PHOENIX, Arizona, June 20. ALEXANDRA Paul is no stranger to the open water, having starred for five seasons on the hit TV show Baywatch, and on today's edition of The Morning Swim Show she talks about her upcoming swim around Key West in Florida.
Paul has been competing in open water races for a few years after having knee surgery, and she talks about the benefits of swimming in open water, and how she's been training for it. She also looks back on her years as a junior lifeguard and how it helped in a small way to landing her role on Baywatch. Be sure to visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.
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Jeff Commings: This is The Morning Swim Show for Wednesday, June 20th, 2012. I'm your host, Jeff Commings. Today, in the FINIS Monitor, we'll be talking to Alexandra Paul. You may recognize that name mostly from her work on the hit TV show, Baywatch, but over the years, she's been adding open water swimmer to her list of accomplishments. On Saturday, she'll be in South Florida racing in the annual Swim Around Key West, a 12.5-mile swim that attracts many accomplished swimmers. And Alexandra joins us right now in the FINIS Monitor from her home. Alexandra, welcome to The Morning Swim Show. How are you?
Alexandra Paul: Thanks so much. I'm happy to be here.
Jeff Commings: And tell us exactly where your home is.
Alexandra Paul: I live in Los Angeles, California.
Jeff Commings: OK. So you'll be flying all the way across the country for this big Key West Swim later this week. Tell us what drew you to the swim.
Alexandra Paul: Well, I'm excited to swim in Key West because the water is so beautiful, and I have done several longer swims. I mean it's all relative, right? Because some people in this swim will be training for 30-mile swims, and this swim will just be a really easy training day for them. But for me, I like swimming without a wet suit and in clear water. So I have always chosen warm water swims to do longer. I swim in the Fiji Swim, which is an 11-mile swim between two islands a couple of years ago. Before that, I did the Maui Channel Swim and a swim in Bon Air, which was just six miles. So they are progressively getting longer, and Key West was a little longer. It's 12.5 miles, so it was longer than my Fiji swim a couple of years ago.
Jeff Commings: So how do you get prepared for this? Tell me what your training is like for a 12.5-mile swim.
Alexandra Paul: Well, for me, it's sort of analogous to a marathon, how you train for a marathon, which is what I used to do before I started swimming but I had knee surgery, so … I like the long slow distances. So basically, I swim every other day. I cannot swim everyday because I have to protect my shoulders, which are not great. So I swim every other day, and during the week, it's shorter swims. They start off an hour, go to two or three hours. And then the weekends, they get progressively longer towards the end. But my longest swim was a five-hour swim in the pool. I chose not to do any ocean swims because I didn't want to wear a wet suit which binds my shoulders, so very protective. And doing intervals during the week, doing those shorter swims is good too. I have, once again, because of my shoulders, I basically do the longer slower distances, and I don't do a lot of intervals because it does stress them.
Jeff Commings: So it's safe to say that we'll never see you doing like a 50 freestyle at a swim meet or anything like that.
Alexandra Paul: No, you will not. In fact, even before my shoulders were a problem, you wouldn't have seen me do that. I've always been sort of the … I prefer just to, yes, go long.
Jeff Commings: Well, long before your association with Baywatch, you did have an association with open water. I understand you were a junior lifeguard?
Alexandra Paul: I was. I grew up in rural Connecticut in the northwest corner in a small village called West Cornwall. We had a lake, and I was a junior lifeguard. And then I became an emergency medical technician also, which helped me, when I was 22 or something, 23, just because my twin sister was a firefighter and she recommended that I do that. So I was pretty prepared to play a lifeguard on Baywatch when I was 28 for five years.
Jeff Commings: Yes. I would imagine when you went to the audition and said, “I've done this before. This won't be anything new to me,” that probably helped you out a lot.
Alexandra Paul: [Laughs] I didn't tell them that as a junior lifeguard I never had saved anybody. But I did do the Heimlich maneuver on somebody when I was 18.
Jeff Commings: That's good.
Alexandra Paul: So my CPR training came in handy. So far, I haven't used my 20 years of EMT training now and I'm hoping never to.
Jeff Commings: Yes. Fingers crossed.
Alexandra Paul: [Laughs] Yes.
Jeff Commings: Let's talk about Baywatch a little bit. Obviously, you have to stay in shape for that role. I mean most of every episode, you're on a beach in a swimsuit. So were you doing a lot of swimming to stay in shape? Was it running? Tell us how you were able to be so fit on that show for five seasons.
