The Current Carries Us All, Together

Before this morning’s race, I compared last year’s roster to this year’s, trying to see who I’d have to beat so that I could finally at least place in this year’s Cap2K. It is totally stupid that it matters to me: the entire swim is just a mass of anonymous swim caps and flailing arms, so you have no idea who is in front of you in the water or behind you. You just swim as hard as you can. But his name was Marty Richardson, and he’d beaten me by 5 seconds last year, and I was going to beat him this year.

It’s important to note that I’m talking about age-group competition: I am measuring myself against other swimmers my general age and gender. The actual winners of the race–generally 19-20 year olds–are out of the water, dry, and texting by the time I get out a quarter hour after them. This year I bumped up to the 60-64 men’s group. Yea!? My thinking is that you just have to be persistent. Eventually, no one is left to beat.

It’s a five minute walk down Redbud Isle after the briefing before you either jump in and swim the 350 yards out to the starting line, or get on a shuttle barge to take you out. I’m a confirmed shuttle barge man–I decided years ago, at the race’s finish, that I couldn’t have swum another yard, and was entirely grateful for not having added on another 350 at the beginning.

The water was “noticeably” colder this year. That means I noticed when I jumped off the barge that I could not inhale to breathe. Fortunately, I was in the water at precisely the five-minute warning horn, and had time to swim a few strokes and get my breathing under control. Also different this year, there was a strong current. But the current was pushing the mass of swimmers past the starting line, everyone out there just treading water, trying to breathe. I saw what was happening, and backstroked hard to stay behind the line, but found myself alone with only one other grumpy old lady who was yelling “stay behind the line, folks!” No one seemed to care, but they had at least 50 yards on us at the start. I am sure that Marty Richardson was in there, taking a 50 yard head start on me.

The swim itself was not hard. The Cap2K is perhaps the hardest thing I do physically each year, but not bad this time, thanks to that current carrying us all along, together. It takes a while to get your breathing and stroke under control, but from then on you just keep going until it’s over. This year was unusual because I’d occasionally have swimmers randomly crossing in front of me at acute angles to everyone else. I couldn’t figure out why, but it did break up the terror, sort of like climbing El Capitan and watching someone else falling past you from above to their death. “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day.”

When I got home, my wife told me all about her garage sale. She told me about the tree limbs she’d cut back–that needed to be done, and she’s a trooper. When she paused to inhale, I said “the swim was cool. I finally placed!” That is sort of hard for me to say, because “I placed” means “I did not win,” but the Cap2K is in it’s own category for me. I will never do better than simply completing this thing that I am not particularly good at. I just need to do it.

“How did that happen?” This took me a second to process, because as much as I like praise, I do not like to brag. “Normally, there are all these really old people finishing way before you–like forever before you ever show up. Was there some mistake?” She spent the rest of the day occasionally popping in, just to tell me how proud of me she was, but I would just smile and say “too late! You can’t un-say those words. You’re the star of my story about the swim, now!,” which she already knew and dreaded when she heard me typing away.

And at the awards ceremony, when they called my name, right after they called Marty Richardson, I knew I’d be back next year. The current had carried both Marty and I along together, still separated by those same 5 seconds, pulling us all along in the right direction.

UPDATE: The results are in, folks, and there’s good news and there’s bad news! First, I beat that bastard Marty Richardson by almost 2 minutes! And I swam the course, thanks to that current, at my fastest time ever, 7 minutes faster than last year. The bad news is that the guy who finished first absolutely creamed me, finishing 6 minutes in front of me and 14th overall, which is amazing.

  • Men 60-64
  • 1 Randy Rogers M 60 0:24:27.38
  • 2 George Schools M 60 0:30:34.24
  • 3 Marty Richardson M 62 0:32:20.10
  • Dwight Munk M 61 0:32:53.41
  • Paul Scripko M 62 0:41:38.71 0:42:11.69 Stephen Julian M 63 0:42:11.69 M

Prostate Cancer, Exercise, Cold Water, and Just Plain Old

Too much exercise may cause erectile dysfunction. Depends on the shorts.

