Message from Terry Laughlin’s wife, Alice, and daughters, Fiona, Carrie, and Betsy:
After living with metastatic prostate cancer for two years (about which he blogged widely), Terry passed away on Friday, October 20th, 2017, of complications related to his condition. He displayed his characteristic optimism, wit, and passion for life– and swimming– until the very end. Our family is in mourning and we ask that we be given time and space to grieve a beloved husband and father privately. While he was “Ter” and “Dad” to us, we fully recognize that Terry was also a legend in the swimming world and admired by countless people whose lives he touched in meaningful ways. We appreciate the well-wishes of Terry’s many friends, fellow coaches, students, and fans. A formal obituary is forthcoming and plans for a public memorial, including several memorial swim events, will be announced for 2018.
We’ll be using this page to post remembrances from Terry’s friends, family and staff, as well as obituaries and recent interviews he gave. If you’d like to share a memory or photo please use the “comment” section or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Message from Keith Woodburn, Operations Director:
Like many of you reading this I’m still having a hard time accepting the fact that Terry’s gone – that he’s not in his home-office typing away at a blog post, or working on his book….or taking the best swim of his life. One reason this is so difficult to come to grips with is that Terry still had so much to give. His creative fire burned bright until his last days, and even in the face of a terminal illness he approached life with optimism and a plan for improvement.
I’m forever grateful to have been Terry’s right-hand-man and to have had the chance to work with a true visionary. Terry put his full trust in me and took a sincere interest in my development and well-being. I can honestly say that in my 15 year tenure at TI I’ve never had to compromise my values, or do work that challenged my integrity. That in itself is an enormous gift.
Terry was an entrepreneur in the purist sense of the word. He was on a mission to change how swimming was taught all over the globe – the business was a byproduct of that passion. Terry stood tall in stature and influence, and to some he appeared larger than life. But those who knew him well were struck by his child-like curiosity about the world, and the optimism with which he confronted life’s challenges and rewards. Terry showed us that if you focus on what’s important to you, and bring a clear and open mind, the work becomes enjoyable. The work becomes its own reward.
While I mourn the loss of my mentor and friend, I find comfort in considering the body of work and the company he leaves behind. Total Immersion allowed him to to devote himself to the urgent task of improving lives and changing the world, one swimmer at at time.
Nothing in life is guaranteed, and Terry’s passing reminds us of that. But one thing that’s certain is his legacy will live on. Total Immersion – a platform for swimming innovation – will live on.
Farewell my friend, I’ll see you on the other side of the lake.
Message from Tracey Baumann, Director of Coaching Services and TI Master Coach:
I first met Terry in Los Angeles. He was swimming in an ocean race and as I stood on the shore watching a huge pod of Dolphins appeared, and starting playing in between the swimmers. Dolphins have been my favourite animals for as long as I can remember. I stood there on this beautiful beach in LA watching my favourite animal and my mentor/idol swim together. It was one of the most surreal and awesome moments of my life, and one I will never forget.
I feel privileged to say that I then went on to be able to work very closely with Terry over the next few years and ended up being on his main TI Central staff helping Keith and Angela run the business. During our weekly Skype calls we would discuss pressing matters on our agenda, but Terry always managed to tell us a story of a swim or an amazing person he had met, or to chat to us about what he was currently writing. During his many visits to Windsor, UK, we would often be in hysterics with tears rolling down Terry’s eyes as he laughed at a Youtube video or a story he was reciting – not to mention his many hilarious impressions.
Terry was a true genius. I was endlessly in awe of his general knowledge and I will be forever thankful for all I learned from him about swimming. He challenged me as a coach and made me the coach I am today, and I hope my skills and knowledge will continue to grow for years to come. I would not be the person or coach I am today without having met and worked so closely with Terry. A huge void has been left and I am still in utter disbelief that Terry’s gone. His legacy will thrive because of the commitment of TI coaches and swimmers, and the strength of the methodology that he developed.
As the quote says below – Terry sure gave us all so much for it to be impossible to forget him and therefore he will live on in every stroke I teach and every stroke any of us swims.
“It’s hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember”
Happy Laps Terry! Until we meet again.
Message from Angela Dorris, Events Director:
I learned so much from Terry. He was a positive mentor and the most empowering leader I’ve ever worked under. His solutions were creative and he loved to lead others toward outside the box thinking. What a gift to be around someone that approached everything with kindness and creativity.
