously large as it was for the two of us and our 2 carry-on bags, The Tank was at least spacious – and we came to appreciate it.  Regardless, it was 4am before we finally crawled wearily into bed, waking up 4 hours later to drive the 85 miles from Denver to Granby.  Needless to say, not the most graceful way to start the weekend.

Anyway.  Granby is a tiny rural mountain town just past the ski resort Winter Park on US-40.  It’s a beautiful drive through the Arapahoe National Forest along the windy roads over Berthoud Pass.  It would likely be a great place to flee in order to wait out the Apocalypse, but at first glance Granby doesn’t exactly scream “vacation destination.” In terms of lodging options, there aren’t many.  Most places are vacation rentals primarily utilized during ski season, requiring a 2 night stay in order to book.  Unwilling to pay for a night we wouldn’t be present to inhabit, I went on my trusty Airbnb account and booked a room at a bed and breakfast called Aspen Hollow.  The reviews on Airbnb were very good, and Marilyn and Tommy looked to be a jolly couple from their photo.  However, as we drove off the paved road and onto a gravel path with signs stating “caution, cattle may be on road,” I started to get a little nervous.  We seemed to be driving off into the wilderness along a lonely road away from civilization…which was confirmed for me when my cell and internet connections abruptly died.  Undaunted, we drove on, and I was suddenly grateful for the perceived security of The Tank.

We stumbled upon Aspen Hollow almost by accident.  There is a gate barring the road onto the property in order to keep cows off of their land.  We opened and closed the gate and drove up the driveway, which opened onto a beautiful house overlooking Frasier Valley. The door opened and Marilyn, a perky little white-haired woman with the sweetest smile you ever saw, greeted us in a strong Southern accent, welcoming us into their home.

We entered into the Great Room and my jaw dropped.  It was gorgeous.  The high ceiling soared gracefully overhead, adding drama to the first impression of the room.  One wall was floor to ceiling windows looking out over the valley.  Deep, rich wood gleamed everywhere.  Plush sofas faced a striking fireplace and the most beautiful table I have ever seen.  Made of an inverted stump of a 4000 year old pine, tiers of glass floated on the polished roots with 2 eagle heads carved into them.

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Furniture as Art.

Clever, tasteful details of décor added to the luxury of the surroundings.  It was the sort of room begging for a roaring fire and a bottle of wine with lively conversation while lounging on the couches with friends.

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Aspen Hollow great room. The picture really doesn’t do it justice.

We were shown into our room on the main floor which opened with a numerical punch code – no keys to keep track of here!  The room was large, luxurious, and beautifully decorated in turquoise and copper accents.  A king bed stood in the center with a huge closet and an en suite bathroom tiled in stone.  Downstairs was a common room with a big screen TV, more plush, comfy couches, a small workout area, a Jacuzzi, a pool table, and a kitchenette with a refrigerator stocked with soda and beer.  Going back upstairs, we walked out onto the deck with that spectacular view.  It would be a lovely place to sip coffee on a crisp morning or a glass of wine on a warm evening.

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The deck overlooking Frasier Valley.

Marilyn and Tommy built the place themselves, and it is obvious to see that a lot of love and pride have gone into their home.  The place boasts 6 guest rooms and an attached 3 bed, 2 bath condo with a full kitchen and a separate entrance.  It’s just spectacular!  Marilyn was beyond attentive to our every need.  Anything we asked for she produced instantly.  The hospitality was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

We hurried to get ready for the wedding, which was a lovely event.  The ceremony took place at the top of a mountain on Granby Ranch – we took the chairlift to the top!  The backdrop for Drew and Tyler’s ceremony was breath-taking, and we managed to get a few photos of our own taken prior to the start.  It was easy to see why they chose to hold their wedding in Granby!  We rode the chairlift back down to the event center at the bottom for the reception, which included drinks and delicious food and dancing – and the painful realization that I am terrible at the game of Corn Hole.

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The summit, and the backdrop for the ceremony – just gorgeous.

Tired from our travels, we retired early and made our way back to Aspen Hollow.  Marilyn and Tommy were waiting up for us, and we spent some time chatting in that beautiful great room before turning in.  We awoke in the morning to the aroma of fresh coffee and a gentle stream of peaceful, quiet music beyond our door.  We went out to breakfast with the other guests of the B&B.  I swear, Marilyn and Tommy brewed the best coffee I have ever had.  Marilyn thinks it’s the quality of the water, as she assured me the coffee itself is nothing fancy.  She served dainty fruit cups with a side of a caramel yogurt sauce that was delicious drizzled over the fruit.  This was followed by berry muffins, southwestern frittatas with homemade salsa, and melon.  And of course, fresh orange juice and more coffee!  Marilyn’s cooking was delicious, the food plentiful.  I enjoyed getting to know the other guests, as well as our hosts, who chatted with us as they passed around more food and filled our juice and water glasses.  I was actually a little sad when breakfast ended and it was time to pack up our things and head back to Denver.

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View from the deck in the morning sun.

Aspen Hollow is the perfect mountain retreat for those who want to unplug and unwind while still being surrounded by comfort and beauty.  Initially, I thought Granby would not be my choice for a vacation destination; however, I can see myself returning to Aspen Hollow in the future for a longer stay.  There looks to be excellent hiking right outside their door, and I would love to spend some time on their deck, reading or writing or just taking in the view.  Of course, there are also other things to do in Granby – there’s a golf course down the road and some pretty intense-looking mountain biking trails on Granby ranch.  And then, of course, there is winter time.  In addition to downhill skiing, Granby would be a great place for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding.  It’s worth a trip, and I highly recommend staying at Aspen Hollow.  Just be sure to tell Marilyn and Tommy I say hello!