Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: swim

aftermath, day 1

Three races today. All three of them felt strong: very in control of my form, very competent in the water. First thing this morning I did the 200 Free with a time of about 2:27. (I don’t have the official results in front of me, so I’m reporting from memory.) That was 2 seconds off my personal-best goal; when I do the math upon my return, I’ll know how close I came. The numbers may even reveal that I managed to come in right under the wire there, but I doubt it. Did one leg of the men’s 4×100 Free relay, with a split time of 1:04.9. That one was a personal best. (Although we took no medal, which I think irritated one of my cohort. He’d been piling on the “we’re in medal contention, you guys have to swim really fast” until Hugh and I told him to cut it out. He suggested that we were insufficiently competitive, but I tried to explain that if I didn’t take competition seriously then that kind of pressure wouldn’t turn me into a raving stressball.) Finally, did the 200 IM in 2:46.8 or so. That was about 7 seconds off my goal and a long way from the personal best I wanted. By this point I still felt strong in the water but had gone into some sort of “adrenaline debt,” and no matter which songs I turned up to 11 in my head I couldn’t rev myself up to really go in the same way I had before. My brain had been wrung dry of its fight-or-flight juices.Okay, these things happen. I can live with this.

no, not whatever

No, disregard the equanimity displayed above. In truth, I did the neurosis two-step for a couple hours after my last race. Despite feeling so strong in the water, despite my teammates having said I looked great from the stands, despite the idea that being exhausted after a long day was a reasonable thing to happen, I felt everything collapse. Somehow, the one “failure” undermined the successes of the day. And as much as I came into this thing not expecting to medal in anything, the idea that I’m not likely to medal in anything also stings.
Why am I so obsessed with proving that I am Number One when you can be damn good at something and still not win every race? Or even any races? Why am I trying to read not setting personal records as some sort of invalidation of the work I put in to get to this point? Is this all just my common sense evaporating in the face of hunger and overtiredness?

why so tired?

I didn’t get enough food or sleep last night because I was at the Opening Ceremonies, and they ran long. They were like all the Opening Ceremonies you’ve seen on the Olympic broadcasts: dancers, singers, crowd stunts, speeches. Not without its appeal. But really, the most inspiring thing was just seeing the thousands of athletes from all over the planet—Tonga, Iraq, South Africa, Taiwan, Mexico, Columbus OH—all there to do their best and have some fun and be able to prove to the world and/or to themselves that there are a whole lot of us and that we are a whole lot tougher than the world likes to tell itself.
Entertainment highlight of the evening: no, not the inevitable army of drag queens. It was the incomparable kd lang! Can that woman ever sing. The audience returned the favor by serenading her with “Happy Birthday,” because, well, it was her birthday. Once she was finished, I bailed out of the stadium—had to be up at 5:45 today to catch a 6:25 train to the Olympic Park to take advantage of the 7-8 AM warmup period in the main pool. So I could be ready for my first race, 9ish.
It took forever to get back to the hotel, because I couldn’t find the damn shuttlebus stop. So I walked. I had Raisin Bran and some mixed nuts and various other things we had in the kitchen for dinner, because it was late. Actually, that’s not true: I had Sultana Bran. What is the difference between a raisin and a sultana? I don’t know. They seemed pretty raisiny to me. Must ask an Aussie for some insight there.

pulling oneself together

Okay, so what have we learned, class?
* Andrew needs to be less critical of his performance at the pool.
* Andrew needs to get a grip.
* Andrew needs to get more sleep tonight so he can be prepared to kick some serious butt tomorrow in the 400 IM. After all, hasn’t he been saying that he wants to set a new PR in that single event more than anything else?
Right. All of the above. And if I can combine the sense of strength and capability from today’s races with a large burst of adrenaline and sufficient preparatory eating and sleeping…well, we’ll see, but it seems like a reasonable plan.
I still don’t intend to shave my chest for this, mind you. Instead, I’ve bolstered my psychological edge by painting my toenails a shocking shade of metallic blue-green, to go with our new team suits. It’s quite fetching.
Wish me luck, folks.


Got the event timetable wrong yesterday. Here’s my actual schedule, sans the relays which I still haven’t adequately researched:

  • Sunday: 200 Free, 200 IM
  • Monday: 400 IM, 100 Free
  • Wednesday: 200 Breast

So, um, if anybody’s out there lighting candles on my behalf, now you have the proper data.


I’m entering the pre-races stressed out of my head over every little thing phase of the meet. And having agonized to an absurd degree, I have reached the following conclusion:
I really don’t want to shave down for this meet.
I hate the grow-back period, I’m terrified of a repeat of the full-body razor burn I experienced at Montréal some years back, and frankly, I’m rather fond of my chest hair.
If I swim tomorrow and feel as though I need more of a psychological edge, or if I’m just not fast enough, or something, I’ll shave down for the 400. But at the moment I am choosing Not To. I’ve tried to balance the potential (small) speed gain against the little voices shouting “Noooo! I don’t waaaaaannaaaaa” and the little voices won. This may make me Not Suitably Hardcore, but for the moment I can live with that.
I fear I may yet drive roommate Hugh insane with my endless overanalysis of this stuff. If not myself.


