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.”

smiley swimmer
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.

Denver Swimmers
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.

doctors with hats
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.

laurin weisenthal open water swimming
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.

Old Grand Dad 2013
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!

 

 

Post-Call/Pre-Call Saturday Fabulousness

Call is a necessary evil in the world of medicine.  Patients don’t stop delivering, problems don’t disappear, and consults don’t stop coming in just because it’s after 6pm or a weekend. In a hospital, someone has to be around to take care of patients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Enter the concept of “call,” which is basically covering any duties beyond the Monday through Friday 7am-6pm normal work day.  In my world of OB/GYN “call” is a bit of a misnomer – we aren’t hanging out at home “on call”, waiting to be called in.  We are at the hospital when we take call, readily on hand in case a patient needs an emergent cesarean section or a trip to the OR for a ruptured ectopic.  You may not always see us doctors, but someone is always there, haunting the halls, making sure everyone on the service is doing okay.

Usually we try to space out 24 hour calls, taking turns at the responsibility of living in the hospital, in order to ensure the maintenance of sanity.  There is only so much sleep deprivation and stress a human body can handle.  While some of our senior colleagues bemoan the advent of work hour restrictions and the more humane treatment of residents, I have to say these are good developments in medical training.  As someone who has been awake for 36 hours straight, I can confirm there is a certain point of fatigue at which I become unsafe to practice medicine.  Incorporating a degree of balance into medical training keeps patients safe and residents happy, decreasing errors and burnout alike.

Sometimes, however, you just gotta deal with a lot of call.

This is how I found myself on Saturday, post-call from a 24 hour shift on Friday, and pre-call before another 24 hour shift on Sunday.  In these situations, I find it is important to make something fabulous happen to avoid spiraling into the depths of despair.  If life becomes a dreary slog of work – sleep – work, it’s easy to feel unhealthy, unbalanced, and depressed.

Step 1 of my Saturday fabulousness was, indeed, sleep – you can’t feel fabulous when you are tired!  I showered off the hospital, closed my black-out curtains, and kicked my husband out of the apartment for 5 hours of glorious, undisturbed rest.  (Don’t worry – he went off to do “man tasks” and did not resent the temporary eviction).

Step 2 was to work out.  Whenever I wake up from a nap post-call I feel pretty awful, my brain fuzzy and my body stiff.  Some sort of physical activity to get my blood pumping and endorphins flowing always, without fail, makes me feel dramatically better.  My local gym is closed on Saturdays, so I pulled up a 60 minute HIIT workout on Fitness Blender and got my body moving.  By the end, I was sweating, sore, and alert.  It felt wonderful!

Step 3 for battling the depression of call-overload: get pretty.  Shower, put on real-people clothes, put on a touch of make up.  Maybe go crazy and wear heels, even if you’re just in your own house.  I want to feel like a normal person, even if it’s only for a few hours before I need to head back to bed for additional pre-call sleep.  It’s hard not to feel good when you look good!

Step 4 – now that you feel fabulous again, do something fabulous!  We could have gone out, and sometimes we do, but this Saturday it seemed like too much work.  Instead, Brian and I decided to turn our apartment into a fine-dining establishment.  We love to cook, and we really love to cook together.  So we threw on some music, lit all of our numerous candles, and got to it.

As an appetizer, I created a cheeseboard for the two of us to nibble while we were cooking.  Among other things, I was starving, having not eaten since breakfast and also having worked out – I needed food ASAP, and few things make me happier than good wine with good cheese!  I usually try to serve at least 3 different cheeses on my cheeseboards, and I like to have yummy accompaniments, like fruit, nuts, and different crackers.

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Cheeseboard for two!

For this particular cheeseboard, I selected a sheep milk cheese (bottom left – Mitica Cordobes from Whole Foods), a Roth Kase Private Reserve cow milk cheese (top right, also from Whole foods), and a goat Chèvre from Trader Joe’s served with a blackberry-walnut jam (top left).  I added some grapes, blackberries, and pistachios, as well as a wheat cracker and an olive-fig cracker.  We opened a bottle of Merlot from Paso Robles to sip as we enjoyed our cheese and prepared the rest of our dinner.