As I was leaving to train at Barton Springs on my day off my wife said “Hey cowboy, don’t do too much, and remember that water is very cold.” My wife normally doesn’t give a shit what I do, so I asked for clarification. “Ahem. Um. Don’t take it personally, but you know when you workout too much, it sort of maybe causes circulation problems in other parts. Like, the parts you need to use when you get home today.” I didn’t think she was talking about mowing the grass.

As you know, I am getting ready to swim the Cap2K Open Water Race again (, in support of UsToo Intl (, a prostate cancer awareness and support organization. I had my prostate cancer scare several years ago–scary, because I was uninformed and suddenly faced with things spinning rapidly out of my control. Worse than worrying about death once the word “cancer” is introduced, you worry about never, ever again having an erection. A boner, hard-on, stiffy, tent pole, wood–none of that, ever again.

My wife was referring to my “circulation,” but privately I heard “my prostate.” Here, I would like to recommend to anyone wondering about a prostate cancer diagnosis to read “I Want My Prostate Back” . This is an award-winning article that deals honestly with the aftermath of prostate cancer treatment, chiefly erectile dysfunction.

My wife told me once that if there was ever a question of breast cancer for her, she’d lop ’em off illico presto, no regrets. “I don’t need them for anything, and they’re not worth dying for.” Personally, I like women’s breasts a great deal, but I get her point. I would miss them, but I’d rather have her if it came down to a choice. But perhaps because a man’s self-identity depends on an erect penis, the situation is not the same once prostate cancer becomes a possibility. I think.

I wouldn’t find my wife any less of a woman without her breasts, or her uterus for that matter. It could be that–beyond simply feeling sorry for myself–I would feel guilty of cheating her out of something because of my own personal problem. Sex is giving. And if giving is good, isn’t giving the full variety of gifts even better? But then I realized that there are plenty of satisfied lesbian couples out there. Or am I missing something?

It is particularly irritating that so many possible causes of erectile dysfunction present themselves as a man ages. Ten years ago, if I came home from work and said “man, I am exhausted,” my wife would say “you do too much! Don’t work so hard.” Last night I got home and her response was “well, you’re not so young any more.” I am learning to never complain to her, but you can’t hide a missing erection. It is most definitely not the boner of a 24 year-old, but I like to think I am quite healthy and virile in a sort of studied, dignified way. That just means I’ve kept the weight down, exercise a lot, and still get excited by intelligent, strong, witty women who know what they’re about. Here, if you’re a normal woman who doesn’t really understand an ageing man, I suggest reading John Updike’s classic “The Disposable Rocket”

The doctor didn’t even check for prostate cancer my last physical. Everything seems to work correctly. And when I left to swim today, I didn’t change my plans one bit because of what the future might hold (and when I think about what I’d do as a younger man just for the mere possibility of sex . . . .) But at my age, finally, I’ve learned to never depend on someone else for my happiness, and so I swam. And then, because the day, and place, and world were all beautiful, I went for a run. What happens when I get home afterward is like trying to see beyond the horizon. But I am happy that the issue is up in the air still, not settled forever.

“You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go.” But not quite yet.

Make It A Masterpiece

“Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art.” John Wooden

I did not feel like swimming this morning. No one feels like swimming at 5:00 a.m.–ok, once I happily swam in the pre-dawn, but I was naked and drunk. But when my alarm went off this morning, and I looked at my phone and saw that so many friends had contributed to my pledge swim for prostate cancer awareness, I told myself “you need to do this.” Friends, you lift me up.

Honestly, it’s pretty cool to swim under the moon, alone except for one half-awake lifeguard

I have amazing friends (and family, who I think are cool enough to also consider “friends”). I have friends who live inspiring lives, and have shared some of it with me. Friends from Canada, Australia, and Africa have donated; friends from Colorado and Texas, of which the parts outside of my hometown in Austin are like another country. Thank you all so much. I am so proud to have you in my life.

All this training is a good thing, although I hope I have learned my lesson and will scale way back as soon as the race is over. I have blown my shoulder out post-race three years in a row, and I am going to need those things. But I would like to do “well” in the race, which right now means I would like to swim well enough to honor the sacrifice made by these donations. Twenty-five dollars, a hundred dollars–none of us has money we could not be using for something else. This matters. You matter.

