Guest blog: Coach Dave Ling on long distances, coaching and getting sunburns

I met Dave Ling in the early 00s on the decks of the University of Toronto Pool where he was a guard and I spent all of my spare minutes swimming through undergrad essay conundrums. He swam on the Varsity team and was the first long distance swimmer I'd ever met. He's now the coach of the St. John's Legends Swim Club and a most inspiring swim chum. (He also answered all sorts of my swimming questions during the Olympics!)


Your race was the 1500m. What drew you to long distance swimming?

My best race in the pool was the 1500 and I also swam quite a few Open Water races 10km and 25km marathon stuff.  I swam distance because it became quite apparent in my early teenage years that I didn't have natural "speed" and every time I kept swimming distance events I'd have better results... eventually it just became a pride thing, I loved swimming, I loved racing, the best way for me to be "relevant" in terms of the Canadian swim scene was to swim the distance freestyle events.

I tried to swim for 2h this summer, but got kicked out after an hour and a half and was astounded by how boring it was. How did you not get so bored? Additionally, what's the longest you've ever swum at one time?

I swam some 25km open water races that took the better part of 6 hours... did I get bored? Sure.  But my competitive urges were significantly stronger then the momentary boredom.  I loved the challenge of the distance stuff, I took pride in doing things other folks would not dare to even try.

You used to swim competitively, training for hours every day? Do you miss it? What do you miss? What don't you miss?

I swam for 17 years, loved every year, finished with my final season being my best season.  Training a lot, it was a major part of the lifestyle.

I miss the feeling/the confidence I had in my abilities to do anything in the water.  I miss getting to see my best friends (teammates) every day for 2-4 hours a day.  And most of all I miss the competitive outlet it gave me in my life, even if the person I was most competitive with was myself most days.

I don't miss the constant body ache and the chlorine sweats...they were the worst.

What have you taken from your swimming life into your coaching life?

The primary thing would be the understanding of the process... what goes into a long and fulfilling swimming journey and knowing it's a marathon and not a sprint.  So many families bring their kids to our sport and want immediate results and get incredibly emotionally invested in the early years of their child's development and then the kids end up "burning out" because too much is being asked of them by their parents and their coaches... it's sad and unfair.  As a swimmer, I never felt the sport was ever unfair to me so it's important to me as a coach to do all in my power to be fair (which takes on many forms) to my swimmers and their goals.

What are some of your favouriting swimming/coaching moments?

My favourite swimming moment was probably when I first qualified for Sr. Nationals in the year 2000.  I was not a young superstar, I was 20 years old, I wanted to qualify for Olympic Trials, my coach Linda Kiefer was the best guide and mentor I could have ever hoped for to get me there.  I was at the CIS Championships at the University of Guelph swimming the 1500FR.  There's usually a final lap bell that comes at 1450m of the race but in my race the officials were a little confused and rang the bell at 1350, 1400, and 1500...but not 1450...thankfully my UofT education taught me how to count, I managed the race properly and earned my qualifying cut.

What made the situation even more enjoyable is that I was informed by my teammates that Linda was angry and yelling at the officials while they were messing up the counting of the race and at the end of the race Linda had to apologize for being cross at the officials...it meant my swim mattered, it meant she cared, it's symbolic of what makes Linda a great coach to this day.

As a coach, my favourite moments come about 3-4 times a year watching kids go an important breakthrough time after putting in the work to earn that swim. It's the best feeling, it makes the year long grind worth it, and then some.

What's your favourite advice to give swimmers?

I have a favourite diagram I draw for my swimmers about 3 or 4 times a year called 'the Learning Process' and it goes into the 7 different stages that go into achieving goals.

If you're looking for more practical advice for ANY swimmer...work on your swimming from the outsides-in.  That is, become a better kicker and become more away of what your hands are doing at the top of your stroke. If your hands aren't right at the top of the stroke then they will never be right at any point in the stroke and you will just be reinforcing incorrect habits every time you swim.

After training in dance, people often ask me if I now take classes "for fun" but there's no way. It would feel ridiculous to not be able to take classes at the level I was used to. But tons of people do. Do you swim recreationally?