Terry Laughlin, Who Taught Swimmers Not to Struggle, Dies at 66
Terry Laughlin, who developed a popular method of swimming instruction that emphasized form over speed to help thrashing swimmers learn to glide through the water, died on Oct. 20 in Albany. He was 66.
His daughter Fiona Laughlin said the cause was complications of metastatic prostate cancer.
Mr. Laughlin (pronounced LOCK-lin) became a coach after competing as a swimmer in high school and college. Early on, while observing his swimmers in the pool, he noticed that those with the fastest times usually completed their laps with the fewest strokes, slipping through the water with ease instead of struggling against it.
Conventional swimming instruction at the time called for vigorous kicking and arm strokes in expending a maximum amount of energy for a faster lap time. Competitive swimmers endured endless laps and strength training without concentrating much on the manner with which they moved through the water.
“Only about 2 percent of the human race swims with instinctively long strokes,” Mr. Laughlin told The Washington Post in 1999. “The rest of us have powerful instincts telling us to swim faster by stroking faster.”
Mr. Laughlin studied the motions of the best swimmers, along with hydrodynamics, kinesiology and ship design, to develop a better way to swim. He first taught a class on what he called Total Immersion Swimming in 1989.
EX-USMMA and USA Swimming Coach Terry Laughlin Dies at 66
Terry Laughlin, who was cut from his junior high school swimming team but went on to coach successfully at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point and revolutionize the sport with his teachings, died Oct. 20 at his home in New Paltz.
Laughlin, 66, who was from Williston Park, lost a battle with prostate cancer according to information posted on totalimmersion.net, named for Total Immersion Swimming, the company he founded in 1989 that taught the sport to adults using a then-radical style that became popular over the years for swimmers of all ages and levels.
“His technique is very innovative. He changed the direction of swimming and will continue to do so,” said USMMA men’s swimming coach Sean Tedesco. “The style can be used for all ages. I use it for clinics and for college when I teach. From little kids to Olympians the technique is all the same, if taught properly.”
Laughlin’s “total immersion” method utilizes a ‘fishlike’ style of swimming that emphasizes streamlining bodylines instead of muscling the water with arms and legs.
Laughlin remained a serious swimmer into his 60s and, according to his blog, completed a Corsica-to-Sardinia swim of nearly 10 miles in 4 hours, 31 minutes, with two friends in 2015.
Obituary: Terry Laughlin died on October 20th
SWIMMERS, especially keen ones, tend to treat water as the enemy. Pound it with your arms and thrash it with your legs; to go farther and faster, try harder. Another adversary is bodily weakness, signalled by pain and tiredness.
That effort-intensive approach can work well in land-based sports. But it fails in water, which is 800 times denser than air. Friction is the human swimmer’s true foe, particularly as drag increases roughly proportional to the square of your speed. Evolution is partly to blame, for putting breathing holes and muscles in the wrong place. But much of the effort expended in propulsion is wasted too: nobbly limbs tend to create extra commotion. The harder you try, the worse it gets.
The surest sign of such failure, Terry Laughlin reckoned, was bubbles, though he found the froth created by other swimmers a useful guide when overtaking them. A far better approach was total immersion. Not staying in the water for ever, much as he might have liked to had he been born with gills or a blowhole, but mental immersion in the art (more than a science, he said) of slipping through it.
Since he coined the term in 1989, “Total Immersion” has become a bestselling book, a much-watched series of videos, a coaching business and a catchphrase among hydrophiles the world over. It turned even the most timid novices into smooth, confident strokemakers, and honed the technique of champions. Armed with its breathing and concentration techniques, swimmers could leave their heated pools and, like him, embark on even the most daunting open-water swims, in cold, choppy seas across long distances.
Strokes and folks
The idea was easily expressed. Swim silently. Worry less about the power of your engine, and more about the sleekness of your fuselage. Reducing friction is a far more efficient way of increasing speed and endurance than increasing muscle-power. Aim to glide through the water, concentrating on balance, fluidity and relaxation, delaying exhaustion by using just the muscles you need, and only when you need them. Thread your hand through an imaginary slot in the water, he said, treating it like the prow of a ship. Once in the right position a finely judged flick of arm and leg sends you sliding forward, rotating your body for the next stroke in a motion as fluid as the water itself. And each stroke, whether the first or the ten thousandth, should be the same.
