A Man Among Gods – D3 Swimmer Training with a D1 Team

Courtesy: Kevin Schaub

“I’m so nervous I think I can throw up” were the first words I said to Coach Dave Rollins at Ohio State.  He assured me that I “would be fine”.

The first day was a blur.  I was learning how to get to the pool from where I was staying. I was trying to learn names. I was exhausted and stiff from the 6-hour drive from the day before. And I got lazy with training the week and a half before I showed up to Ohio (senior week and the pool being closed made for mediocre decisions at best). To top it all off, the practice was long course; I was so jacked up on adrenaline that I couldn’t see straight. After an hour and a half, my body collapsed. Coach Dave said, “You’re body is not responding anymore, let’s be done for today.” I tiredly obliged, got out and hit the showers.  I don’t think that has ever happened to me before. I’ve always thought of myself as a hard worker, but to be told by a coach to get out because you’re too tired was a mix of humbling, humiliating, and strange.

I always dreamed about going Division I. I’m pretty sure it’s every 13-year-old boy’s dream of whatever sport they play. Unfortunately life happens, you don’t have enough talent, or you just didn’t work hard enough, etc.… After an awesome senior year I decided to take my swim career to SUNY Geneseo and follow both my brothers’ footsteps into Division III. That is how I ended up swimming for the Geneseo Blue Wave (Knights) under the leadership and direction of Coach Paul Dotterweich (great name for a swim team, right?). We might not be Division I but we’re successful, have a great coaching staff, and our team bond is stronger than steel. What more could I ask for? Well, other then a Division III nationals cut.  And that leads me to how I got to Ohio.

Last summer (Summer 2015) I realized I wanted to make a change in my swimming career. I had two lackluster years at Geneseo due to laziness, sickness, and a lack of accountability for myself. I had come into college one of the best kids on the team, and while I did well at SUNYACS and dual meets, the times weren’t near my PRs from high school. What I had thought was my best clearly wasn’t good enough. After two years of this personal mediocrity, I told Coach Dotterweich I wanted to be better than I ever had before and that ‘I had a plan.’ He stopped me and said the words I would never forget: “show me.” Those two words drove me insane; I wanted to prove to him I was going to follow my plan. From then on out I made hard practices for myself and mostly swam alone (Division III rules make it so your coach can’t coach you in the off season). When I went home I trained with my old club team, the Condors swim club. Their extraordinary coach Jim Wargo and legendary coach Frank Keefe kicked my butt into shape. Long aerobic IM workouts gave me back the fitness I had my senior year of high school. It was only then I was able to fully utilize Coach Dotterweich’s program in the fall and winter My junior year was incredible as I was going near best times in season. By the time season was over I racked up a conference record and most improved. But the nationals cut was still missing. When my coach received a mass email from Coach Dave Rollins a few months ago asking if “you are really serious about training over the summer,” I was immediately intrigued. Swimming under Dave Rollins and Bill Wadley sounded amazing.  Once my internships fell though, I knew what I wanted. I knew it was time for me to give swimming fast one last shot.

I took the first practice for what it was and looked ahead, even if I had no idea if was going to be able to swim again at night. I dragged myself to the pool and saw the swim gods had mercy on my soul: the pool was short course. But I came to the quick realization that a shorter pool also meant for more opportunities to get lapped. I got lapped so many times The only thing I can compare it to is being a boy among men, a man among gods. I felt powerless, but when practice ended and I was able to pull myself out of the pool, I realized I was getting worried for nothing. I had to shift my mental state. The only thing I needed to focus on was getting better.

The first two weeks were an absolute slaughter of every muscle in my body. My 20-minute walk home from practices required stops so my legs wouldn’t collapse. I would basically sleep, eat, and swim. I don’t think I did a single other activity. My body would go into hibernation mode when I wasn’t training. Although the practices were getting slightly easier, the kick sets were remained draining. Being an awful kicker made this program extremely difficult. Many of the kick sets were so tough I could not even come close to completing them without stroking or getting lapped. It’s not like the other sets were easy either. I’ve had hard practices, but then there was this. Everything was new and way different from any of the training I’ve ever done before. The 6 morning long course practices, 3-4 afternoon short course yard practices, 3 lifts and 2 circuits were destroying me. I was able to get by, but that wasn’t cutting it anymore.

