Thoughts While Swimming 6500 Yards In Birthday Suit

Brent Rutemiller - Swimming a straight 6500 is more medicine than workout.

There was literally a new moon on the horizon at 4:45AM as I stood by the edge of the pool.  Dark skies, light rain, and 46F degrees of temperature surrounded me as I dipped my goggles into the water.  I stood there contemplating my belly button for a minute embracing the elements.

“Brent, you really don’t have to do this,” I said to myself.  “There are better ways to celebrate your birthday.”

Sixty-five hundred yards non-stop was my goal.  I will let you figure out why I chose that number.

Swimming a straight 6500 is more a medicine than a workout.  It is more meditative than a challenge.  It is more of a celebration of life than a bodily punishment. It is more of an ageless example than a timeless feat.

I did it for many reasons.  To show that age is relative to the state of mind.  To show that one can thrive in the middle of a pandemic.  To set an example to those younger as to what old is not.  I did it for my newborn grandson, so that someday he may be inspired to challenge himself with high goals.  I did it for my wife who just survived a stage two cancer scare.  I did it because I can.

I count no laps when I swim, nor do I look at a pace clock.  I wear no hand paddles, fins, pull buoys or listen to music.  Long ago, I convinced myself that If a person can run 5 miles, why can’t I just swim 5 miles.

I also learned that if I don’t get in the water the first thing in the morning, I will not swim that day.

So with all that in mind, I started my Apple watch and Finis Smart Goggle and jumped in, feet first of course.

“Okay, let’s do a 3000 warmup, 500 swim, and then a 3000 warmdown,” was my first thought as I sped through the first 300 yards with my mind all over the place.

“Just find a rhythm.  3 cycle breathing.  Long exhales.  Streamline off the wall.  Get into the moment.  What was the meaning of my dream last night anyway?  How can I take my mind back there?  Hey, what is that on the bottom?  Is that a giant snotball?  Check it out on the flipside.  It’s now over by the underwater light floating about a foot off the bottom.  Passed it.  Circle back. There it is again, but it is moving over to the next lane.  Good,” I tell myself.

Looks like one of the early masters just came on deck.  Must be 5:15ish.  I must be 1700 yards into it.  Most master swimmers will now start filing in to their covid pre-assigned lanes.

After every lap I glance around the pool to see who is showing up for their practice. In a knowingly poor technique fashion, I lift my head on each turn to grab a breath and to spot slow walking, parka hidden faces emerge from the forehead temperature taking station.  They all are wearing masks, which is now eerily normal.  This is the rain or shine crowd.  Most don’t know I have been swimming for 45 minutes.  My mind studies their everyday rhythm.  Some sit bundled in a chair.  Others, clad only in swimwear, swing their arms in a stretching ritual that probably has not changed since their college days.

This is my version of bird watching and it is a good distraction from the constant flipping back and forth.  They will be doing traditional sets. The same ones they have been doing for years, with just a slight variation of either a kick, pull, swim or perhaps a swim, pull then kick or even a pull, kick then swim on ascending or descending sendoff in a ladder sequence at an easy/hard hard/easy progression.

My mind goes back to writing those workouts just like I did 30 years ago as a national team coach for USA Swimming.  As I return from my mental time travel, I see that all the masters have stopped and are now hanging on the wall waiting for their first set.  From years of note taking, I know that the time is now 5:40AM.  I have probably logged 3000 yards without even looking at the clock.

I lose my concentration and come back into the moment and realize that I am only halfway toward my goal.  I start to question myself as I usually get out at this point.  But today is special.

I slog through the water trying to get back into a rhythm.  I become more aware of the present.  Things that I would not be mindful of start paining me.  My right shoulder twinges on recovery, so I work on extension and try to recruit different muscle groups.  I now realize that my left chin has been scraping my left shoulder for an hour during breathing and I now have chafing there.

Then The Big One Hits

“A cramp in my right calf.  Damm!  Stop pointing your toes Brent!  Don’t push off the wall so hard.  Straighten your foot.  Kick with the toes curled.  You can’t stop,” I tell myself.

The cramp releases and then moves to my left calf.  “Brent, you are dehydrated.  Idiot.  I told you to bring water, but Nooooooo!  You did not want to stop your swim.”

The cramp stops for now and then I sense one in my thigh.  That is a deal breaker.  My pace slows to “First Aid” speed.  I deal with it as I send my mind back to high school when I would get huge cramps.  We called them charlie horses and I had a stable of them.  My coaches did not know about hydration then.  We did not have water bottles on deck.  If you told me about electrolytes back then, I would have thought you were going to shock me into swimming faster.

I don’t know how long my mind travelled in that reflectionary period.  But when I came back into the present, I could see blue sky breaking through the gray clouds above as the sun was starting to rise.  I knew that I was probably 5000 into my swim by now.

5,000 yards was the maximum straight swim for me in preparation for today’s swim.  I was now in new waters.  I began to name all the presidents backwards and forwards to take my mind off my swim.  “Now did Tyler or Taylor follow Polk?  How did Chester Arthur become President?” Grover who?”.

