Sunday, August 9, 2009

Birth of a butterfly

Shaq has been one of the most dominating basketball players ever. Seven foot, three hundred pounds of BBall forca-slamma-jamma.

He'd bull his way through beanpole seven footers and hurl the basketball through the hoop with the force of a man fleeing commitment. He'd snare rebounds off the basket and set picks that could stop a rampaging woman shopper.

There was only one thing he couldn't do.

Shoot free throws.

You know. Those shots where everyone stops playing, gets out of your way, and they clear a path so you get a head on, uncontested look at the basket from a minimal distance away.

Shaq would look up - well, almost down - at the hoop, the ball engulfed in his huge mitt, and timidly shot-put the ball at the basket. He missed way more often he made the shot.

He was so bad at it, teams employed a strategy they called, Hack-a-Shaq at the end of games, putting him on the line, and when he'd miss ... which he usually did... they would more often than not get the rebound since Shaq would be too far away from the basket.

So his teams often took the future Hall of Famer out of games at the end to nullify this strategy.

Now what does this have to do with the birth of a butterfly, you ask? Well, hold on a minute and it might make sense (or not).

I swim just about every other day. I don't just paddle around. I swim a hard two mile swim at a pretty good pace at a local high school. Let's say I'm quicker than the JV, but slower than the Varsity. And I used to teach swimming for kids and later at a junior college. So let's say that my swimming credentials stand up okay.

I can't do an efficient butterfly stroke. Well, I can do the stroke, but I can't do more than thirty or fifty yards without getting gassed.

That's just not fair! I'm in shape. I know how to do the stroke, but I'm doing something wrong. Something, but I don't know what.

Til last weekend, that is.

I had the World swimming championship TIVO'd, and I watched Michael Phelps and friends with a bit more interest than some people. I didn't care as much who won, as in how they swam. So during the underwater shots, I'm running the TIVO on slow-motion, just trying to see how they do what they do.

And then I did.

I saw what they were doing differently than me ... albeit a bit quicker, hence the slo-mo. I was going too deep on my stroke, and it was taking me too much effort to come back to the surface. And I thought I could see why.

I went to my small pool in the back yard and I practiced a bit, using an altered, more shallow stroke. It felt good, different, but good. But I couldn't be sure until I could swim a longer distance.

When Monday hit, I swam my two miles, and when I was done, I went to the far side of the pool, dipped underwater and pushed off. I dolphin kicked for a good distance, and then shot to the surface. My arms erupted from the water and I kicked into the stroke. I pulled and kicked again, and again, and again, and just shot across the water.

When I got to the other side, I felt good. I wasn't exhausted from the effort. I'd done it! So I did it again, and again, and again, and it kept working. The butterfly had finally broken out of its cocoon!

I imagine what Shaq had felt like if he had watched some basketball game, and really studied a good free throw shooter. And if he had found something, that something that made it 'click' with him.

He'd have made the Hall of Fame.

Well, he's going to make it anyway, but at least he'd have been able to play at the end of games.


Fang Face is almost here! Just a couple more weeks!

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