Feature by Kristen Heiss
COLLEGE STATION, Texas, September 4. WHETHER it is lucky goggles, a certain pre-race meal, or a special towel, swimmers are prone to developing superstitious habits.
Superstitions do not fade with age or experience. Although certain habits may change, there is almost always a comfort routine that a swimmer has to help them prepare for meets and racing. That stretching routine behind the blocks may look like a simple pre-race warm-up, but for some swimmers this routine is a security blanket. These routines have become part of the swimmer's pre-race rituals, and almost all swimmers have some form of them.
For some swimmers, their pre-race rituals start in advance of the meet. Take, for example, National Team member David Cromwell. David says he always watches the movie "Pre" about the legendary runner, Steve Prefontaine, the night before he leaves for a meet. Olympic gold medalist Mel Stewart says he started his pre-meet routine with the same meal: pasta, red sauce, and hot green tea. Other swimmers find ways to relax before the big meets. Mary DeScenza, another National Team member, finds time to get a pedicure before her important meets. As Mary says, "when you look good, you feel good and you swim fast….. that's my motto."
Some of these good luck rituals continue onto the pool deck and into the pool. For Mel, every meet warm-up began with a 1500 swim and two 50's butterfly pace. Mel had his pre-race routine perfected to a science: "Same walk to the locker room. Same stretch routine in the ready-room. Behind the blocks; don't remove clothes until my name was announced. Taste the water. Fix the goggles. Deep breathes. Get blood up. Think; quick reaction, don't over-swim the first 50….. BANG! The race begins…" Mel said he even had a mental preparation routine in the ready room, where he visualized "physically beating my competitors into submission." With three Olympic medals to his name, Mel obviously found a routine that worked for him.
Mary says that she likes to "stand up tall on the blocks right before the start of the race when everyone else is bent over. It gives me a great look at the pool and gives me confidence."
For David, behind the blocks he "can't stand having even a touch of fog in my goggles before I race, so I am continually taking them off and rubbing them clean." David calls this more of a habit than a superstition though, saying the "boundary between superstition and habit is pretty gray."
Some athlete's superstitions have nothing to do with the pool or the race itself. Julia Wilkinson, a Canadian Olympic Team swimmer, says that if she uses a certain bathroom stall before a race and the race goes well that she "has to keep using the same stall for the rest of the meet. I'll wait for it [the lucky bathroom stall] if I have to."
Mel, Mary, David, and Julia have all found their own habits that work for them. Whether it is lucky meals, movies, pedicures, or bathroom stalls, swimmers develop routines to relieve stress and comfort themselves so that when it is time to dive in the water, they are ready to go.