I thought about all the greater challenges that so many people have faced over time and those that are having tough circumstances now.  I thought about over 500,000 people dying in the United States from covid and the families affected.  I thought about the kids locked away from school. I thought about business being closed for good and all the lost jobs.  I thought about the recent story of the grandmother being allowed to hug her grandchild for the first time after her covid vaccination and how important that is to all of us.  I thought about the declining years of my own mother now 94 and in skilled nursing.  Her only visits are via zoom calls.  I thought about all those hardships around the world and how trivial my foolish challenge of just swimming 6500 yards was at the moment.  I realized that there was no distance I could swim that could parallel those that overcome real life challenges.  I thought about it all and how petty my personal challenge was.

It was then that I told myself that I could peek at the clock to get this over.  If the clock showed I had swum for a straight 1 hour and 45 minutes, I was probably closing in on 6000 yards.  It read 6:28AM.

I peeked at the Apple Watch and it said 6,025 Yards.  I knew I was there.  I swam 75 yards to take it up to 6,100 and then decided to swim a 400 IM in my mind.  It was one of my college specialties.  Mentally, I saw myself back at Eastern Kentucky swimming the first 100 fly.  I transitioned from fly to back and then to breast even though I was still swimming freestyle.  With 100 freestyle to go I was now mentally and physically bringing it home.  I hooted and hollered to no one’s understanding as I touched the wall.

I did it because I could for all of those who can’t but should.



Photo Courtesy: FINIS


PS: Oh! And as far as the “In Birthday Suit” headline.  Well, I want to thank John Mix and FINIS for sending me the new swimsuit for my birthday that I wore (Seen twirling in the lead image for this story.  Sorry for the clickbait!) and a new set of Smart Goggles that became my hidden running clock.

Go out and set a high goal and if you want to win, first help someone else win!


  1. avatar
    Alexis Murray

    Okay the mental 400IM at the end made me laugh. 🙂 Happy Birthday!

  2. avatar
    Brad Hering

    Love this Brent! Swim on!!
    Swimming for a cause beyond ourselves is very powerful! Need more swims like this!
    Brad Hering

  3. avatar
    Jay Carter

    That is inspirational in a sea of apathy. I’ll get back to you, heading to the pool. I think 2 miles will suffice. Go Hilltoppers, sorry, couldn’t help myself.

  4. avatar
    Jim Johnson

    Love it Brent! My coach from growing Up Bill Powell swims his birthday laps every year . He has not missed and he is now 83. He usually tries to beat his time from the year before even going to length further. In his honor I took up doing hundreds of my birthday year back in my 30s then quit for 10 years and for the past three years since I turned 50 I’ve done that number of 100s on 130. It is quite liberating I hope in 12 more years I can still be doing what you’re doing. Thanks for all you’ve given to swimming through the years! Keep inspiring us…. Doc

    • avatar
      Brent Rutemiller

      Coach Powell is an all-time favorite!

  5. avatar
    Pierre Lafontaine

    Love it mon Ami.
    Beautiful raconteur (story teller)

    • avatar
      Brent Rutemiller

      J’apprécie les mots gentils

  6. avatar
    Kimberly Miller

    Happy Birthday to someone who inspires so many with your determination, humour and warmth. Your vision lights a path for others. Happy Birthday!

    • avatar
      Brent Rutemiller

      Thanks for the kind words.

  7. avatar
    Kathy Riordan

    Happy Birthday, Brent. You always find a way to inspire and to push yourself to greatness. Enjoy the 65 mark. It is not close to the end of your race.

  8. avatar
    Bill Brown

    Happy birthday Brent – you’re a workout animal of the first order. Congratulations!

  9. avatar
    Mike Brauer

    Congratulations, Brent! And happy birthday. I always see you swimming there when I walk in, and now I know what you are thinking about too. I loved reading this. Keep thinking, keep writing, and keep swimming!

  10. avatar

    Nice job and Happy Birthday. I have one like that with squat and deadlift. I am too heavy to swim any more….the joints can’t handle it.

  11. avatar
    Rich Romer

    Way to go Brent ! Your former neighbor, Rich Romer now in Southport, N.C

  12. avatar
    Beth Yudovin

    A perfect goal for your mile stone birthday. Good for you!! And congrats.

  13. avatar
    Jack Mueller

    Brent: My high school swim teammate and friend. I love this and thank you for sharing your terrific story with us. Happy 65th my friend! I will be doing something maybe not as spectacular but similarly challenging on my 65th in september. Also, I swim 7/8th of a mile or a mile about four times a week and I absolutely love it. Take care my friend. I miss you.

    Jack Mueller

    • avatar
      Brent Rutemiller

      Thanks Jack! I think of those HS Days and the joy remains. Glad to hear you are still swimming!

  14. avatar
    Bob Heimbrock

    Rudy, Great memories of coaching with you as teenagers and when I was at UK and you at EKU and you pulling for me in the 200 Breast against your teammate. You’re a good man Brent Rutemiller. Great to hear your mom is still with us at 94. All my best old timer. Bob

    • avatar
      Brent Rutemiller

      Life is short. Memories are long. Hope our paths cross soon