Putting it into practice, though, was hard, with the job mostly done by the mind not the body. It was a lifetime’s work. Before prostate cancer claimed him, Mr Laughlin was swimming better than he had ever done before, winning championships and setting records. The secret, he reckoned, was the Kaizen principles at the heart of Japanese manufacturing: continuous incremental improvement “through cleverness, patience and diligence”.
Terry Laughlin, Founder of Total Immersion, Passes Away at 66
Terry Laughlin, who created the technique-focused swim training system known as “Total Immersion,” passed away Friday, Oct. 20, after complications with prostate cancer. Laughlin was 66 years old.
Laughlin is survived by his wife, Alice, and daughters Fiona, Carrie and Betsy. The family announced his death Monday:
“After living with metastatic prostate cancer for two years, Terry passed away on Friday, October 20th, 2017, of complications related to his condition.
“He displayed his characteristic optimism, wit, and passion for life—and swimming—until the very end. Our family is in mourning and we ask that we be given time and space to grieve a beloved husband and father privately.”
Laughlin had already become a successful high school and college coach when he founded Total Immersion in 1989, and seven years later, he released a book entitled Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier, which has become one of the most popular training books in swimming.
Laughlin’s system is designed to teach efficiency in the water through balance, streamline, reducing drag and conserving energy. His methods have been especially geared towards Masters swimmers and triathletes, who he argued would reap the benefits of getting through their swimming section with a low heart rate. While his system was somewhat controversial, Laughlin’s principles of efficiency have also been adopted by coaches of age group, collegiate and elite swimmers.
Swimming Icon Terry Laughlin Dies
Terry Laughlin could make anyone fall in love with swimming.
He talked about his sport as if it were art, like poetry or dance. The Total Immersion training method that he developed over his 45-year coaching career didn’t just hone swimmers’ technique; it also encouraged a way of thinking, an approach to life, whose basic principle was to move in harmony with the water, rather than fight it.
Other coaches counsel their swimmers to focus on pulling and kicking. Laughlin, on the other hand, contended that the shape of the body moving through the water was even more important. He’d noticed that swimmers who held a sleek profile during push off traveled farther and faster, with less effort than those who moved less aerodynamically. He wasn’t the first coach to pick up on this, but he was the one to popularize an approach to swimming that capitalized on it.
Laughlin called this approach “vessel-shaping,” a term he picked up in the late 1980s from Bill Boomer, then swim coach at the University of Rochester. Boomer’s mantra, which also became Laughlin’s, was that “the shape of the vessel matters more than the size of the engine.” He thought a swimmer could make greater gains by reducing drag than by increasing propulsion.
Laughlin began his coaching career in the early 1970s at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York. In 1989, after more than a decade of coaching college and club teams and producing 24 national champions, he founded the Total Immersion swim program to work with his most receptive and grateful audience: “adult-onset swimmers,” as he called them—people who’d taken up the sport in adulthood without any background or experience.
“His teaching methods opened up a whole new world to runners and cyclists who wanted to become triathletes,” says Ann Svenson, registrar for the Adirondack Masters.
In 1996, Laughlin published his philosophy of vessel-shaping and mindful practice in the book Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster and Easier. Sales were steady, and two decades after that first edition came out, the book’s 2004 update is Amazon’s number one top-seller in swimming titles. The Total Immersion swim clinics, which grew into a small empire of classes and licensed coaches, have reached thousands and thousands of people.
Terry Laughlin, The Master Who Changed My Life
This episode is special to me. While I didn’t know it at the time, this ended up being Terry Laughlin’s final long-form interview. Terry passed away from cancer complications on October 20, just two weeks after we recorded this interview.
Terry was the founder of Total Immersion Swimming and co-author of Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way To Swim Better, Faster, and Easier. He had a profound impact on me — teaching me to overcome a lifelong fear of water and swimming (read all about it here). But more than that, he’s been an inspiration for the way I’ve done anything since.
Terry coached three college and two USA Swimming club teams from 1973 to 1988, improving each team dramatically. In that time, he developed 24 national champions at all strokes and distances — the first national champions produced by four different teams.
In 1989, Terry founded Total Immersion Swimming and turned his focus from working with young, accomplished swimmers to adults with little experience or skill (like me). But it’s not just about swimming; Terry’s elegant method of deconstruction and logical progression is the epitome of what I strive to do when I’m talking about learning any skill — from investing to learning languages.
It’s with a heavy heart but much gratitude that I was able to interview Terry before he passed. Please enjoy, savor, and digest what Terry had to impart.
