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  #1  
Old 11-13-2013
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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Default How to Teach Blind Swimmers

Terry,

A friend of mine who became blind in his teens wants me to help him become a smoother swimmer so he can swim an open water mile in the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, One Mile Challenge. I'll be swimming next to him to ensure he knows where to turn and stays on the course. He's very lopsided in his stroke, with one arm that doesn't seem to clear the water when swinging forward. I've told him about TI, and he's excited to learn, but he can't see the DVD's. Do you have any suggestions for the best way for me to work with him and help him improve his understanding of TI swimming?

Brian

Last edited by Suddethb : 03-20-2014 at 03:03 AM.
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  #2  
Old 11-13-2013
Danny Danny is offline
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I'm not sure how good this suggestion is, but lately I have been working with a book called "Running with the whole body" by Jack Heggie. It contains a lot of floor exercises to sensitize you to what muscles in your body are needed to accomplish what motions. Among the things that they explore are asymmetries in motion from left to right side, and they try to teach you how to feel these things so that you can correct them yourself. If your friend has an asymmetric stroke, this approach might work to help him feel this asymmetry so he can figure out on his own how to correct it.

On the other hand, if the source of asymmetry is one-sided breathing, this raises a whole different set of questions.
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  #3  
Old 11-23-2013
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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Thanks for the idea Danny! I'll pickup a copy and see what I can do with it. I'm also chatting with Terry for ideas.
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  #4  
Old 02-06-2014
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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It has begun. Mark and I are beginning our journey to help him do a one mile openwater official swim. He's been totally blind since his teens, and had poor vision before that. He loves to run, and has attempted one marathon, but got injured and had to drop out.

I picked up Mark tonight and we headed for the pool. I watched his first few lengths of the pool to see where he was. Right arm swings in a high arc. Left arm doesn't let the hand clear the water, and the forward stroke is a forward open handed push in the water. Legs dangle down at about a 45 angle and kicking like hell. Zig zagging between the lines and bashing into the lane markers and then over correcting. Blasting air out as soon as he inhaled, which caused him to sink further and have to fight to the surface for each breath. One length, then take a break to gasp for air. My comment to him was, "damn that looks like a lot of work". Mark agreed. I asked if he had any problems with his left shoulder limiting motion, and other than some tightness, he didn't think so.

I've not picked up Terry's latest DVD for perpetual motion freestyle, and learned using Freestyle Made Easy, so I'm not up on the latest techniques. I have to work with Mark from where I am, and see what works for him.

The first concept I presented to him was that we aren't doing full contact karate, we are working on Tai Chi. He got that because I helped him in learning Shutokan Karate back in our college days. I described to him the idea that he needed to get more streamlined and relaxed in order to swim better, rather than fighting the water.

In order to explain body position for roll, I used his hand as a model for the body position and roll, and rotated it to the positions I was describing. We tried a skating drill with me pulling his hand but he wanted to paddle with his other hand, and kept kicking. It wasn't working. He wanted to fight the water. I tried again, this time, rather than pull his hand, I walked beside him, and placed one hand on his chest and one on his back, and physically ROLLED him to the right position. That helped.

I then talked to him about his uneven stroke. I placed one hand at his hip and told him that when his body rotation allows his hand to naturally leave the water, then pretend you are unzipping a zipper on your side, and bring the hand upward, finally dragging the tips of your fingers along the water's surface until they pass your face and then drop naturally into the water ahead of you. A few laps like this, and I told him about thinking his arm was controlled by a string at the elbow (marionette) that pulls the elbow up first while dragging the fingers across the water. That helped too.