It’s early afternoon, which wouldn’t really be noteworthy but for the fact that my brain finally agrees that it’s early afternoon. I keep waking up at 4:30, but I can always fall back asleep again, so it’s nonfatal. The team met again today at one of the public pools, and I’m starting to feel like myself again in the water as well. Which is nice. If memory serves, here’s my schedule of individual events:

  • Sunday: 200 Free, 200 IM
  • Monday: 400 IM
  • Tuesday: 100 Breast
  • Wednesday: 200 Breast

My big focus is on the IM events, especially the 400, which is a ridiculous “overachiever’s race” if ever there was one. A hundred meters each of fly, back, breast, and free, in that order. (The secret is to do whatever it takes to survive the butterfly portion, and not to go blasting out of the gates. You save your strength for the last half.) My goals for these races? For me, these Games are not really about winning medals. It would be nice, of course, and I’ll be swimming my hardest—but given that my age division is wildly competitive and full of guys who were, like, college all-stars back in the day, it’s not all that realistic. All I really wanna do is to beat my seed times. Every time I achieve that, I’ll have set a new personal record. I think I can do it, too, at least once or twice. And frankly, if all I manage is to set a new PR in the 400, I’ll be happy. I’ll be doing some relays as well, but I don’t remember which ones or when they are. I suppose I should write all that stuff down.
Weather today is sunny and breezy and gorgeous. Tonight we go to a cocktail party introducing a new g&l athletic foundation, founded by one of our swimmers and his partner of 45 years (!). It’s at the cricket club, which is apparently a rather swank place. Should be fun. Afterwards the coaches are peeling off for a “hurray, we got everyone here without killing anybody” dinner. There’s talk of going to the beach tomorrow prior to the opening ceremonies. The ceremonies should be fun—inspiring, empowering, exciting, yadda yadda yadda. And k.d. lang is performing, which is frankly reason enough to go. I’ll provide a report when I can.
Yesterday afternoon we climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. 700 or so stairs to the spectacular view at the summit. Taking in the view from the top, Karen James and I decided that everything built after 1930 in this town is ugly as sin. Truly, the old Victorian-era stuff is all lovely, but the newer stuff is hideous. The business district looks like it was all put up in 1973. The million-dollar apartments now being built on the old wharf just west of the bridge look like a Holiday Inn circa 1967. Blergh. Prince Charles must be apoplectic when he visits.
Nobody has posted thus far to the team’s blog, but you know what? I don’t care. My responsibility as TNYA Webmaster was to get the technology working—not to force people to use it. So there. I have better things to get obsessive about at this point.
Hi, Paul. I was thinking about you at lunchtime. Hope you’re well.
More later.