Terry Laughlin Made the World a Better Place
Terry Laughlin was an American swim coach, marathon swimmer, aquapreneur, and the founder of Total Immersion.
At the age of 66, he passed away last week. His wife Alice and daughters Fiona, Carrie and Betsy announced his death today. “After living with metastatic prostate cancer for two years, Terry passed away on Friday, October 20th, 2017, of complications related to his condition. He displayed his characteristic optimism, wit, and passion for life — and swimming — until the very end. Our family is in mourning and we ask that we be given time and space to grieve a beloved husband and father privately.”
While he was a prolific marathon swimmer (2002 and 2006 Manhattan Island Marathon Swims, 2010 Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, 8 Bridges Hudson River Swim, and Strait of Gibraltar) between the ages of 51 and 62, he is best-known and left a legacy in the pool swimming, triathlon and open water swimming worlds with his Total Immersion concept, business model, books and DVDs.
Brian Suddeth commented on his passing, “A giant has passed from among us. My mentor and swimming fairy godfather is gone.”
David Barra, who swam with him in New Paltz, New York, said, “Terry was a good friend and a consistent swim buddy for many years. We have hundreds of miles logged together literally shoulder-to-shoulder, stroke-for-stroke. That was the game we played. That was the goal…to make every moment in the the water meaningful and challenging. A focused moving meditation in sync. Locations changed, conditions varied, as would swimmers in attendance, but it always ended the same way: A grinning Terry would sincerely declare, ‘That was the best swim I ever had.’ And it was … until the next one.”
“”He attracted, educated and inspired an untold number of people to the pool and open water. Many of these people may have not ventured beyond the shoreline without Total Immersion,” said Steven Munatones. “He gave these adult-onset swimmers as he called them, the tools in an easy-to-understand and easy-to-implement language that provided them a new-found confidence to swim comfortably.
Generations of triathletes and many others took his system, were energized by the information presented to become not only water-safe, but they also became very good swimmers in their own right. Of course, he also coached many competitive swimmers and collegiate swimmers to their career bests. He most definitely made the world, especially the aquatic community, a better place.
A message from John Mix, FINIS Inc. CEO
FINIS was founded in 1993, I am a co-founder, and I met Terry in 1996. As we grew as a company, we often referred to the Total Immersion book for images and descriptions about technique, body position, and simplicity. I had the opportunity over the years to share many conversations in person, over the phone, and by email with Terry. It was perhaps 6 years ago Terry came and conducted a workshop in our office and local pool specifically for the staff at FINIS. I wanted to share this because I’m not certain most people would expect this. We had at least 20 members of our team ranging in abilities of former College swimmers to non-swimmers attending the session. Terry had the ability to speak with us and teach us in the classroom and pool with a simple common language everyone could understand and apply to their specific ability and need. This was a unique quality of Terry and his teaching techniques. Terry taught us all how to swim better that day. Everybody walked away from that session with some insights on improving their technique and adding to their enjoyment of being in the water. As a business, we often get praise for what we do to improve the sport of swimming, but what we do is simply share what we learn from others. Terry shared a great deal with the world of those who want to swim better and I am certain FINIS is a better business today because of some of the valuable insights Terry has shared with us. Reflecting on the impact Terry made globally on the sport of swimming, he personally has influenced millions to swim better and it has been a privilege to be his friend. I look forward to continuing to see Total Immersion in our swimming communities and know that his teaching techniques will continue to teach millions to enjoy swimming better.
A message from Nancy Letts, Cortlandt Manor, NY
Last March I decided it was time to learn how to swim. I could float and tread water; I could do the side stroke pretty well. But couldn’t put my face in the water. Never learned the crawl. So at the age of 74 I decided it was time.
My health boasts two pools: a large work-out pool and a lap pool (aka “The Big Girls’ Pool). There are 6 professionals available for instruction. All I had to do was… what? Get recommendations? Watch to see how they taught? Listen for their patter? Therein lies the problem.
It’s a problem we have in public education. I’ve been a proud teacher since 1965.(The days of picketing against Vietnam, creating OpenEducation classrooms, teaching whatever the students wanted to learn. Yes!). I’ve taught pre-school children and college students; I’m presently an educational consultant traveling all over the world. As a progressive educator I loved it in the 60s and 70s. I was able to teach what I chose and deliver it the way I chose. It was glorious. It was also highly problematic, creating gaggles of opposing teacher cliques.