Next I decided to do a superman glide. Damn, why didn't I START there. I asked him to just push off from the wall with his arms forward and legs behind, and allow his natural buoyancy to raise him to the surface. On his first try, he pushed out at surface level, fighting the surface tension, but still managed about 20 feet before he stopped. When I told him how far he'd glided he didn't believe me, since he *knew* that he couldn't glide, and had to fight for every foot. I made him walk back to the wall and tell me how far it felt like, and he was amazed. Next I said to do the same thing, but duck underwater and push off at about waist level to glide under the water and let the buoyancy help him rise to the surface. This time he got 25 feet. It was a shock to him that he was able to glide. I mentioned to him that in the superman position, for the first time, he'd extended his body fully, and his feet were following his hips, no more than a foot from the surface of the water. He laughed in amazement, as he'd never experienced that fully extended "flying" before. I had him do that a couple of more times, and then said, when you feel you are slowing, pick one arm and draw it back to your hip, leaving the other extended. That should naturally lead you into position to start the normal stroke cycle.

Now he was feeling it. The upward pull of the elbow. The zipper. Drag the fingers along the top. Don't hurry to exhale. Don't hurry to pull to forward arm back, just glide a while. He started doing laps. On the first lap he bumped the floats once because of starting to the right, then corrected down the center and STAYED THERE. He barely brushed the sides and was shocked how soon he touched the far end of the lane. I asked him how many times he'd hit the sides hard, and he admitted only one. His stroke was already evening out with the feel of the raised elbow and the touch of the fingertips on the water. His feet were higher, his strokes per length were fewer, and he ended each length with a smile and more relaxed rather than gasping. He's Supermaning right into whole stroke, and more aligned now than at the start of the lesson. WOW.

So ends our first hour. Freaking amazing progress!

Terry, Mark has agreed to my bringing a camera to compare his "normal" stroke to were we are now. After our next practice, I'll send them to you. I was wondering if you'd allow me to make an audio track of Freestyle Made Easy to play for him to listen to, so I can then help him physically try the body positions you describe.
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  #5  
Old 02-06-2014
terry terry is offline
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Brian
Absolutely fantastic stuff. You've inspired me to professionally create audio tracks from our DVDs to be used as tools for blind swimmers, and for anyone who just wants to listen -- either for NLP type study or as an mp3 while swimming.
I can get the audio files from our video editor, but if you're capable of making your own home-brew audio track from FME, you have my ok.

The Helping Hands techniques in which we train our coaches would be ideal for use with your friend. They're highly refined and enormously helpful in aiding sighted swimmers who simply lack kinesthetic awareness of the very specific hand positions, arm angles, body rotation, timing, etc to gain it much more quickly.

Obviously with a blind person they'd be even more valuable.
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  #6  
Old 02-07-2014
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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Terry, I look forward to learning the new techniques and seeing how Mark responds. Here is how he replied to me,

Here's what Mark replied to me:

"This is great! I feel you did a good job describing the session. The only thing I would add is that you also explained how you noticed I would blow all of my air out at the beginning of the stroke and then sink. You explained how the air in the lungs help keep the body ballenced. The method you suggested was to gently let the air out just before completing the roll to the side and taking the next breath. I find this helps as well. I still can't believe the amount of progress we made in one session, wow! Mark"

I'm looking forward to the next session and everything new we can do. We appreciate your enthusiasm for our efforts! I've also noted a site called http://cdifferent.org that is about linking up blind athletes and sighted guides, many of whom team up for triathlons, and I hope to get additional insights there.
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  #7  
Old 02-08-2014
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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In order to tap in to the experiences of others, I've also written to James Pittar, a blind open water swimmer who has completed the Triple Crown and is working on Oceans Seven (http://www.freestyleman.com), Swim Angels (http://www.swimfree.org/), C Different (cdifferent.org), Steven Munatones, and to the race director for the event we are considering participating in asking questions and looking for suggestions and guidance. I also noted an old Forum posting here from Coach Dave that he was looking at doing the same thing back in 2010, so I've asked for a follow up from him.

