|Missy's early days (at center with 90 degree bend in elbow)|
Fast forward to after college when I am ready to do my first triathlon and have still done almost no prep for the swim. I figured I could resort to sidestroke and/or dog paddle if needed. Of course, my dog paddling skills were, in fact, needed a minute into the swim. I had the “can’t-get-enough-air” panic attack. I stopped swimming, treaded water, let everybody get away from me, took a lot of calming breaths, and examined the distances to the shore and turnaround buoy. I seemed to be in the middle of the two so I dog paddled, side stroked, and eventually “swam” my way around the buoy and back to dry land.
(As an important side note, I was comfortable being in open water—I’d been in too many lakes and oceans in my youth to have a fear of drowning. I knew I could be safe. I always ask newbies, when they express apprehension for the swim, if they can “save themselves” in the water: can they tread water, dog paddle, sidestroke, or otherwise do something that allows them to calm down if they have a panic attack or feel overwhelmed? If they don’t answer with a strong “Yes,” then I ask more questions; they may not be ready for an open water swim.)
My first triathlon race experience taught me two things. Or more, really, but for today’s article I will go with these:
1. I needed help learning how to really swim (freestyle swim), as I didn’t ever want to experience that again.
2. I loved triathlon so much that I was willing to work on my swim.
After that first race (New Braunfels, June 1990!), I met with some friends and training partners to get help on the swim. I did a few more triathlons the following years, and even just having minimal help on swim technique I was more comfortable, though still slow in the water. (Let’s just say it was pretty easy to find my bike in the transition area, as it was usually one of the last ones to leave.) I began to focus more on duathlons over the next five years.
I’d been successful competing in duathlons, but I wanted to start doing triathlons again and really needed to bring my swimming level up (I was competitive in the run/bike portion, but I would give up 10+ minutes in the swim for an Olympic distance). My husband, Don, who I was dating at the time, suggested joining a masters swim team. I had not heard of that and assumed from the name it was for “older” people, but I soon found out it was just coached swimming for adults. I was working at the University of Texas at the time as a nurse in the Exercise Physiology department, so I joined a masters team there—not Longhorn Aquatics with the big-time swimmers, but a group that was geared toward beginners.
|Missy circa 1990|
I learned the basics of freestyle swimming with that first masters swim group, and continued learning even more with my next (and current) swim coach, Jimmy Bynum. I found that I became the most proficient in swimming when I had frequent (at least three times per week) coached swim workouts. The focus during these workouts is technique, not distance: the idea is to concentrate on your best technique as long as you can in a workout, really paying attention to and remembering how that technique feels.
|Missy circa 2014|
One great open water race opportunity coming up is tomorrow, Tuesday, July 14, at Pure Austin's Quarry location (Pure Austin Open Water Race Series). Pure Austin also holds a “Splash-n-Dash” the third Tuesday of each month, which is a swim/run. And the Marble Falls Triathlon, currently in its 15th year, will be held July 19 (online registration closes this Wednesday, July 15).
Coached swimming opportunities in Austin:
Western Hills Athletic Club
Location: Rollingwood pool
Location: 4210 W Braker Ln.
Coaches: Peri Kowal, Julie Stupp
Austin Aquatics and Sports Academy (new)
Location: 5513 Southwest Parkway
Coach: Brendan Hansen
Location: JCC Austin
Coach: Andrea Fisher
Location: Lost Creek Country Club & Circle C Swim Center
Coach: Maurice Culley
Coach: Whitney Hedgepeth
Missy and Don Ruthven have owned Austin Tri-Cyclist for 14 years. An elite-level triathlete and former pro duathlete, Missy is currently in her 26th year of competing in multisport events and is also a member of ATC Racing’s road cycling team. She’s the mother of two teenage girls, Emily and Taylor.