I made a salad of arugula and spinach with tomatoes, cucumber, pistachios, dried currants, and crumbled goat cheese.  I find the best way to do salads is to dress the greens and plate them first, then add the remainder of your ingredients.  This makes sure your salad looks attractive, and keeps all the additional goodies from collecting at the bottom of your mixing bowl.  For the dressing, I drizzled EVOO and aged balsamic from The Olive Press over the greens and tossed in some sea salt and fresh ground pepper.  If you use high quality oil and vinegar, you really don’t need much more for a truly delicious salad dressing!

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Spinach and arugula salad with EVOO and balsamic.

While I was preparing the cheese and the salad, Brian was working on our main entree.  He prepared a soy-ginger glaze that he poured over some beautiful salmon filets, and took them out to grill on a cedar plank.  I tossed some asparagus spears in olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and fresh ground pepper, and added some finely chopped shallots.  The key to good asparagus is to turn off the heat before the asparagus is fully cooked; it will continue to cook in the hot pan while you are waiting to plate, and you end up with a flavorful, crisp asparagus as opposed to a soggy, mushy mess.  When we were done, we had a restaurant quality meal that we had prepared ourselves.

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Grilled soy-ginger salmon with asparagus.

We added some fresh bread warmed in the oven with more of the delicious Olive Press EVOO and balsamic for dipping, and poured more of our lovely Merlot.  It was from a winery in Breckenridge, Colorado, though the grapes were sourced from Paso Robles.  The wine was very fruit-forward with prominent notes of blackberry and black plum.  It was soft on the palate and pleasant to drink, and it went well with our meal.

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A date at home!

We sat down for our home-prepared meal and enjoyed each other’s company in the warm glow of candle light.  We had a lovely evening, and I felt relaxed, loved, healthy, and happy.  I felt as though balance had been restored to my life, and I felt ready to tackle another 24 hour call with grace and good will.  When you work a lot, you have to make fabulous happen, whatever that looks like for you.  The next time you are feeling downtrodden and overworked, take a moment to do whatever you need to do to feel normal again, and keep your inner spark sparkling!

Casual Fitness

I hate elevators.  I truly hate elevators.  And not just because of the feeling of claustrophobia (which I get), or the awkwardness of standing around squashed against strangers (which I feel), or the infuriating inefficiency of standing and waiting around for vertical transport (which my meager attention span can’t seem to tolerate).

These considerations, while significant, pale in comparison my observation that we as a society seem to have forgotten that the majority of us have perfectly functioning lower extremities perfectly capable of carrying us up and down a few flights of stairs.  It boggles my mind when I see people use an elevator to go down a single flight.  I mean, really?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, elevators do serve a noble purpose.  There are those among us with disabilities, injuries, or other conditions preventing the usage of stairs.  In this regard elevators have served to provide equal transport within a building.  As someone who has moved into dorm rooms on the 5th floor of buildings without elevators, the existence of an elevator to move heavy or bulky objects is a blessing.  In my hospital, elevators allow us to move patients to the places they must go to receive care.  These are just a few examples of appropriate elevator operation.

For routine use, though?

Obesity is a scourge in this country, and it has been getting alarmingly worse over the past 20 years.  Obesity rates exceed 25% of the population in most states and is associated with a myriad of health problems.  1 in 4 women who become pregnant are obese, which not only increases the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, and congenital anomalies, it also makes cesarean deliveries and postpartum recovery more complicated.  Even a lot of adults who are not obese are deconditioned from sedentary lifestyles and white collar jobs that require mental, as opposed to physical, exertion.

obesity 1990
United States obesity map in 1990.  Not too bad, really.