I feel blessed to have so many possible resources, and such excellent guidance.
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  #8  
Old 03-20-2014
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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This has been an awesome evening. Mark couldn't make it last week so I did some blind practice on my own and came up with some ideas. Tonight was our 5th swim session together. I've been adding videos since the second session. Tonight Mark made huge progress.

The first thing I did tonight was ask Mark to do a stretch that turned into our first drill. He uses tactile sensation (touch) to identify his surroundings and estimate his body position. Some blind people use their hearing more, but that's been slowly getting worse for Mark. I wanted something to help him feel a very long and stretched out body position, and that's hard to do in the horizontal position when you can't see what you or your partner are doing. I had him hold the wall edge in a deep lane, and stretch himself downward as deep as he could stretch, keeping his toes along the wall. I moved his hands close together on the wall for this. This first part was to both stretch and loosen his muscles and back, but also to elongate his body position. I wanted him to be long, straight, and arrow-like.

Next I had him try the same thing, but this time with only one hand on the wall. I noted he had to exhale a bit to fight buoyancy, but it worked out. He then did the same with the other hand. He did a couple of repetitions of this as well.

Finally, I asked him to remember how it felt when he placed his hand over mine and I leaned forward while standing in the water and did my normal stroke, telling him to do the opposite move with his other hand. That was to get the feel for the position and pacing, as well as the glide pause for the lead hand. I then asked him do do the same stretch against the wall, but this time try to emulate the stroke, switching off the hands. He paused at the bottom in full stretch with one hand at his hip, then started the return stroke, pulling up toward the end as his rising hand reached his head, and having his body drop down simulating the forward hand extending in the stroke. He did this several times.

This WORKED. Two weeks ago in our last session, he was at a slow stroke pace, struggling with keeping even tempo, and averaging two minutes per lap, but staying reasonably straight. Right after this stretch and switch drill, we went into laps. His first lap looked and felt smoother, and he was pleased with the relaxation he now felt in the stroke. He also pulled off a 1:25 lap! He and I started lap swimming side by side, and stroke for stroke. At his speed, I had to let my legs dangle and relax more to not pull ahead, but his pace was now right where I was hoping to get it. We stayed side-by-side for 5 laps, with him only bumping me twice, and the lane marker twice. This was RADICAL improvement for a guy who had been going diagonally off the rails with 4-7 hits per LENGTH before.

The other idea I added, was tapping him on the shoulder or side when he was a stroke from the wall, so he didn't bash his hand. This allowed us to also discuss using a tighter leg tuck in the turns, and remember to even the pressure on his feet and dive low, rather than push off along the surface. WOW. He's much faster at the ends now. That also allowed me to talk about his unstructured kicks, and focus again on one flick kick per arm stroke to help turn his body in the water.

We had a chat with the Aquatics Director at the facility, and she mentioned that they normally don't allow ANYONE but their staff to teach or coach, as it is a for profit location. My response was to think of me as Mark's guide dog, as I was learning how to be his guide in the water. They allow service animals in the facility, and there is even one who swims with his owner / partner, so she is allowing us to continue.

I had a chat online with my new friend Vicki Keith of Canada, who is the record holder for longest openwater butterfly swim. She coaches challenged athletes, and is coaching a nationally ranked blind pool swimmer. One suggestion she had that we may try is tying a strip of elastic between two carabiners, and clipping them to the lane floats near the end of the lane, so there is something to feel as he nears the wall. I plan to try this soon and see how mark likes it. I didn't like the common practice of having a tennis ball on a pole and tapping him with it at each end.

Late in tonight's practice I suggested we just lap swim until he decides to stop. Remember that in all of our other practices, he'd done a lap or even a length and then stopped to talk, usually breathing hard. We started, and kept going for a while. When he stopped, I asked him how far he thought we went. He'd not been counting, only thinking about the two-beat kick, and smoothing out his stroke so it felt smooth, not awkward. He said he thought we'd done another 5 laps. It was 8. I told him that in 5 practices he'd gone from panting after one length to smoothly completing nearly a quarter mile. I then asked him to listen to his own breathing after 8 laps. He realized that for the first time EVER he wasn't breathing hard, and was actually relaxed and normal speaking voice after those laps. Before tonight, he thought maybe we could make this work. TONIGHT, MARK BELIEVES.

