The Morning Swim Show, August 22, 2011: Heart Attack Leads to Invention and Masters World Records for Larry Day

PHOENIX, Arizona, August 22. MASTERS swimmer Larry Day joins today's edition of The Morning Swim Show to talk about returning to the pool to set Masters world records after recovering from a heart attack.

Day talks about the journey to setting those records, the invention that helped during training and how his heart is doing now. Watch the full show in the video player below and visit SwimmingWorld.TV for more video interviews.

Special Thanks to Finis for sponsoring the Morning Swim Show's interview segments in the Finis Monitor. Visit Finis to learn more about their innovative products for aquatic athletes.

Show Transcript: (Note: This is an automated service where some typos and grammatical errors may occur.)

Jeff Commings: Welcome to the Morning Swim Show for Monday, August 22, 2011. I'm your host Jeff Commings. Today in the FINIS Monitor we're proud to have with us Larry Day, who broke two Masters world records at the recent US Masters Long Course Nationals. Larry joins us in the FINIS Monitor from Grand Blanc, Michigan. Larry, welcome to the show. How are you doing today?

Larry Day: Just great, Jeff, thanks for having me on the show.

Jeff Commings: It's a pleasure. So, two world records at Nationals in the 400 IM, and in the 200 fly in the 60-64 age group. Now, world records in themselves are pretty remarkable achievements, but for you I think it's more amazing that you even made it to the meet. You had a heart attack three years ago that you initially thought meant no more swimming for you. Tell us about the day of the heart attack and how you eventually got yourself back in the water.

Larry Day: Well I had been swimming all along and I think sometimes we get a little egotistical and think we're bulletproof. I happened to fly into Salt Lake City, my wife and I did the night before, which is I think roughly 7000, maybe 7500 feet above sea level. And that next morning I was kind of itching to do some kind of swimming. I couldn't find a pool anywhere after talking to my friend and I thought "Well, I'll go out and run with my buddy." I'm not a runner and moreover I wasn't acclimated to 7500 feet above sea level. Nonetheless, early in the morning, dark, just busted out the front door, we ran about a mile, we did some pushups, we did some sit-ups, we ran another mile and I conducted one of the great all-time stress tests on my heart that you could do and I failed. I fell down, kind of looked at the stars for a while, and I knew something had happened. And then belatedly really – I would advise anybody listening to this – don't do what I did. I waited 30 hours thinking it really couldn't be a heart attack or heart problem, and then I finally went and got help at the local hospital, Timpanogos Regional Medical Center – and what wonderful people they were and in record time they got me into a heart cath lab and I had a 4-mm cobalt stent put in my anterior descending artery and I was up and walking in about four hours if I remember correctly. But quite amazing what they can do today for people if they can get to you or you can get to them in time.

Jeff Commings: So how long was it before you were cleared to get back in the pool?

Larry Day: Well that's an interesting question, Jeff. At first I came back to Grand Blanc after about five or six days of rehabilitation out there in Utah and I followed up with a wonderful cardiologist here and he told me we need to go slowly, we had to do some testing and try to figure out what if any damage had been done in the course of this thing. And we did some cardiovascular stress tests on the treadmill and this type of thing and he told me after about I'd say three weeks, he said "You can swim. You can swim as far as you want to but I don't want you to swim fast. I want you to swim nice and easy and just start very, very slowly." So that's what I did but I have to admit that poor cardiologist – I kept pushing him to let me go a little harder. And finally I think he got a little frustrated with me and he sent me down to the Head of Cardiology at the University of Michigan and I had the honor of being attended to by Bo Schembechler's old cardiologist who had kept Bo alive a long time, believe me. And we developed a friendship and really in a sense he's kind of my medical coach. He also told me that I could swim as long as I wanted to, but he really didn't want me to swim hard and he didn't use this vocabulary but my take on it was he did not want me holding my breath, doing sprinting, and doing what swimmers often call anaerobic type sets. So I swam very long type aerobic sets and in fact as part of this regimen I invented an underwater pace clock because I wanted to monitor very carefully as I swam long distances just how fast I was going because I pretty much knew at a given rate per hundred yards what my heartbeat would be.

Jeff Commings: So tell me when you got back in the pool did you – when you were starting to kind of go a little bit longer distances and a little bit harder in terms of intensity – did you ever feel any kind of pressure on your heart? Did you ever feel like "I need to be stepping back" or was it every day you got better and better?

Larry Day: I don't know if I could say every day but it was consistently I get better and I consistently swam distance. And with the pace clock I could tell I was improving in terms of my times. When I started I could probably hold about 1:15 per hundred at any given length if I went at 1650, or what have you. And over the course of the next three years that got down to about 1:08. But I took it slow and easy for about a year and I could feel my strength coming back and it was really – for the physicians who were helping me it was more a problem for them to convince me to not – well I used to say "Can I release the hostages?" and they would say "No, not yet." So finally it got to a point where we decreased the medicine that I was on and this type of thing and I was able to start swimming harder. But I tell you I chose events that were longer like the 400 IM and the 200 fly and I found ways to swim them and maintain an aerobic way to swim them. And really, as I look at it now, that's where I showed my greatest improvement in swimming – was in those kinds of races.

Jeff Commings: Well, I've got to tell you, Larry, as a sprinter I don't ever see a 400 IM and 200 fly ever in the same sentence as the word "aerobic," so I think you've really kind of opened some people's eyes that you could swim them aerobically. So tell me a little bit more about how you're able to do those races "aerobically."