Alexandra Paul: Well, I actually didn't swim a lot for training when I was on that show because we would start shooting at 6 a.m. and then we would stop shooting when the sun went down, so it was less conducive to swimming in a pool. So I would go to the gym. I would get up around 3:30 and go work out and then I would be on the set at 6 before the sun came up.
Jeff Commings: Yes. It definitely doesn't make it easy to get a pool or even go down in the ocean.
Alexandra Paul: Yes. But luckily, I had a strong swim background. I mean I had to learn the … because I didn't grow up around an ocean, I had to learn how to dive off a moving boat and how to run in the water with those cans and look graceful, which many times I didn't. Because if you throw the can back at the wrong time, it will jerk you back with the tide. The swells will jerk you back and it looks terrible. I did that several times on camera, unfortunately. You only get one shot because then your hair is wet.
Jeff Commings: Ah.
Alexandra Paul: You can only get one take with those rescues.
Jeff Commings: Yes. I was going to say you just keep doing it over and over, but yes, you explained it really well. You got only one shot to do it.
Alexandra Paul: Yes, not with the rescues, yes.
Jeff Commings: Well, how did you … if you weren't able to get a lot of swim training in during your time with Baywatch, when did you really start to get into wanting to be an open water swimmer?
Alexandra Paul: The year, I guess it was … I left Baywatch in '95. I think they still hadn't … they played … they aired my shows. They dribbled them in '96. So I spent a year … I loved doing Baywatch and I spent a year doing other projects. But they weren't as, just, they weren't as fulfilling as Baywatch. I mean Baywatch is so much fun. It was not brain surgery, but it was so fun. I love the outdoors, going to work and not having to wear heels and uncomfortable clothes. You just put on a red bathing suit. You didn't have to think about it. So I was invited to train for the — and participate in the Hawaiian Ironman in 1997, and I just, I jumped on that opportunity because I felt like I wanted to do something different. And that was my first introduction to open water because of course, the Ironman has a 2.5-mile ocean swim. Or the Hawaiian Ironman has an ocean swim. Other Ironmans have lake swims and such, but the Hawaiian Ironman had an ocean swim. So I started swimming more in the ocean and I really loved it. I was still … I'm still … I don't … I'm scared of the water at night, so all those swimmers who swim like more than … I don't … I can probably only go maybe five more miles because that will bring me into night swimming and I'm terrified of the ocean at night. I won't even put a foot in, monsters and things, just … so I'll probably cap my long distance swimming with just maybe 15 miles or not much more. It won't be like the 30 miles that some of my swimming friends do.
Jeff Commings: That's pretty extreme for somebody who is not, I guess, a competitive swimmer in the sense of training specifically for this. I mean 15 miles is a long way to go.
Alexandra Paul: Well, I think what's really interesting about the swimming world is the age is so much older than those folks that you refer to that swim the 50 yards really fast. And I think, I'm 48, I'll probably be right in the average age of the swimmers in this Key West swim, maybe even a little young. So a lot of the swimmers that participate in these long distance things, they have very full lives. They have kids and jobs. It's not their full-time job or anything. So one of the things about swimming, and with any sport, you have to train smart, not so much … time is … you've got to put in the time, but you have to train smart. You can't over-train. You can't injure yourself. And you have to be able to earn money so you can afford to fly to places to go and do the swims [laughs].
Jeff Commings: Absolutely. And it's a great way to stay in shape too.
Alexandra Paul: Yes. It is. I love it and I … I really was sad when I couldn't run anymore. But now, I'm being really protective of my shoulders because I would be even sadder if I couldn't swim anymore. So that's why I'm not going to be really fast in this swim because I don't do a lot of speed work. But I will finish if I eat right and keep myself hydrated. So it's not only the training but you have to be smart.
Jeff Commings: Well, something that a lot of older swimmers kind of know about is juggling time to swim with your career. I mean being an actress, you probably have to travel a lot. You have weird schedules. Like you said, with Baywatch, you're from sun up to sun down. I mean how are you able to fit swim time in with all of your demands that you would have with your job?
Alexandra Paul: Well, the last couple of months, me as an actress, I don't work nine to five 360 days a year. So I haven't worked for the last couple of months, and the same as with for the Iron Man, I just took off time, literally told my agents I'm not going to go up for any acting jobs during this time because, well, a triathlon, you've got to train in three sports, so it was more time-consuming. But here, if I have gotten a job in the last couple of months, I would have been able to work around it, just woken up. Actually, I wouldn't have been able to swim beforehand because you get goggle marks. I don't know if I have goggle marks now, but you get goggle marks for a few hours and they really show up on camera. So I would have had to swim at night, which is not my preference. I'm really an early bird. I like to do all my training in the morning. But I would have just worked around it, yes.
