Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Super Heroes

Over the years, I've had many heroes, mentors, coaches, and one Super Hero. My Dad, who has always been there for me, is my Super Hero. When I was five years old, my favorite pastime was watching cartoons on Saturday mornings with Dad. Let me take you back with me.
Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote appear on screen. As the cartoon begins, Wile E. Coyote unwraps a new device from Acme Corporation, with which he certainly will catch the Road Runner ( Beep Beep ). He sets it up, and he waits. But something odd happens. He doesn't catch his prey. No, instead, he ends up burnt to a crisp, squashed flat, at the bottom of a canyon. But then, mysteriously, in the next scene, the Coyote is all better. He's walking around and plotting his next trap. Daddy! I say, How did they do that? And Daddy replies, I don't know honey. It must be trick photography. Trick photography. This trick photography exchange becomes a ritual for Daddy and me, in many contexts. Daddy, was that trick photography again? Yes, honey, I do believe it was.

(If only trick photography worked to cure cancer the way it revived Wile E. Coyote!)

Following the trick photography, we are inundated with commercials for sugary cereal Mom refuses to buy us. Apple Jacks, Cap'n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Trix. All just out of reach==on the TV screen. She made an exception for vacations and birthdays. Once, the day before we were scheduled to go to Florida for vacation, she bought a box of Kaboom! cereal (the ! is part of the name), and said we could eat it before we got in the car the next morning. My brother loved Kaboom! so much he took it to bed with him so he'd be sure to get some the next morning. We got up and the Kaboom! was nowhere. Mom and Dad snapped a picture of Ben in bed, the Kaboom! cereal clutched in his arms. Kaboom! was advertised every Saturday on Road Runner.
Anyway, back to my days of watching cartoons with my Dad: After all the Kaboom!, the next cartoon starts. A crowd of people look up in the sky and say, "Look in the sky. It's a plane! It's a bird!" A woman wearing large black glasses exclaims, "It's a frog!" Another onlooker responds, "A frog?" To this, Underdog replies with these words:

Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog,
It's just little old me, [sound of Underdog's crash==Kaboom!]

Yep, my hero, Underdog. Underdog, Shoeshine Boy's heroic alter-ego, appears whenever Sweet Polly Purebred is in trouble.

I continue to get inspiration from the memories of watching cartoons with Dad. He is still my Super Hero. As an Underdog, I need all the help I can get to achieve my goal of completing a Half Ironman in honor of my Dad and in support of his struggle with lymphoma. So, I have other important mentors and coaches to help me in my quest.
This winter, I took a series of swimming lessons from Som Sombati, who emphasized the need to swim like a fish in water, comfortably, instead of like a woman who has been thrown in the deep end of a swimming pool and is attempting not to drown. He taught me a number of drills to make me feel slippery. And then Som inspired me by telling me he was about to finish his sixth Ironman competition for the year. Six Ironman competitions? I couldn't believe it. Six marathons in a year is crazy enough, but six competitions where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a marathon? He went on to explain that he had turned 60, so for a birthday present to himself he was treating himself to six Ironman races==one race to celebrate each decade of his life. Wow!

So, he inspired me. Accordingly, as you know, I am doing a Half Ironman, to celebrate the fact that I am five years old.

Well, in a way it's true. I am celebrating the love that I have for my Dad, which goes way back to my childhood, and that wonderful feeling I had watching the cartoons with my Super Hero at age five.

More recently, I began taking swimming lessons (and cycling lessons) from Coach Dave at Endorphin Fitness. I decided I liked Coach Dave right away the night he taught us all to do Superman. I didn't tell Dave, but I had a bit of an advantage in this exercise, because Superman is a regular exercise that I do with my personal trainer, Tina Tucci. Tina is one of my many coaches. She promises to help me get through the Half Ironman uninjured. That seems important.

Superman consists of lying on your stomach, arching your back and lifting your arms and legs up as though you are Superman flying through the city to fight crime, or maybe stamp out cancer. Coach Dave explained this maneuver, and we all tried it on the deck of the pool. I pretended to be a natural, secretly glad to have done this pose many times before. Then, Dave kicked it up a notch. Get in the pool, he said, and do Superman in the water.
Say what? I tried. Without the pool deck to hold my body flat, I found my legs were sinking like anchors. Coach Dave noticed.

Amy, Dave asked pointedly, in a stage whisper designed for all to hear, does Superman stick his butt out when he flies?

What an image. I contracted my stomach muscles and pulled in my rear, and suddenly I was floating on the water, emulating Superman's position during flight. I felt great. Dave explained: Superman helps you feel balanced and comfortable so the swim feels easy.
Competitive swimmers can wear themselves out in a race because when they are done, they just go eat their Wheaties. On the other hand, for a triathlon, feeling comfortable during the swim is key. If I wear myself out during the swim portion of the Half Ironman, the first leg of the event, trying to go fast and therefore improve my time, I could emerge from the water exhausted. That could be bad given that at that point, I will have to ride for 56 miles on my bike and then run a half marathon. I don't want to blow up that early in the race. Can you say Kaboom!? Come to think of it, I am going to celebrate the end of the Half Ironman with a bowl of Kaboom! I think Mom will let me.

But to make sure I get to eat Kaboom! rather than blow up, I practice my comfortable swimming, Superman style, at the Downtown YMCA. But I've noticed I am very, very slow. There are fast swimmers at the Y who swim near me. Andie, who has swum across the Chesapeake Bay, said to a friend of mine, Amy doesn't swim fast at all, but her stroke is gorgeous. So far so good, but I do have to finish the Half Ironman in eight hours, and if I am in the water hours after the start I will be in trouble!
So I told Dave I felt great about floating in the water, but when would we learn to propel ourselves forward as fast as Superman? How does Superman do that, anyway? I asked.

Dave hasn't answered the question yet, but I know the answer. As Daddy would say:
"It's trick photography."

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