As a marathon runner and power lifter he told me he'd been able to power his way to 42 laps once. Now he has a vision of doing it in a relaxed and streamlined stroke, with a flow, style and speed he'd never imagined before.

Last edited by Suddethb : 03-21-2014 at 11:31 AM.
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  #9  
Old 03-27-2014
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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Week 6.
Mark and I were privileged to meet Terry this past weekend. He was in town to speak at the Tri Mani expo Triathlon conference along with Danny Dreyer of Chi Running and Shane Eversfield of Zendurance Cycling. Terry invited us to a gathering in the evening at the home of a local TI instructor. It gave Terry a chance to talk to Mark and discuss his experience as a TI newbie from a very new perspective. We discussed some of the training techniques we've been trying and talked about some of the philosophy of active and passive streamlining among many other topics.

Tonight Mark had some breakthroughs and challenges.

He ran for an hour yesterday on a treadmill (he's an avid runner), and showed up at the pool stiff and sore. I asked him to start with the new drill I'd developed last week which I now call "Hanging Arrow" and "Hanging Switch". That was to get him stretched out and get his rhythm going. Next I had him do a couple of laps to loosen up, and then timed one to see where he was. 1:25, tied with his best lap so far (50 yd short course). I noted that his pushoffs from the wall in a superman glide were smoother, and deeper, and it took longer for him to hit the surface and start swimming.

I joined him and mirrored his stroke pace to see where he was compared to my own stroke. His legs are still wide and kicks loose with odd movements between kicks. He's also fallen back into right side breathing only. His pace was slower than I wanted it to be for good body roll, so I verbally told him the pace he was at (right, left, right, left), and then did that again at the pace I wanted him at (right, left, right, left at a somewhat faster tempo.) This made me remember Terry's comment Saturday that he doesn't use ANY training equipment (no gloves, paddles, floats, fins, etc.) other than his Tempo Trainer. Mark started in, on the new tempo, and I noticed his speed increased, his hips rose higher, and he looked smoother. I asked him to try to keep his flick kick timed to his hand switch. Looking good.

I commented on the difference and asked to time another lap. 1:10.! A new record for Mark! Cut 15 seconds on his best lap ever! (we're aiming for under 1 minute laps soon. The other thing this gave him was better flow of the water around him, so his hips came closer to the surface by several inches, helping his horizontal line. For a guy who had been swimming with his hips a foot below the surface and legs much lower, this is huge!

Later in the practice while we were swimming side by side and I was mirroring him, I noted a difference in our strokes I'd not noted before, but which answers one of his greatest challenges in his stroke. Since he was young, he's always tried to breath while his arm is above his head. He no longer has his hand high in the air when he does this, but even with the high elbow "marionette arm", it's the same issue. I mentioned it, and asked him to think about it mechanically. He's raising a weight above his head, at the same time he's trying to raise his head to get to the air. No wonder he has trouble breathing! I described to him how my hand that strokes back ends up by my hip, with my body naturally rolling with the stroke, and my head following in line with my body. As my trailing hand at my hip exits the water, my head is rolling out as well, and I start to breath in as my hand starts to slide forward along my body or dragging fingertips along the surface of the water (zipper). As the hand nears my head, it's weight is already starting to setup my roll, and my head is starting to roll downward again, followed by my gravity driven switch of the hands, and flick kick helping rotate my hips again. Mark has never bee breathing that early in his stroke, so it was a huge revelation for him. Mechanically, it makes perfect sense. Of course with a new area to focus on, and another significant change, he slowed again as he practiced and absorbed this new concept.

