By Rich House.
On November 19, I had the pleasure of attending and volunteering at the Fitter and Faster event held in Woodbridge VA, hosted by the Potomac Marlins. The clinic was geared toward swimmers age 11 and younger, focusing on fine tuning open turns as well as perfecting underwater dolphin kicks. Olympians Brad Craig and Claire Donahue ran the clinic with assistance from four volunteer coaches (myself included) from various PVS clubs. The morning started off with a bright and cheery greeting from the event coordinator, Courtney. She handed my daughter a goody bag and ushered her down to where Brad and Claire were posing with swimmers for photographs. Claire draped a gold medal she won in the 2012 Olympic Games around my daughter’s neck. They posed for a picture with Brad. Boom! The smile was huge and enthusiasm for the clinic shot through the roof!
Once in the pool area, we joined the 50+ other kids ranging in age from 6-11. Courtney gave a quick introduction, then let Brad and Claire talk with the kids. Captivating their attention, Claire spoke about her swim career, from competing in the pool at age 6 to the day she became a member of the National Team at age 23. She emphasized the importance of having goals, both big and small throughout her career. Some of the small goals were: focusing on her coach during practice, keeping a journal of her practices and how she felt on a daily basis, and making sure she attended every practice. Focusing on these smaller goals first afforded her achieve the big ones. I’ve heard that many elite athletes keep journals. Documenting how they feel and what they did to accomplish their athletic goals on a practice by practice (sometimes hour by hour) has proven to be essential to their growth. Brad also began competitive swimming at a young age and attained National Team status at the age of 23. During his youth, he tried a variety of sports, even playing soccer through his Junior year in high school. He credits his coach at Tennessee for keeping him motivated and having fun. He sets a daily goal to learn something new – either in the water or about himself.
Clair and Brad separated the swimmers into two groups for the in-water clinic. Claire took half the kids to work on underwater dolphin kicks and Brad took the other half to work on open turns. The groups rotated every 15 minutes, introducing a variation of the skill each time. I assisted with Brad’s group and found it amusing to see the kids attempt to execute the first drill. While laying flat on the surface of the water, he demonstrated how to flip backward, using core muscles to execute the skill.
It took the kids a couple of tries to get their brains and bodies to flip backwards instead of the normal front flip they execute with the freestyle flip turn. But in the end they got it!
Claire had a similar challenge for the kids- to make their bodies do something they weren’t used to doing. Here’s a short clip of her butterfly drills:
A video posted by Fitter and Faster Swim Tour (@fitterandfasterswimtour) on
After the in-water portion of the clinic, Brad and Claire held a 15 minute question and answer session with the kids. The age group swimmers questions ranged from, “What was your most memorable race?” to “How did you deal with not making the team in 2016?” On the favorite race question, Brad gave a very descriptive account of winning the 200 IM at his high school championships that included how he had to mount a comeback on the back half of the race to win by .05 over his best friend. Claire answered the question on missing the 2016 Olympic team by explaining how failure is a ‘good thing’. She went on to say that with each failure there is an opportunity to improve and learn. She found much support in her team mates and family which confirmed she had the best people behind her always.
The clinic wrapped up with autographs, handshakes, and lots of smiles.
In a recent Facebook post, David Arluck, the founder of Fitter and Faster clinics expressed, ” I am so appreciative for the business we have and the people I get to work with every day, whether it’s personally or through one of the talented teammates I have… Fitter and Faster already has over 120 sessions booked for 2017.”
The feeling is mutual. The experience provided by Fitter and Faster for the young swimmers provided some new skills, exposure to the life of an elite athlete, and enthusiasm to get better. If you have an open weekend to attend one of these events, I recommend taking advantage, you won’t be disappointed. See the Fitter Faster website for more information.