I feel 100% the same way you do about dance.  I occasionally like to get in the water and move around but I have zero interest in "swimming laps" or swimming in a Masters program.

If you're at a cottage, or pool party, what do you do? (I don't really know how to do anything except front crawl and always feel so awkward...!)

Right now I usually sit around and get a sunburn.  I like getting in the water with my sunglasses on, taking a few strokes and fooling myself into thinking the only reason I'm not "swimming" is because I have sunglasses on.  The other dorky swim thing I do is I scull my hands in the water a lot and try to fool myself into thinking I still have good "feel" for the water.

You married a fellow swimmer! Was your wedding held underwater?

If I was in the kind of shape I was when I was a swimmer, I would have been all for that.  

We had an incredible number of swimming friends at our wedding, we held the wedding at Knox Presbyterian (across the street from the UofT pool), and we held the reception at a venue we would not have known if it were not for swimming... so in a way our swim lives were all around our wedding and in a funny way a large part of our love story. We hold our swimming experiences in a fond place in our hearts.

Thanks so much, Dave! You're so inspiring!

Dave Ling swam for 17-years with the COBRA swim club, Brock Niagara Aquatics, and the University of Toronto.  In recent years Dave has taken on a coaching career that saw him serve 8 successful years at the Toronto Swim Club as an assistant and starting this Fall he has taken over as Head Coach of the St. John's Legends in St. John's, Newfoundland.
  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Back in


I have never been so thrilled to see these grotty tiles and worn wooden bench as I was this week. It had been 16 (looooooong!) days since my last swim and there were skylights instead of sky, and the water was so warm it was more bathwater than pool water, but it was still amazing. Back and forth and back and forth. It was exactly where I needed to be.

The most incredible part of the swim though was the elderly man who walked onto the pool deck mid-way through the hour. He took slow deliberate steps to the pool deck, limping in a way that suggested he had maybe had a stroke. He slipped into the water, ducked under the lane rope to the fast lane and proceeded to tear up the pool. Full on blazing. He swam circles around all of us. It was incredible.

And then I worked and worked and worked all afternoon, my skin still smelling of chlorine. I biked across the city for a meeting with goggle marks still ringing my eyes and biked home in the early dark, and arrived home to mail (YAY!) and if that wasn't exciting enough, it was a pass to one of my favourite pools from one of my new swimming friends, Lindsay of Masters' Swimming fame! Swimming pals are the best pals. 



  • Lindsay
  • Friday, September 23, 2016

A Swim Hole Enthusiast's Guide to Surviving Winter

 Winter is coming… here are some tips on how you can beat those chilly non-swimming blues…

1. Mourn The End Of Summer
Have a good cry in a pile of beautiful pile of fall leaves. Accept the end of summer, move on and prepare yourself emotionally for the long winter months to come. That means, pull out the comfy pants (Hello #TrackPantsClub), stock the pantry with stew ingredients and hot bevies... mmm cider! And have blanket fort supplies always on hand! Let the sad tears fall and then accept the start of snuggle season!

2. Do Your Research
Start researching and crafting your INDOOR pool strategy now. Star all the local pools in your neighborhood and start collecting their schedules as soon as possible, so you can have them on hand in a bind. If you are visiting family or friends out of town (and still in a winter climate), research the area before you get there! Be prepared, know the schedules before hand so you can plan some out of town swims! An indoor swim is a great way to mix things up. And there are some amazing swimming complexes all over the place!

3. Discover “Slow Swimming”
The winter is a great time to focus on some “slow swimming” aka SPA swimming. A favorite of mine! I’ll be headed to Body Blitz for certain this winter to float around that salt water heaven, smoothie in hand. I’ll also be taking some dips in the tiny cold pools at my other favorite pastime - Sauna-ing. Steamul has an awesome cold dunk pool that you can actually cannon ball into after an insanely hot sauna. And Banya offers a more rustic option… though standing room only (quite shallow). AND spas like the Scandinave have outdoor hot pools that you can relax in during the winter season. It’s a divine experience, except for all the heavily enforced “no talking above a whisper” policies. I, without fail am always shushed at these types of establishments… but the excellent outdoor soak is worth a wee bit of shushing.

