Something good happened recently. It had to do with swimming. I joined a swimming club and managed to get through training without overdoing it. You might be wondering what all the fuss is about, but for me it really was great.
I was born in a place called Tokaimura, a small coastal village in Ibaraki Prefecture that is battered by the rough waves of the Pacific Ocean, and I grew up loving to swim. We moved to Mito City when I was in my last years of elementary school, and because this city was the birth of the suihu school, a traditional Japanese style of swimming, they put a lot of effort into swimming instruction.
I joined the swimming club at a junior high school, and then I also joined the local swimming club, so I practiced everyday. In my second year of junior high school I took part in the national junior high school championships. In my third year I was unbeatable in the prefecture in the breaststroke event; I broke all of the junior high records. At high school, I came in sixth and won a long-sought prize in the national sports festival. In college, I was part of both the competitive swimming team and the water polo club. I was so into swimming. I was seriously seeking for a spot in the Olympics, and during my third year of junior high school, I even got a buzz cut called “Gorin gari” in an attempt to associate myself with Olympics (Gorin).
A few years ago, my junior high school classmates and I got together in Mito to dig up a time capsule we had buried as junior high school students 20 years ago. We had then promised to meet after 20 years had passed.
I had completely forgotten what I had buried; I was so excited I couldn’t wait to find out. Actually, it was a swimming journal in which I had kept records of my daily practice sessions and berated myself over how much more I need to improve my time to win. This swimming log had been in the time capsule for the last twenty years. Discovering it felt a little anticlimactic, but at the same time, I remembered how I was completely crazy about swimming at the time, and then recalled how swimming had been the only thing I thought about.
Recently, while I have been studying sports science and fluid mechanics, I’ve started to think that if I had had better coach and had trained in Osaka or Tokyo, I might have learned to swim faster. I feel this way because, as I thought about it, the training I had at the time was very pre-modern. Of course, even if I had been able to swim faster, no one can tell whether that would have changed my life, so in the end it’s all just ifs and buts. I don’t have any regrets or anything, but sometimes I think about it.
At any rate, I grew up with swimming in my life throughout junior high school, high school and university. But when I turned 20, I basically retired from active duty, so to speak, and after that I rarely swam seriously. Twenty years later, in 2004, I made a rash resolution for the new year.
I promised myself that I would participate in this year’s Japan Masters Championships (an senior event, divided into age groups).
Despite a 20-year hiatus, I had decided to try for a comeback as a competitive swimmer. During this time I had always taken time to swim during business trips, but entering a swimming competition is a completely different kettle of fish. I had tried to get in shape by swimming a couple of years ago and had almost joined a swimming club, but I was completely exhausted after just one training session. I was on my back for a week after that, too. My body simply was not up to it. Yet in this condition I had the audacity to swear that I would prepare and participate in the Masters Championships. I actually wrote it down and then, in order to be a man of my word, I pledged out loud in front of everybody that I would do it.
I recalled a couple of years ago when I had declared that within a year I would reach the first dan of the game Go. That also was a tall order, but it was a mental feat; this would be a physical challenge. How would my body hold up?
So, I started to swim two or three times a week. Having a goal makes you far more focused. I made a plan building up to the Masters Championships in July, and began serious training. I kept up swimming even when I was away on business.
I could really feel my muscles starting to firm up, and I was getting back that feeling of slicing through the water. Practicing by myself, I managed to swim 1,000 meters again. So despite feeling nervous, I decided to participate in practice at a swimming club, where I had experienced a setback the last time. I was a little anxious; would I be able to keep it up until the end? Would I wear out my body as I had done the last time around?
The practice started; it had been a while since I had done any interval training. When I got tired of the crawl, I switched to the breaststroke, and when I got tired of that, I switched to the back stroke. Finally, I was able to do three rounds of 200 meters, which completely wore me out. I put in a total of 2,400 meters during the session. I was so happy that I pumped my fist in victory in spite of myself and then and lay back in the water, relieved.
In the following week, not only did my body hold up well, but also I managed to swim 1,000 meters on two separate occasions. My muscles are clearly starting to develop, and at this rate I am beginning to feel that I might well be able to make my new year’s resolution of entering the Masters a reality.
Recently, every now and then I think about how much swimming contributed to the formation of my character. Since junior high school I have pushed myself to the limit. I have challenged myself physically as far as possible, and have also gained the mental attitude for winning. Swimming has also nurtured in me the courage to go on a big stage.
I feel that experiences at a young age are still alive when you go out into the world. Until I got into swimming I could never really keep anything up for long, and I was not the sharpest tool in the box either. However, once I started swimming I became able to concentrate, set goals and learned the joy of achieving those goals. I trained both mentally and physically. I am so grateful to swimming for all this.
I have a small dream. I don’t know whether there is an international competition of the Masters Championships, or whether there are any world records for each age group, but if so, some day I would like to win an international tournament and set a new world record. Maybe when I’m in my 80s, 90s or even over 100. It seems like being able to set a new world record might mean even more at that age than as a young competitor. It would be a testament to how one has managed to live a healthy life into a ripe old age.
As I entertain these idle thoughts, it is already past midnight. My 42nd birthday has arrived. I have gained yet another year, but I would be delighted if, through swimming, I am able to remain physically young as I grow older. From now on I’ll treat everyday as a gift and keep the fire burning bright throughout my life.