After the third week we had a meet. Although excited, I was nervous as all hell. The meet format was short course yards for the morning session and long course for the night session. It was humbling: I had the opportunity to see some incredible times, including multiple Olympic trial cuts. I had never been around such greatness before: I was but a single blue wave in an ocean of scarlet and grey. I went some in-season bests and most of my long course times were near my best. Mostly, I was proud I was able to tune out the fast swimming of the Ohio State swimmers and focus on my own races. Having a generally bad kick I was ecstatic to see that my dolphin kicks were already getting better, and I was able to utilize them during races. Turns out an old dog can learn new tricks.

Four weeks in is what it took to give me a fighting chance against these swimmers. I have never been so proud of myself in my swimming career. I was a Division III swimmer keeping up with people out of my league. Practices became fun. It became a game of ‘whom can I keep up with?’ Some practices were better than others, but it didn’t matter: I was improving at an exponential rate. I could feel my dolphin kicks getting better, I could feel the roll in my freestyle, and I could feel the deep catch in my backstroke improve significantly. I remembered why I love this sport and why it means so much to me. I can always improve and I can have fun training and getting better. I could get out all my frustrations with my life and the world. All of a sudden I made sure at the weight room I was the last one there and after a while I was the only one doing circuits and dryland. I didn’t want to get better –  I wanted to become a beast. I thought every day about how bad I wanted to improve and make my senior year my best yet. The Saturday after the fourth week we were doing some 50s sprint off the blocks. When I went my fastest 50 backstroke ever I was amped. I even got a yell from coach Dave “ SUNY CAN SWIM! SUNY CAN SWIM”! It was very encouraging. I was getting better – and fast.

I started to crave practice. How could I better myself? How could I beat my times from last practice? I felt unstoppable. I was completing practices at a level I didn’t think was possible. I was excited to keep training but all I could think about was next season. I often daydreamed about what next season would be like. During easy swimming I constantly imagined what my first meet in the fall would look like. Maybe I was getting ahead of myself, but it was keeping me going. Before I knew it I was at week six and excited to swim in my second meet of the summer. Going into the meet the practices were hard and I was pushing myself to the limits. I was confident I could go into the meet and swim well.

My body had other plans. I woke up and felt fine for Saturday. But when I jumped into the water I felt like a bus hit me. No matter how much I warmed up I never felt like I was ready to race. I was stiff and sore even after a good long stretch. During my first race (200 back) I was out like a bullet and thought ‘hey this isn’t too bad’. I paid the price on the back end, cursing myself for every time I missed a practice during my 13 year career as a swimmer. I have never been so glad to finish a race. The rest of the meet went pretty similarly to that. Although my times were pretty good for me, I expected more due to the intense training I had been through. I had been training at such a high level I felt greedy and wanted faster times. Although I had some good takeaways from the meet I was still hungry as ever.

One Fourth of July rest day later, my 4:50 alarm went off and I don’t think I have ever been so angry at an object before. Even after a whole day of rest my body still felt like trash. The week didn’t go much better. Sets that were easy for me days ago had suddenly seemed impossible. I felt lethargic and the water felt like I was swimming through mud. I was frustrated but knew all the hard training was catching up to me. No amount of rolling out, icing, stretching or rest seemed to work. I had reached a breaking point. I thought to myself ‘I just needed to survive the week.’ Although the summer had gone by quickly, the last few hard practices seemed to drag on forever. I did my best to hold on to my earlier attitude, but practices felt like torture.

Finally, the great rest was upon me. I had survived. 8 weeks of the hardest training I’d ever done was in the bank and I was ready to cash out. I was so proud of myself. I love swimming fast, but I will always pride myself on the practices in the pool. I may one day forget my times in the pool, but I’ll never forget all the hard work I put in. Every day of fewer yards and practices felt incredible. I will especially remember Wednesday July 13th; after 10 days of feeling like a piece of trash floating through the water, my body had returned to me. My dolphin kicks were back and I could get some turnover and speed again. I thought to myself ‘I’m actually not getting that much rest when I think about it. Is this what a normal person feels like?’ I guess it really didn’t matter. As long as I was feeling better I had been, swimming fast wasn’t going to be a problem.

My first race was the 200 back, my signature event. Although I’m used to it being the last event of championship meets I was interested to see how things would go when it was my first. I warmed up feeling good. Nothing out of this world, but I was focused and ready to go. I hopped in the water and finally felt great. This is what I was looking for, the confidence that I was going to crush it. I had a good start and went to work. I went out strong but controlled, knowing I wanted to build each 50. I flipped at the 100 and felt great.  I had a nice turn and came up swam a few strokes and then thought to myself, “all system failure.” I was in a ton of pain almost instantly. I went from feeling unstoppable to feeling like a rock in the water. I pressed on flinging my arms back and kicking with everything I had. I finally crashed into the wall. The same exact time I went last year.