Obesity is a complex, multifactorial problem.  However, a major contributor is that most of us Americans have become complacent.  We spend 10 minutes driving around a parking lot to find the closest possible parking space instead of just parking in back and walking.  We take an elevator to go up 3 flights instead of taking the stairs.  We have technology that makes our daily lives easier and more efficient (I love my Roomba), but also provides us more time to sit around.  The American Diabetes Association recommends 10,000 steps a day just to help maintain weight (as opposed to losing weight), and most people fall dramatically short of this goal.  Our cars, technology, and yes, elevators, are not helping.

obesity us
United States obesity map in 2015 with trends by state to the right.  Note the complete absence of blue or green states.  Even in traditionally “fit” states, such as California and Colorado, 1 in 5 people are obese!  This is seriously scary!

Good health is golden. Good health is something to hold sacred, that you can feel grateful for even at those times when the rest of your life seems to be falling apart.  No matter how bad things get, at least you aren’t taking 20 medications to manage all your medical problems.  At least you don’t have to stick yourself multiple times a day to test your blood sugar and give insulin injections.  At least, if you live at the clinic, it’s because you are providing care, and not because you need to see multiple doctors a month for all of your medical conditions.  At least you don’t have to devote a chunk of your income to prescriptions and copays.  In a high stress world, at least you don’t have to be stressed about your health.

Have I made my point?

To live a fabulous life you have to have the health and vitality to really live.  Maintaining good health is a necessity to maintaining balance, and maintaining good health is something in this crazy world of ours that you can actually have some control over.  Part of maintaining good health is keeping your body fit.  Vanity aside, staying fit keeps your heart strong, your muscles lean, your bones free of osteoporosis, and even keeps your mind sharp.  Good fitness ensures you can continue to enjoy the things you love well into your later years.  Who cares if you are 70 if you have the fitness of a 50-year-old?

mom and dad at wedding
My parents.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  Dad is 70 and still runs marathons.  Mom is 67 and swims 3-4 days a week.  Totally healthy, pretty much zero medications, and they look younger than most couples in their 50s.  They are fit and happy and living life fabulously!

Finding time to workout, though, can be tough.  When I work 16 hour days and 90 hour weeks, the last thing I want to do is go to the gym.  I’m sure many of you can relate!  So how to prioritize fitness and maintain balance when the time and energy just frankly doesn’t exist?  Enter what I like to call “casual fitness.”  What I mean by this is figuring out how to build small snippets of exercise into your day.  Here are some examples:

  1. Get a FitBit or some other sort of fitness tracker and set goals for yourself, at a minimum 10,000 steps a day.  Then see how you do.  Having a goal and keeping track will help motivate you to walk more!  These devices keep track in real time, so if it’s 3pm and you’ve only got 2000 steps, then you know you’ve got some work to do before midnight!
  2. Pretend elevators do not exist.  Take the stairs 100% of the time (okay, unless you are going to the 100th floor of a sky scraper or something…though if you’re feeling it, go for it!)  As someone who hates elevators and has a lot of experience taking the stairs, I promise you will not be a sweaty mess in your nice suit after walking up to the 3rd floor.
  3. Stop circling the parking lot at a grocery store or restaurant, stalking the space in front.  Just go to the back, park, and walk.  Even if you are in heels – you know you’ve walked farther in heels before!
  4. Take periodic 5 minute walks throughout the day.  Short of someone coding, imminently delivering, or whatever similar emergency exists in your line of work, there is nothing that can’t wait 5 minutes for you to get up and stretch your legs from time to time.  Get away, clear your head, get some steps in.  By the time you get back you will feel better and likely be more efficient!
  5. No matter how tired your are or how gross you feel, you can always walk.  Take a 15 minute walk after dinner every night (or longer).  Bring your family with you and make it some time to be together without the distraction of technology.
  6. If you live close to your grocery store or place of work, consider walking.  Biking is a good option as well, just be careful of distracted drivers who are texting and not necessarily looking out for you.

You would be surprised how much activity just these small changes can add to your day.  You may not be devoting an hour to a formal exercise regime, but you will be incorporating casual fitness on a regular basis.  I predict in a few weeks you will notice a difference.  So join me in eschewing the elevator in the name of casual fitness and better health!  I’ll see you on the stairs.

What ideas do you have about how to incorporate casual fitness into your day?  I would love to hear your thoughts!