4. Go On Vacation!
Obviously this is budget dependent. But if you can swing it, nothing like hitting up an ocean for a week in a far away land. Or you can just do what I did this winter and drool over photos of said oceans on the internet.

5. Create and build a “Swim-spiration Board”
What is a “Swim-spiration” Board? It’s a simple idea, essentially a mood board modified to reflect all things swimming. The idea is to collect anything and everything that makes you happy about swimming and put it together in one place. It could be as simple as a Pinterest board or you could use a cork board. I’ve started one on a big white sheet of paper. To start I’ve been listing places I would love to try swimming next year. Collecting samples of the color blue and making notes on great swimming scenes I see in books and movies. And making notes about swim crafts and badges I may want to achieve over the winter season.

Hopefully this tiny list brings some happiness to all of us swimmers out there who are walking past our favorite outdoor pool, now empty and haunted with summer ghosts, or driving by our favorite bodies of water whose warmth is being stolen away from us by the fall winds.

Winter does not have to be all that bad. And before you know it… summer swim season will melt before us once again, all full of potential and watery adventures.

But for now we hibernate and wait.

Oh and here are a few bonus ideas for the winter:
Try some swimming crafts!
Who is up for a float?
How about a polar bear swim… I’ve thought about it… but not sure I’m ready yet.
Head to Iceland, jump in a dry suit and take a dip between two continents!
  • Rhya
  • Saturday, September 17, 2016

Missing (be warned: melodrama ahead...)



I miss swimming. I type that out and it looks so small on the page, but it feels enormous. I really miss swimming. I miss it so much that I stopped my bike the other day just to watch U of T's swim practice (which of course made the missing worse!) My local is closed until next week and it feels like an eternity.

I read something the other day about a swimmer feeling like she's a plant without water when she hasn't swum in a while and I will admit I had the pinpricks of tears in the backs of my eyes, nodding. Yes. Yes. I am a plant without water, a swimmer without water.

Melodramatic? Yes. But also true. It's been 12 days since my last swim and I am at a loss. My body feels different, my brain is so cluttered.

It's partly because I had such an incredible summer of swimming. It was such a scorcher and I was in the water at least four times a week, if not more. My body has never been so strong. My hair has never been so permanently matted. I explored new pools and stuck with my favourites. The missing peaks on the hot days like today where nothing would be better than a dip, and an hour or so of lengths, back and forth and back and forth, the meditation I crave more than anything else.

I've been out walking (my dance-injuried version of running), but it's not the same, even with the sun on my face and podcasts in my ears. I know what I need to do is swim (and I will! Monday! MONDAY!), but in the meantime, I'll be tweeting with my new UK Twitter chums – Tanya of @lidowriters, a writer-in-residence at the UK's oldest outdoor pool and Clare (@loveswimming) – both swimmers and lido* aficionados (my people!!). They're both going to a lido conference this weekend and man oh man, I wish the teleporter was working!

So, until Monday, I'll be here, two-piece packed away until next summer, scrolling through old swim posts, and the turquoise blue-tones photos on my phone...




* Lido = pool! I'd never heard the word before this summer - for us non-Brits, it's pronounced lie-do!

  • Lindsay
  • Friday, September 16, 2016

Farewell, beloved outdoor swimming


Labour Day Monday marked the last day for swimming outside in Toronto, and with air show madness down by the water, it almost didn't happen. But I persevered, and on attempt 2, I made it into Sunnyside's beautiful turquoise blue. It was totally packed, deep end to shallow end and every square inch of deck space and it was mayhem in the lane swim area, but it was still such a perfect final dip.

I swam back and forth, dodging late summer flailing arms and untamed kicks, reflecting on this most incredible summer of swimming. And what a glorious summer it has been complete with:
- kicking off the swimming season in Lake Ontario
- a swimming road trip with my swimming ladies
- my very first midnight dip
- CLIFF JUMPING – and celebrating a year of swim blogging
- the best swimming-centric family vacation, complete with a playpen on the dock!
- learning to jump into water, instead of taking forever on the ladder
- being so inspired by Penny Oleksiak (who started school today - ha!)
- knowing that my hero Mark Tewksbury read this blog (I might have wept!!)
- learning about, and swimming in the silkiest black water
- tackling my longest swim yet (also the most boring!)
- the second round of swim badges
- swimming with my kiddo all over the west end of Toronto
- sharing my love of Toronto swimming with CBC radio's Matt Galloway
- SO! MANY! DOCKTAILS!