I was livid. I couldn’t fathom that I went slower than I did last year. I was a better swimmer in every way.  I didn’t make it back for finals, which made it worse.  I didn’t even have a chance to ‘redeem’ myself. After talking with my coaches I could think with my head on straight. I remembered that this meet was important for race strategy and mentality and not necessarily the times. My teammates also reminded me that I really wasn’t tapered and that it is hard to swim fast when you just completed the hardest training you’ve ever done without a taper. The rest of the meet was more of the same. Looking back at the video there were some awesome improvements on my turns, stroke, and kick, but I was just collapsing the last 15 meters of every race. Unfortunately, underperforming never gets easier. Although I feel like I have failed myself, it is a way worse feeling when I think I have failed those who have helped me. It makes me feel like I was a waste of time. But the truth is, none of that is true. When you are able to get past the feelings of failure that is when you truly succeed. I had so much to be proud of. And one mediocre meet wasn’t going to stop me from being an animal in the fall. One coach told me it takes about 18 months of hard training at my level to see huge improvements. Can anybody take a guess where I will be come October?

I would like to thank the team for this opportunity everybody was amazing to swim with. Everybody knew I was at a level below them and had nothing but encouraging things to say. I would like to special shout out to Andrew Appleby, Ching Lim and Mark Belangar for talking to me on the first few days. They really helped me assimilate onto the team and made me feel very comfortable. Also they were awesome about pushing me to be my best. Next, I would like to thank Coach Dave and Coach Bill Wadley for allowing me to train with them. They were extremely helpful and could have not given me a second look. But they critiqued my stroke and gave me things to work on, and for that I am forever grateful. Furthermore, to Coach Dotterweich and Noah Beck for always inquiring on how I was doing and encouraging me from afar. Also, to Frank Keefe for being my mentor these past few years and being like a grandfather to me. You were the one that was the final push to get me to go down this journey. Your guidance and endless wisdom is incredible. I’ve always wanted to make you proud. Thank you to my brothers for pushing me to the edge and then some. For always being there and encouraging me to never settle for anything but my best. Finally to my parents for being so loving and supportive. You’ve never demanded anything of me but a smile. You are the best. I think this shows that I may have been in a new environment but I never did anything alone. I also missed out on so many helpful people on my journey. You know who you are and thank you for being there for me.

I am excited to see where I will be down the road. I know I have improved and I know I will be way better than last season. In 8 months I will be done with swimming forever: I have no chance of going pro. I will have no eligibility left. I have a new life I need to start. Although there is some pressure on me, I will always know I gave it my best shot. It’s nice to know that in the end when my body was tired, when I could have settled for another ‘good season,’ I wanted more.  I might not be the best swimmer but at least I can look myself in the mirror and say ‘you did the best you could.’ And isn’t that what really matters, an honest effort?

 

More Time: Epilogue

I am writing this over a year after my final season as a swimmer (May 2018). I don’t know if I was scared to write this part of the story or a bit lazy. But, after emailing SwimSwam to see if they would post the original piece I knew I would have to finish the story (for the fans, of course). I would like to apologize if this isn’t as polished as the first part as it has been awhile since I’ve written anything.

I hate to spoil the story but, I didn’t make nationals. It sucked. It hurt. And to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even close.  Now that I have had plenty of time to think about everything and to digest what happened my senior year; I don’t think that was the point of the story. I gave myself the most honest effort I could have my senior year, and no one can ever take that away from me. I may not have accomplished my goal but I learned so much about  myself and what it really means to work hard. My only regret is that I didn’t work that hard for longer in college.

My senior year was a blur. From the first practice to the last, I was having so much fun in the pool. Every day I got to push myself and find out how good I had gotten from all that training. Don’t get me wrong, in the grand scheme of things I wasn’t that good, but for SUNY Geneseo, and the SUNYAC conference, I had become the beast I had always dreamt of. Whether it was practice or meets, I had one mindset; ‘I swam at Ohio State I will obliterate you.’ My in season times were getting close to my personal bests, something I was never good at. Swimming is a lot more fun when you can compete all year long, not just at taper meets.