In another part of the town where I began my career were two other schools: a religious school and an independent school. They weren’t free, of course, but they had one thing going for them: parents who sent their children to either of these schools could be sure of a consistent and coherent curriculum presented in a manner that assured all participants of a clearly articulated philosophy. If you liked your education with a dose of religion you knew where to go. If you preferred progressive education or a military-style model there was something for you. No surprises, or if there were, corrections were made!
I still believe in public education. Public schools attempt to work with the emotional, social, and educational well-being of a child. It’s more complex than teaching a particular skill like playing the trumpet or learning classical ballet. Or swimming.
And so it is with my experience with learning how to swim. I finally eschewed the various instructors at my pool and chose, instead, to travel an hour each way to begin learning with Total Immersion. I knew TI’s philosophy: it’s written in Terry’s e-book and shared on various podcasts. I knew that no matter which instructor I worked with I would receive the same carefully articulated lessons. I learned that TI was created after much thought and years of development.
When choosing a method to learn a new skill-or refine an old one-it makes sense to know that each of the instructors is practiced in a similar method, a common philosophy, and a coherent teaching model. I know that this learner will be swimming better because she chose correctly.
A message from TI fan, Max Koneczny
Terry the Philosopher: What Terry Taught Me about Life
Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to meet Terry, I never talked to him in any way, and yet he still managed to have a huge impact on my life out of the pool.
When I was a child I had chronic ear infections and was not allow into a pool, and thus never learned to swim. A little over a decade ago T.I. was recommended to me. So I read some of his blogs, and liking what I saw soon ordered a starter package. I fully intended to go through it all. But as college came to an end my wife became pregnant, and my priorities changed. With no easy access to a pool and a new baby in my arms, learning to swim fell down a bit on the list. Now I am not trigger shy when it comes to unsubscribing from email lists, but for some reason I kept reading Terry’s blog. Whether it was because I was pretending I was still learning to swim, or if it was for Terry’s pearls of wisdom I am glad I did.
In the fall of 2016 I had just weighted myself and despite 15 years of education in health and fitness, I had somehow managed to cross the line from overweight to obese. I knew that I knew what I needed to do to get healthy and lose that extra fat, so why wasn’t I doing it? What was stopping me? I had the knowledge, I had the motivation, but why could I not put it into action? Well as luck would have it, as I was pondering these questions an email from Terry came in with his latest blog, and in it I found my answers. As he often did, Terry had written about Kaizen mastery, and the atomization of skill. While he was writing about it in the context of swimming I realized this philosophy could be applied to anything you are struggling with in life. Break it down into its smallest possible components, and then use Kaizen techniques to master each one. So I asked myself, what is the smallest change I can make to help myself lose weight, and how can I master it?
Of course that was not all I needed to do. Once I had mastered a few small changes I found that sometimes it was a bit of a struggle to keep going, as though I was sinking. And of course another of Terry’s blogs gave me my answer. This time he had written about balance.
The most limiting aspect of swimming is the sinking sensation. When your hips and legs drag below the surface, it’s impossible to feel comfort or ease, your endurance and speed are sapped, and your arms and legs are so preoccupied with fighting the sinking sensation, they’re limited in their ability to aid in streamlining or propulsion.
I reinterpreted this as:
The most limiting aspect of life is the sinking sensation. When you drag below the surface, it’s impossible to feel comfort or ease, your endurance and speed are sapped, and your mind is so preoccupied with fighting the sinking sensation, it’s limited in its ability to aid in streamlining or propulsion.
I realized that to bring balance to my pursuits I had to create balance, so that I could float and not just keep fighting. I was then struck by the realization that the Kaizen methodology was perfect for changing actions into habits. This has allowed me to let go of that sinking feeling when it comes to maintaining my weight, and keep off all that I had lost without much effort.
Other T.I. techniques can also be applied to life: take vessel shaping for example. Moving through life is a lot like moving through water, you meet a lot of resistance if you want to go far. You can try to power through life, but it is exhausting and you soon burn out. Or you can take some time and find a way to shape your vessel so you don’t meet as much resistance anymore, and suddenly it becomes so much easier to keep moving forward.
I was deeply saddened when I opened that email last year and found a message from Terry’s wife announcing his succumbing to his cancer battle. I miss his blog posts and my getting lessons totally unrelated to swimming from them. Now that I am living a Total Immersion life I promise I will get back to swimming soon.
Max Koneczny set up a health blog and youtube channel last year to share his wisdom, most of which is really Terry’s wisdom translated to other topics. You can read and watch at www.evolvedhabits.com