Fittingly, at the end of my dip, my favourite beach towel, the one I've had since 1998 when I was lifeguarding indoors (worst!), tore. Sob. And now the pools are closed for the season (except for a few hours a day at Alex Duff pool!), and I will have to relive this glorious summer in turquoise photos and scraps of float-y poems I've penned on the edge of pools and lakes and rivers.


  • Lindsay
  • Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Water’s Touch



One of the wonderful things that has emerged from my participation in our swim blog is that it has forced me to stop and think about one of my favorite things, water.

One of the byproducts of writing about swimming so much is I’ve become obsessed with identifying the how each new body of water I swim in feels. I jump and think “how would I describe this water’s touch?”

For example:
Pool water (chlorinated) - Sharp and clean, a hard water to cut through with hands pointed and with purpose.
Lake water - Alive and rich, broad surface begging to be broken by dock side dives, or to be delicately navigated across while floating with arms stretched wide.
Pond water - Earthy and slow, a thickness I like to not think about too deeply.
Salt Water - Light, tacky, and a bittersweet sting to the eyes.

This is a very generalized list, each different swimming hole has it’s own unique profile, which brings me to my main focus of the this swim story, The Gatineau River! 



 

On our swimming road trip earlier this summer one of the main purposes of the adventure was to spend a good amount of time immersed in the Gatineau. And I have to say it was worth every kilometer we traveled.

My first swim in the river was at the tail end of dusk, with night falling fast. We all jumped in at once, holding hands, because that is what you do when you are grown a#$ women who love to swim. The minute I hit the water the first feeling that came flooding my way was… I’m covered in silk! Yes, silk! A deep, dark, silky black pool of water. It was night, so of course the water was black, but it felt extra dark, like black hole dark! I felt as though I was being swallowed up when I opened my eyes underwater. I felt everything and nothing all at once. It was right and good.



 

I remarked on the silkiness of the water out loud and our fantastic host and resident Gatineau expert Patrice, let me know that I was not imagining it, that in fact the Gatineau River is actually a particular type of river, a blackwater river!

Obviously, interest peaked!

Turns out there are all these different types of river water like whitewater, or clearwater and just plain old black mud river water!
The key properties of a blackwater river are:


  • A river with a deep slow moving channel that runs through swamps or wetlands
  • Tannin rich waters, due to vegetation decay leaching into the water
  • A darkly stained, transparent and acidic water that resembles my favorite morning bevy (minus the cup of milk I dump in it) - black coffee 


 

Patrice also explained that the Gatineau was used as a logging river for years and logs would often sink to the bottom, and that was where the tannins heavy water developed. Which of course made me think of the classic Log Driver’s Waltz animation, because all Canadian children of the 80s know this film, and it’s still a must see in my opinion! 


 

The next day there as more swimming, or really more jumping. And I got to see the blackwater more closely in the daylight. It was still incredibly dark! You could barely seen your toes looking down while tredding water! Incredible! Later that evening we went skinny dipping, because guys, that water feels like SILK! I know I’ve already said it a million times! But I had to feel it once against naked skin, and it was amazing.


 

On our final day, I pulled out the GoPro loaned to me by my brother. A tiny technological dinosaur now, compared to newer models. No viewfinder and low low res. But it was apparently waterproof and I was dying to try taking photos underwater! The photos in this post are the result of that sunny day photo shoot. They are haunting and surreal and I love them all! And they almost capture the mysterious and decadent swims we had that weekend. Almost. My memories though, have these moments locked up safe in my watery heart for life.


 

Bonus note, turns out I have been swimming in tannin rich waters once before at a most wonderful Shebeshekong Bay, and it too possesses the same silky texture, though maybe not as dark.

Either swimming hole though, is a win! 


  • Rhya
  • Thursday, September 1, 2016

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