Larry Day: Well first of all I'm very fortunate for a number of reasons but in that regard I'm fortunate because I was kind of a one trick pony as a kid, I was a butterflyer, and so in the 400 IM I can just loaf the butterfly out, just maintain rhythm, really minimizing use of the legs. I almost use a one beat kind of flick if you will. I'm just barely flicking a kick to keep my hips and my legs up on top of the water and rolling over the water and feathering out at the end of the pool. Unlike when I was a young swimmer in the ‘60s and we were taught to push hard all the way through on the butterfly and use our triceps for that last four or five inches of the pull or push if you will. I don't know if that's even the technique that's recommended today but I certainly don't do it. I try to swim the 200 butterfly and the 200 IM using the big muscles of the body -the pecks and the lats – and try not to overemphasize a full stroke all the way through. So I kind of scull out or feather out at the end, I breathe every stroke if I want to. If I feel the hips ever so slightly changing position and getting lower then I might take one up, one down but I stay aerobic and I swim very comfortably and try to swim the race three-quarters or maybe even more in that fashion. And then on the way home as the arms are fatiguing I'll throw in the legs and try to have those bring me home.

Jeff Commings: Did you expect to break these world records in the 200 fly and 400 IM?

Larry Day: You know it seems a little arrogant for a person to say that they did but I would say this – I would have been disappointed had I not broken the 200m butterfly record, I thought I could do that from things I had demonstrated to myself in practice. The 400 IM, that to me was a long shot and I felt so good I was able to go out slow in that butterfly and work. My poorest strokes are the backstroke and the breast stroke and so I was fresh for those and attacked those really rigorously. And then as I came home on the last length on the freestyle I thought "I think I can do this" and I kicked it in and swam hard in. Of course I kept breathing though, I breathe every stroke because I really believe for me – I can't say for everybody that's 60 years old – I think it's a good idea for somebody that's gone through an experience as I have that you don't want to drive that tachometer into the red zone, you just want to stay aerobic, swim with air. And I think this way in terms of racing too. I don't really race anymore. If somebody wants to come by I let them go and then hope that I see them later on the end of the race. But I try to think more in terms of my own personal goals and how I'm going to swim a race than whatever the person next to me is doing.

Jeff Commings: Well you talked about the underwater pace clock that you used to help you with your training. We see the banner for it in the background there. How long did it take from conceiving the idea to getting it on the market?

Larry Day: You know I have wanted one of these since I was a swimmer at the University of Michigan. I've always thought "Why don't we have what runners have?" Runners can look at their wrist watch or they can see in a pace clock maybe the time at track or something. I don't know about you but I hate looking at a wrist watch when I'm swimming say coming off the wall during the super streamline and I lose my position in the water and everything so I always wanted this. This kind of brought that back. I said I want to wait and monitor what I'm doing as I'm swimming and it was kind of one of those things that you've got a bucket list, I said "This is on my bucket list and I want to do this." So I started to design it and come up with the specifications, I talked to a lot of people about how big the digits would need to be, I talked to a lot of people about whether or not they wanted programming responsibilities in the clock or if they just wanted a simple keep-it-simple stupid kind of thing and that's what they told me. They said "We don't want to know what date it is, we don't want to push two buttons at the same time and come up with different modes, we want a clock on the bottom to synchronize with the wall clock on the wall. So I then struck up a relationship with an engineer and a team and I flew to Hong Kong and met with some people in Shenzhen, China and we started the process of prototyping and went through about three or four prototypes spanning two years until we got a product that I thought I felt did the job. and my coach Gus Steger, I want to mention that Gus, my old coach from U of M, he had an idea about putting a lanyard on it so you could hang it from a lane line at the end of the pool if you wanted to – most people use it on the bottom or on the deck when they're coming off the super streamline – just before they break out they see it. I thought Gus had a great idea. I think he's 87 years old and he's still got a great mind.

Jeff Commings: Well, it's obvious, it's very obvious. So when are we going to see you breaking world records again?

Larry Day: I don't know about world records and that type of thing but I sure have a great joy for the sport. I like being around the people that are associated with this sport, they have by and large and attitude that they want to extend the quality of their lives and swimming is one way they do that. I just had so much fun at the Masters Nationals that whether I break records or not is really incidental. I just want to be part of this and I appreciate the fact that a magazine like Swimming World would be interested in a story like this. I always wanted to be in Swimming World Magazine when I was a kid but I wasn't good enough. It's too bad you have to have a heart attack to finally make the cut.

Jeff Commings: Well I agree with that. Well I know you are probably a great inspiration to a lot of people in the deck at Nationals and I'm sure you'll continue to be an inspiration for people who see this, hear your story. I can tell you I count myself as one of those.

Larry Day: You know, Jeff, I want to share something with you. I got a wonderful letter from my cardiologist about two months ago and he said upon reading my most recent EKG he said there was no evidence of prior infarct and boy, it's just amazing to read something like that, that functionally there's no evidence of it. I really attribute that to being blessed and God helping me through this and my family and my wife and my friends but also I think all the swimming is such a wonderful way to rehabilitate and of course you've got to listen to your doctors and do what they tell you because they know. But I think this sport had a lot to do with my recovery from this.

Jeff Commings: Just think twice before you go running in Salt Lake City again.

Larry Day: You know when you're out of your element and you're doing something different it makes a lot of sense to think it through.

Jeff Commings: Exactly. Larry, thanks so much for joining us and sharing your story with us and we'll look forward to seeing you back in the pool again.

Larry Day: Thanks a lot, Jeff, I was honored that you guys would interview me. Thank you very much.

Jeff Commings: Our pleasure. That's Larry Day joining us in the FINIS Monitor. That's going to do it for today's show. I'm Jeff Commings, thanks for watching.

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