I’m in Australia. Wow. Hard to believe that after 18-odd months of training (and not training) I have actually come all the way ’round to the other side of the world for a swim meet. I’m thrilled to be here and a little bit whacked out of my head from sleep deprivation; managed something like 5 hours on the plane from LA to Sydney. What time was that? Hard to say. My blog entries will reflect Sydney time while I’m here, by the way, which is GMT+11.
Sydney. Impressions. Sunny and warm; I’ve been walking around in a t-shirt and sandals all day. Reminds me of San Francisco, albeit with more clement weather. The city’s parks and squares are dotted with jacaranda trees, which are all in bloom. You can see them from half a mile away, their long trumpet-shaped flowers a vibrant cloud of electric lilac. Not so many pigeons as in the States or in Europe, possibly because the natives are giving them a run for their money; the Botanic Garden has flocks of very large white cockatoos with yellow crests, and in a couple of smaller parks I saw these huge black-and-white ibises being fed chunks of bread by the men on the benches. There’s a rather plain brownish-blackish bird, with a short pointy yellow beak and a yellow circle around its eye, that roosts in the rafters at the train station round the corner from our hotel. Sweet little chirping song, and it hops on the grass looking for bugs. Must identify it eventually, too. Public swimming pools all over the place—this is a nation of swimmers. Met my suitemates and a couple other TNYA swimmers at a particularly nice one this afternoon after I checked in with the Games: open-air, filtered saltwater, with a teak deck overlooking some part of…well, it was either the harbor or that huge bay immediately to the south of it. Botany Bay, I think. I’ve seen the arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge peeking over the skyscrapers; I’ll get a much closer encounter with it on Friday. Still no Opera House sightings, but it’s plainly just a matter of time. This being the beginning of spring, all the office workers threw themselves out of doors at lunchtime; it seemed like half the town was jogging or swimming or playing soccer or rugby for a while. Many, many, many handsome men, although some have suggested that the presence of the Games may be affecting the data.
The hotel is in the Haymarket neighborhood, which clearly used to be much seedier than it is. Adult bookstores and gun shops with “we’ve moved” and “going out of business” signs in the windows; new Internet cafés and Starbuckses all over the place. Lots of Asian restaurants and shops. A shop that sells take-it-home-and-cook-it dim-sum two blocks from the hotel; given that we have a suite avec kitchen, I think I must investigate that further. One block has something like five different video game parlors, all crammed into one small zone—I haven’t seen any anywhere else in town. Keep walking north from the hotel and suddenly you’re in the business district. I’ve tried to link to a relevant map here, but thus far won’t let me do it. Shocking! So here’s a more general map of Sydney. We’re just west of the University.
I feel like I have ten million other things I should be writing about—the mingled excitement and anxiety about the coming races, how my teammates are faring—but I’m having trouble keeping my mind still long enough to articulate them. The plane trip was okay, all things considered. I saw Men in Black II twice: once on the American Airlines flight from JFK to LA, once on Qantas from LA to Sydney. Had to sit in the middle seat on the long leg of the trip, urrgh. There’s no ‘u’ in Qantas not because it’s some kind of Aboriginal term but because it’s an acronym: Queensland And Northern Territories Aerial Service. Got a few hours of sleep on the plane but when that dried up I watched movies. It’s really criminal how the airlines put the most boldly schlocky stuff (like…say…Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) on only once you’ve been rendered most vulnerable to it by sleep deprivation. (What is this dreck? Because…it’s so beautiful! The mother…the daughter…the handsome fianc&eacute! Oh! Sniff. etc.) I’ve managed to keep myself more or less together today by walking around, talking to people, swimming 1500 meters (felt good, thanks); but I can hear a strange and hysterical little voice giggling somewhere in the back of my head and it’s getting louder. Sleep will be a good thing tonight.
Best to all and anybody who’s reading this. I’ll try to check in again in a day or two. Oh, and that whole food-poisoning thing was (as you probably surmised) without merit.

get set…

So I leave for the airport in an hour. I’m pretty much packed—although I may go and remove some of the t-shirts, I’m sure there are too many in there—so I’m spending the next little while packing more CDs into the iPod. And while I have the time, why not some hypochondria? My brain, lacking sufficient sources of anxiety, has decided that I shouldn’t have eaten those leftovers for lunch. Tiny voices are trying to convince me that I’m about to spend the next 26 hours on the road with an horrific case of food poisoning. How old was that sausage, anyway? Aieeee!
Deep breaths, Andrew.
Anyway, the long-awaited day is at hand. I’ll be trying to check in as often as I can with reports on my races and what things are like Down Under; if you’re curious, you might also see TNYA’s Sydney Journal. I’ve roped a bunch of Roving Reporters into doing much the same for the team in general.
Back in a bit; wish me luck.


Rereading the above, I suppose I’m going to have to explain what a ‘pink flamingo’ is, at least in the context of a swim meet. And I will, I promise. Just not tonight. Bedtime for Bonzo, it is…

let’s review

Man, what a week. Paul’s wallet was stolen on Saturday just as he and cousin Erika and I were about to go out to my sister’s on LI. I spent Sunday at Becky’s coming down with a cold. Everybody else went out to get pumpkins to carve; I stayed home and drank water on the couch. They returned and carved many pumpkins; I continued to process fluids. When we got home on Sunday night, a neighbor brought us Paul’s wallet, which had apparently been dumped sans cash on our stoop. My faith in humanity was somewhat restored but my immune system continued to collapse, and I spent the next two days quietly turning orange juice into phlegm.
Tuesday morning Dad had his right knee replaced. The only thing he got to keep was his patella. By ‘keep’ I mean that his patella remains in situ, not that he is now wearing it on a chain ’round his neck. Far too chunky for his taste anyway. I think he comes home from the hospital tomorrow, to begin a few months of painstaking rehabilitation—and then he gets to do it all over on the left side in January! But if anybody can bulldozer through the process of learning to use plastic leg bones, it’s my father.
More week: more phlegm, plus pink flamingo practices. TNYA’s pink flamingo performance will be stunning, mark my words. Dizzying, perhaps; semicoherent, okay maybe; but stunning. I haven’t swum a lap since Saturday afternoon, but I’m reisisting the urge to begin my pre-Games “oh my god I’m going to suck why am I doing this I can’t swim who do I think I’m kidding yammer yammer yammer” session until I at least reach the Southern Hemisphere. The cold is now largely gone. All that remains for me to do is to clean up the mess and get my body back into fighting form. I leave for Australia in three days and have ten thousand things to do, including (with luck) the completion of the never-ending e-commerce project.
Paul left for Asia this morning, shiny new laptop in tow. If you’re reading this, sweetie, I’m very proud of you. I’ll see you in SF.
Finally, congratulations to Bobbó and the future Mrs. Bobbó. I wish you a lifetime of boundless joy.

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