By David

A number of the swimmers on the West Auckland Aquatics team have told me they like the stories about other swimmers. In the Twitter and Facebook age I guess that’s an understandable point of view. I am told that stories about swimmers are much better than that “boring stuff you write” about Swimming New Zealand. There seems little point in my efforts to explain that the “boring stuff” is an attempt to bring about changes that should improve their swimming lives. For some reason I am sure they find the explanation as dull as the original story. Instead I will accede to their wishes and tell you about another West Auckland swimming character; Abigail.

Abigail is sixteen and has an accent as American as mother’s apple pie. That is both surprising and not so surprising. Surprising because Abigail was born in Rotorua Hospital; a location very close to heartland New Zealand. And not surprising because her parents were born in the heartland Midwest of the United States. They, that’s Abigail’s parents, are genuinely good people. Their Christian beliefs are a source of “New Testament” kindness and generosity rather than the “Old Testament” judgement that so often haunts those of a strong faith. They even seem to understand a swim coach who has strayed from the teachings of his Brethren upbringing.

Their daughter is an equally generous human being. Mature, well beyond her years, Abigail is a coaching dream. She consumes huge distances in training. Take a look at the table below that lists her average distance swum in the four build ups she has completed since I began coaching at the West Auckland Club. And if you are impressed remember that the distances were all swum in a six day week. Abigail does not train or compete on a Sunday; that is the time she attends to the Lord’s work.

Before I get scolded by Abigail, I had better explain that the lower average in this most recent build up (number four) is the result of the coach’s request that Abigail reduce her weekly mileage in order to improve the speed of her main sets. I doubt there is a person reading this who does not endorse the view that these build up distances are impressive. And remember Abigail did the first three build ups when she was just fifteen. No, there is nothing wrong with Abigail’s work ethic. There is not an international swimmer anywhere that would not be happy to have numbers like those in their training diary.

From a coaching point of view I enjoy Abigail’s story. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the argument that weights and excessive mileage will cause short term injury or even long term abnormalities. Well, few swimmers have swum further or lifted more than Abigail. And as the pictures of her show she is neither injured or abnormal. In fact she is another perfect product of the view that distance and weights done properly will cause nothing but good. She is healthy, she is not injured and she enjoys her active and productive life. Her application appears to have done nothing but good. “Ah,” I hear the critics say, “but wait until later in life. Then the problems will appear.” Abigail, Jane, Toni and Nichola have or will prove that theory wrong as well.

Shortly after Abigail got back from an annual youth camp in Taupo she was explaning an evening game. Each camper was asked to make an effigy of a well known figure. “What did your figure look like?” I asked. Quick as a flash she donned flippers and paddles, cap and goggles and lay prone on the pool deck. “Like this,” she said. Aware that you might not believe this story I have copied below a photograph of the very alive Abigail in her effagy pose.

Some readers may be surprised at the size of Abigail’s paddles. They are an American import. Stealing all her courage Abigail ignored the flood of advice that told her big paddles would cause horrific shoulder problems. On a trip to the United States Abigail bought the biggest paddles she could find. A year later and possibly as much as 1000 kilometres swum with the paddles there is no sign of injury. Once again it is not the size of the paddles. It’s what you do in them that matters.

Abigail’s training has produced good competitive results. She has reached the stage of making finals in the New Zealand Age Group Nationals. Will she get better? Yes, most certainly. How much better will depend on talent, coaching and opportunity. What will never be in question is her application. Whatever the rewards of sheer hard work turn out to be, those rewards will belong to this West Auckland Aquatic’s swimmer.

Typical of Abigail is the story of her trip to this year’s Age Group Nationals. Needing extra money to cover the costs of incidentals during the week in Wellington, Abigail positioned herself outside the local mall each lunch time and began busking with, I think, it was a flute. I was surprised. She did remarkably well and easily earned enough to fund her Wellington costs. She declined the coach’s offer of vocal assistance. I suspect that decision was influenced by fiscal concerns.

Abigail – it’s been a pleasure to be your coach. You have earned the respect of us all.