Unfortunately, I let myself get consumed by swimming. I had gotten lost in my quest to make nationals I had forgotten what I want is not what everyone else on my team wanted. We are a Division III team and just because I wanted to go to Nationals doesn’t mean everyone else should. People joined this team for so many different reasons and that’s what makes Division III unique. Luckily, I have amazing friends (teammates) and that although I may have had the best intentions, I was coming off as a jerk. I was mortified at first. How could I have become a bad teammate and captain? Although I love swimming from the deepest parts of my heart, my friends mean everything to me. I was able to apologize and make up. I am thankful as that was a wakeup call to have a goal in mind, but not let it consume you.

The next thing I knew I was at SUNYACs at the Burt Flickinger Center in Buffalo NY. I was having so much fun. I won the 200 IM, 200 Medley Relay, 400 Medley Relay and got third in the 100 backstroke. I was happy but the times weren’t exactly where I wanted them to be, but in no shape or form could I complain. It was finally judgment day. The day I had played in my head a million times. The 200 backstroke. I usually didn’t like to go all out in the morning, but I knew I had two chances to make the cut. I did my normal preparation of slapping my body and a quick but kick as I jumped into the pool. I blasted off. I swam my heart out. I though of everyone who helped me along the way and how I would not fail them. I crashed into the wall. I went…. Slower than last year? What in the world? I could not believe it. I was better than myself last year in every way possible. How could I let down everyone who had helped me? How could I let down myself. Perhaps it was just a fluke I thought. But it ate at me. I felt terrible. I did my best to hide it but my family knew I was frustrated and I sure know Coach Dotterweich knew how frustrated I was.

I remember cooling down for so long and then resting for as long as I could. It was about an hour before we left for the pool again and I ended up hanging out with two of my best friends on the team Matt and Clark. All of a sudden I couldn’t stop crying. I knew deep down no matter how good I had gotten this past year, I wasn’t good enough to make that cut. Although I am an emotional person I don’t think they were expecting that. I didn’t want this 200 backstroke to be my last race, but I knew it was. They did the nicest thing anyone that isn’t named my Mom did for me. They acted silly. They made me laugh out loud. I can’t remember anything specific but I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. I was ready for finals. I was ready to swim my last race.

I pushed my body to the limit and beyond. I crashed into the wall, saw I got first and dropped 0.1 of a second. You bet I cheered like I won the Olympics. I worked that hard for that long to drop 0.1 of a second in my best event. If I could do it again, I absolutely would. I got out of the pool told my Mom I loved her and yelled at my Blue Wave alumni. I felt like a superhero. I hugged it out with my coach, but my job was not done. I had one more job to do. I had to lead my team through one more cheer. My signature ‘dogs chant’ had to be my best one ever (If you haven’t seen it type into Google ‘Ray Lewis Dogs cheer’). I screamed to the top of my lungs. I think the whole city of Buffalo heard my voice. After, I turned to coach and I said “I’ve done everything I possibly could have for this team”. He nodded, “I know”.

I love swimming. I wish I gave it a better effort for longer. But you can’t change the past. All I can do is offer my wisdom to those who are willing to listen and use what I’ve learned and apply it to my life at my job and with those I love. You bet that I try my best to be the first one into the office and the last one out. You bet that I like to work as I eat lunch. You bet that I try to find one thing a day to get better at. You bet I make a consistent effort to talk to the friends I love. You bet I try to give my friends everything. You bet I tell those around me I love you and thank you for being there for me. I may not have made nationals but I learned it’s the journey that made me what I am today. Not one stupid time I didn’t hit. It’s the friends I’ve gained along the way. Not a meet that I didn’t make. Thank you for giving me everything, swimming.

 

Editor’s notes:

  • Kevin Schaub penned the first part of this narrative heading into his junior year of college at SUNY Geneseo after training with the Ohio State team in the summer of 2016. He wrote the epilogue in May 2018.
  • Dave Rollins now coaches at Florida Gulf Coast. Bill Wadley is now retired.

 

Kevin Schaub

Kevin Schaub is a former swimmer for both the Condors Swim Club and the Division III SUNY Geneseo Blue Wave (Knights). His love for swimming stemmed from his older brothers who also attended SUNY Geneseo. His greatest swimming accomplishment will always be the lifelong friendships this wonderful sport has created for him. Kevin currently resides in Manhattan where he eats a lot of pizza and works in the media investment industry. He is certain he will cross paths with swimming again when the time is right.

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26 Comments on "A Man Among Gods – D3 Swimmer Training with a D1 Team"

newest oldest most voted

Great article. Thanks for the honesty

damn i just read a whole novel

BLUE WAVE, CLAP – CLAP !

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