Chasing Dreams: My Swimming Journey

by Spencer Penland 9

April 23rd, 2024 Lifestyle, News

Chun-Yen Sung is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan. The essay below is his swimming story, which starts in his home country of Taiwan, and sees him pursue his dreams to the US. 

The First Impression

I was a college freshman at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan when I first heard of Club Wolverine, a swim team located in Ann Arbor, MI. I was watching a Michael Phelps documentary and that was the team he was training with to prepare for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, where he would make history by winning eight gold medals. Wow, I remember thinking as I watched the beautiful underwater shots and scenery. To me, it was an incredible place like nothing I had seen before, the top of the swimming world! After rewatching the drills Michael performed on the documentary several times, I went to my university pool to try them. As I swam, I was replaying parts of the documentary in my head, but I couldn’t help thinking about how far away from me it all felt. I had never been to the USA and having the opportunity to train in the same pool Michael Phelps did was simply unimaginable.

More than ten years later, it suddenly wasn’t such an unrealistic dream. I had been accepted to pursue my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan! Not only was this a huge opportunity for me professionally, but I also learned that there is a time during the day when Club Wolverine masters swimmers, triathletes, and various other swimmers train at Michigan’s Canham Natatorium. This was it. More than a decade ago I was in awe watching Michael Phelps train and now I’m going to get to swim in the very same pool.

I’ll never forget the first time I went to Canham. Upon entering the building, I walked through a hallway that has the caps of all Michigan and Club Wolverine’s Olympians hanging on the wall. In big letters above the door that leads out onto the pool deck, there are the words “IT’S NOT EVERY 4 YEARS; IT’S EVERY DAY.” I walked through the doors and suddenly I stepped out into a huge, bright room with an Olympic size 50-meter pool and a diving well with a diving platform. To the left, a clock counts down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the start of the next Olympics. I felt so lucky to be here in this place where so many swimmers before me have come to chase their dreams, and I couldn’t wait to get started.

A View of Donald B. Canham Natatorium Taken By Chun-Yen on a Quiet Morning

 

My Training

I have learned so much about swimming during my time training at CW. High level swim training is like science: experimenting with novel ideas, hypotheses, and paying attention to every little detail. My coaches guided me to explore new concepts with my swimming, both through discussion and application, and it produced results. I ended up starting a training diary so I could record the things I was learning and working on. I learned technical drills, sprint and mid-distance workout designs and structures, power workouts, blood flow restriction training, and Urbanchek’s energy color system, which is one of the most formative concepts in swim training.  

One of my favorite drills I recorded in my training diary was One Paddle, One Fin drill, which was popularized at Michigan by longtime head coach Mike Bottom, who is well known as a coach for exploring new concepts and looking for ways to revolutionize swim training. The idea of One Paddle, One Fin is to work on connecting the freestyle pull with the kick through the core. It helps produce a more effective “hip driven” freestyle, another concept popularized by Coach Bottom. The concept of connective power is important because swimmers want the accumulative propulsive force created by the catch of the arm and kick of the leg through the hip.

If you haven’t done this drill before, you may be wondering what the difference really is between wearing one paddle and fin, and both paddles and fins. The way my coaches explained it to me was if you wear paddles and fins on both hands and feet, your body will simply feel resistance in all the normal areas. However, if you have one paddle and one fin on, the increased resistance you experience on that hand and foot will create an imbalance in the resistance, one which you will have to engage your core to overcome. The result will be a more connected stroke, where the kick and pull work together in coordination with the hips to move you down the pool more efficiently.

That’s just one example of the drills I learned. For freestyle, I also learned the importance of getting the fingertips down and having a high elbow during the catch. Using snorkels at times helps keep the focus on the pull, the kick, and what the body is doing, without the motion of the breath interrupting the flow of the stroke. I also learned that once you have gotten good at a drill, you should then attempt to swim at faster speeds to make sure you’re applying what you worked on in the drill while swimming fast. I would frequently swim at 200 pace, checking that I was maintaining a high elbow in the pull, proper kicking rhythm, and body connection. Additionally, I loved using the pulley system (video below) to boost strength and promote effective power.

As someone who has always had a deep interest in and a love for swimming, I’m so grateful for the opportunity. These past two years, Canham has been my happy place. I’ve felt special here, encouraged to improve every day.

Here are a few videos I I had taken of me during practices:

One Paddle One Fin (Same Side)

Here I am swimming 200 pace freestyle after removing the fins and paddles

Using the Pulley System

Looking Forward

Now, just days away from completing my Ph.D., it’s time for me to look forward. Through two years of regular training, I was able to advance my knowledge and understanding of swimming technique, improved my coachability, and have broadened my vision in terms of what I can accomplish. I’ve also been inspired by the awesome techniques and attitudes of the pro swimmers on the Club Wolverine Elite Team. Always believe in yourself. One day your hard work will lead you to a higher level.

More than ten thousand kilometers away from Michigan and more than ten years ago, the idea that I would have the opportunity to train and develop my swimming in the same place Michael Phelps did in the leadup to the Beijing Olympics seemed like nothing more than an unrealistic dream. I didn’t have a world class swimming background. I wasn’t going to be able to join the University of Michigan varsity swim team. Still, I kept the dream alive in the back of my mind and never gave up swimming in my life. I had to wait a long time, but my dream was finally realized when I got the opportunity to complete my Ph.D. at UofM. Now I’m faced with the reality that good things may not always come early but they must come to an end eventually. It’s a bittersweet feeling, however, finishing up at CW marks an incredible milestone in my life, one I’m proud to have accomplished. My coach recently reminded me that CW has connections all over the world, and that I should send a picture if I wear a CW cap while swimming in another country.

I’m glad to have the opportunity to write my story. I think it’s a reminder that you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how unattainable they seem or how other people feel about them. You never know what’s going to happen down the road. My story is proof of that.

The Author: Chun-Yen Sung

*Clarification:

  1. To obey the NCAA recruiting policy, Chun-Yen Sung was never involved in the University of Michigan Swimming and Diving practices.

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Carson Foster Fan
13 days ago

Like the technique from this article. The power facility is amazing. Keep chasing your dreams!

U of M Fan
Reply to  Carson Foster Fan
9 days ago

Power Work from Michigan Swimming & Diving:
https://swimswam.com/practice-pancakes-michigan-men-get-innovative-with-power-work/  
 
Go Blue!

Katie
14 days ago

The story is so touching. I like CW!

Aquatics Historian
23 days ago

The legendary coaches, Mike Bottom, Bob Bowman, and Jon Urbanchek from Michigan and Club Wolverine had groundbreaking contributions to the world of Competitive Swimming. Go blue!

Michigan Wolverine
1 month ago

The Michael Phelps documentary at Canham before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing:
ミラクルボディー,第2回マイケル フェルプス,世界最強のスイマー
 
I like Michael’s blue CW cap!

CW Alumni
Reply to  Michigan Wolverine
29 days ago

The background music from the documentary, The Moment Of Dreams, fits into the story well.

Last edited 29 days ago by CW Alumni
Michigan Fan
1 month ago

Love this article! I had a similar feeling when I first visited Ann Arbor in 2006: “”Where’s Michael Phelps?” UM and CW are legendary and the hall you describe at Canham with the caps is absolutely magical. Congratulations to you!

Claire Curzan Fan
1 month ago

This is so awesome. Keep up the great work!

Fellow Wolverine
1 month ago

Glad you had this fabulous opportunity to swim in Canham and enjoy your time at Michigan! Go Blue!