I would just like everyone to know that, by your friendship, by your caring, you make a difference. I’m going to write something about prostate cancer soon, and I hope no one ever feels the desperation that kind of diagnosis can bring. But you made me want to wake up every morning and make the day a masterpiece worthy of your friendship.

Soft Water

Life is just a search for content; it is a story you are writing. When the story starts to get a little boring, it is the author’s fault. To paraphrase a friend, it is because the author chooses to write a boring story.

That is what got me out here this morning. I resisted going, because it would be easier to not get up early on my day off, to not swim in the cold water, to not turn blue. But I love to read a good story.

I am not a particularly good swimmer, but I have been told that my form is beautiful. Several times: the little old ladies in the frilled onesies doing their Watersize; a lifeguard; a couple of the old guys trying to work their way through heart disease or cancer or loss.

I ran into one of those guys this morning on my way to train for the Cap2K at Barton Springs. By some strange alignment, I run into Craig pretty much every time I train at the Townlake YMCA indoor pool, no matter what day or time. He’s in his 80’s, thin and tanned. He is one of those old people who always have this subtle smile on their face, beneath his still clear blue eyes. He is always alone, and I assume he has outlived friendships and loves. I tell myself the smile is because he has not stopped working on his story.

And so as I walked into Barton Springs, there was Craig walking out. We chatted a bit, surprised to run into each other, and then he told me that he was just there testing out his new wetsuit. He’s headed to Florida in May for a US Masters Open Water Championship race. You have to see this guy; he’s really old. He says he can’t take the cold anymore, so he won’t be swimming the Cap2K at the end of this month, and he thinks he needs a wetsuit even for Florida. He’s got that smile.

Me, I am a straight line in the water–a very, very straight line, textbook form, because that’s where I learned it: in a book. There are three phases to the crawl swim stroke: the “catch,” the “pull,” and “recovery.” For the catch, reach like you’re trying to grab a rung on a ladder just a little beyond your reach. The pull, you have to actually grab the water with your open palm, anchor your hand and pull yourself through. Throughout, your body needs to be perfectly horizontal, rolling onto your side when you pull, all in a effort to engender as little resistance to the water as possible. Water is resistance, and everything comes down to mastering resistance. I take it personally. I asked my wife once to watch me and see if she could figure out why people hesitated to share a lane with me, and she said “they’re afraid.”

But something happened today, maybe thanks to Craig, maybe not. I did not find the water terribly cold. I felt the resistance, took it personally, but relaxed and the water softened. It literally felt soft. It was a unique feeling, to be immersed in resistance, to feel it envelope you, but to accept that as the way of water. It made me smile.


What I will do for a coffee mug

It is on again. This will be my seventh Cap2K Open Water Swim Race since my first in 2012 (one of the mugs is missing in this pic because it was full of coffee, in my hand, as I took the picture). I did it the first time, if I recall correctly, because I had learned there was a distinct possibility that I had something wrong with my prostate (I didn’t), and somehow, as I was researching the issues, I came across this race here in town, and it all made perfect sense: “I have blood shooting out my ass; I should enter this race.” You need to know me to understand.

That is why I began, but that is not why I continued. Swimming can be very solitary, but within a week of training seriously I realized that it was worth doing because of the people I meet. I have met wonderful people, extraordinary people, and despite the weeks of getting up in the dark, and swimming in the cold, and shoulders hurting so much I was afraid to go to sleep because I would move them in my sleep, I am back for number seven. I am back for these people.

This will be my first year swimming in 60-64 year old category! This is a wonderful thing about age-group racing: you just have to live long enough, and eventually there is no competition. I didn’t even place last year in the 55-59 group, but the same course time in the 60+ group would pretty much have put me in first place. I don’t know why that matters. Again, you would have to know me, to understand why I do not know why that matters.

It is on. I swim a lot. But everything depends on those first 200 yards or so, that group-start out there in the middle of the river, surrounded by dozens of flailing arms and legs in that brown, cold water. If you get through that–if you are able to breath, and find a rhythm, find your stroke–you will make the rest. So tomorrow I am up in the dark and out in the freezing water at Barton Springs the remind my brain of what it must do so that my body can do this one more time.

There is so little time to know people, out there in the middle of the river. You just have to get through the hard part.