Jeff Commings: Or just had some really good makeup artist to cover up the goggle marks.
Alexandra Paul: It doesn't work. I've tried [laughs]. You can't. They are just deep indentations, and the cameras nowadays, high def and everything, ah, it shows everything.
Jeff Commings: Oh, that's a shame. That's a shame.
Alexandra Paul: Yes.
Jeff Commings: Well, just to kind of touch on your acting career a little bit, I mean everybody knows you from Baywatch. You've spent some time on Melrose. Just on a personal note, something that was really exciting to me was seeing you on Mad Men, which is one of my favorite shows. I mean you didn't have much time on it. You played Duck's wife. But I remember watching the episode and looking at the credits and seeing your name. It's like that couldn't have been her. I mean you looked so unrecognizable. But it had to have kind of been fun to play on that show.
Alexandra Paul: It was super fun. And even though, yes, I played Duck Phillips' ex-wife, and yes, when you audition for that show as a guest star, you don't know the role that you're going up for. In fact, even the audition that I had, they changed the names of the regular characters so I didn't even know the storyline. And then when I went in to the reading the week before, when the cast does the reading, that was when I first knew what I was going to be doing, whether it was one scene or 10 scenes or what. I had no idea. It turned out to be one scene. For better or worse, I was just grateful to be on it because it's such a great show. And even though I never even took my coat off in that scene … it was I think the second season and the show was called “Maidenform” because they name the shows after the ad campaigns that are mentioned that they're working on. Even though I never took my coat off, I had completely authentic 1960's clothes on even down to my bullet bra and my stockings. I mean everything was authentic. And so you just, you got to love that. And the hairstyles, totally authentic, so it was kind of neat. It was fun. I mean I wasn't born at that time, I was born a couple of years later, but it was cool. I felt like my mother.
Jeff Commings: Yes. I was going to say you probably understood what your mother had to go through at that time.
Alexandra Paul: Yes. Oh my God. My mother [laughs], this is totally not swimming-related, but my mother used to go to sleep with these huge curlers on, and as you can see, I don't do that [laughs]. So hair has never been my forte. Thank God I have other people to do it for me except for when I do Skype interviews. You should feel very, very special that I am comfortable enough to do an interview with you without doing my hair [laughs].
Jeff Commings: Well, we get swimmers all the time sometimes just out of the pool with the goggle lines and the wet hair, so comparatively, Alexandra, we're grateful to just have you in any shape, in any shape.
Alexandra Paul: [Laughs] I brushed it. I did brush it and I made an attempt [laughs].
Jeff Commings: Yes. Well, most swimmers don't do that, so thank you for that. Before we go, I want to also mention that you're a very vocal activist for animal rights and the environment. I would imagine being a celebrity helps your voice get heard a little louder.
Alexandra Paul: Well, for example, on this swim, I'm vegan so I'll be doing … I've been training vegan. I was vegetarian for 33 years so all my Iron Man training and all of my other swims were done a vegetarian diet, and I feel very fit and strong and energetic. And so I think just that can show people that being vegan isn't for pasty, unhealthy, wimpy people [laughs], that I get enough protein and things. So just yes, by example, I prefer to be an example rather than be a preacher. But I am lucky to be able to state what I think and have at least some people listen. Yes.
Jeff Commings: Well, that's great. Where are we going to be able to see you on the screen, either the small or big screen in sometime soon?
Alexandra Paul: Well, I am doing another Lifetime film this summer, and then I'll be doing the independent film called Broken Dishes in the fall.
Jeff Commings: Well, good. We'll definitely have to keep our TVs tuned and look on our movie guides for Broken Dishes. Thank you so much, Alexandra, for joining us. Good luck with the Key West Swim this weekend, and I'm sure we'll catch you around in another swim sometime in the future.
Alexandra Paul: It's great talking to you. Thanks so much.
Jeff Commings: All right. My pleasure.
Alexandra Paul: Bye.
Jeff Commings: All right. So that's Alexandra Paul joining us on The Morning Swim Show today. And we invite you to join the conversation about topics discussed on today's show. Just go to our article about this show on SwimmingWorld.com or our Facebook posting. You can also tweet your thoughts to us o Twitter. Our Twitter handle is @swimmingworld. That will do it for today's show. I'm Jeff Commings. Thanks for watching.
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