At this point another class started and we lost our lane. We didn't want to stop though, so we asked to join another lane which already had two swimmers in it. They agreed, despite his issue, and we agreed to counter clockwise (stay to the right) circling. I commented that if we can avoid head-on collisions, we're doing well. The other two went first, then I sent Mark on when they were clear, about 1/3 length separation, and I followed him closely. Not only did he hold his line, occasionally caressing the right hand lane floats, he also kept pace with the two other swimmers easily! I tapped one of his feet as he reached a stroke from the wall to help him with touch and turn. After several very successful laps, the others were in awe that he was so fast and stable in his line! Later Mark admitted that in the past, swimming with two in the lane has usually been marginally successful, and with three was not very successful. This was the first night he'd ever done circling in a lane with four swimmers, and it worked wonderfully!

I'd had a goal of seeing if he could hit 1:15 tonight and he SMASHED that. We didn't do 10 continuous laps as I'd hoped, but being able to swim comfortably in a circle with three other people for the first time ever was a wonderful alternative!
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Old 05-11-2014
Suddethb Suddethb is offline
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Weeks 7 and 8.

Mark has been doing some travel for his job, so we've missed some time. We are now one month till our "One-Mile Challenge" at "The Great Chesapeake Bay Swim." We have officially registered, and Mark will be the first blind person to ever enter the event since the event started in 1986. We've still only been practicing for about an hour and a half on Wednesday evenings after work. We’re hoping to do a practice open water swim with the USMS Arundle Breakfast Club as soon as the river water warms up a bit, and perhaps one along the beach in the Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point State Park where the swimmers doing the full 4.4 mile crossing will start from (as I did in 2012).

Good news: I've seen him settle down nicely, and he's mostly swimming straight, only occasionally brushing a lane line, shows NO splashing while he does his laps, is faster than he's ever been, and in our seventh session he did a set of 36 laps continually which is over a mile, and he felt better at the end than when he started with no heavy breathing during the mile or at the end!

Bad news: His average lap is still about 1:30 which is about a 54:00 mile, and to be a “legal” swim in this event, he has to finish under 45:00 which is 1:15. Considering he was at 2:00 when we started, and he has cut his lap time by 25%, 30 seconds in only 8 practice sessions, and is working MUCH less hard, I think we’ll get there, but maybe not in time for this swim. He’s doing 40 SPL, while I do 12. I’m observing that he hasn’t gotten full body awareness yet, and during all points in his stroke his whole body is still in motion. His wide and waggling legs are adding drag even as he’s trying to “flick”, and he still isn’t fully lengthening into a fully streamlined position. I’m trying to get him to feel where his legs are, and get his thighs to touch more. I could put a basketball between his knees now. He’s also still married to breathing on the right every stroke, but we’ll work on that later.

When I stroke, as my trailing hand returns to my head, the rest of my body is streamlined and gliding in quiet repose. During the switch, the moves flow from my core outward, my body starts its roll, my hand slides through the slot and into the sleeve ahead of me while my kick rolls down from my hip in a short flick to keep my hips high and feet trailing behind them rather than dropping. I can FEEL the water coursing over my body even when I’m still. I can SEE the continued forward motion between strokes, and how far I continue to travel. Mark’s getting that feeling occasionally, but not sustaining it yet. I’m struggling for more ideas to get him to hold his most streamlined shape and keep the body still as his hand returns forward preparing to switch.

To try and get him to feel where his legs are and hold them together, I introduced him to the dolphin kick. When I was learning butterfly, one of the other swimmers showed me a drill where you hold one hand forward and below you with that shoulder lower, do the dolphin kick, and do the fly stroke only with the upper arm. It allows easy breathing (although I get more water up my nose), and helps with FEELING the rhythm and snakelike body motion. I had him try that for a few laps, and it did seem to help him relax and become quieter in his motions.

I also introduced using music to maintain his pace. We’d discussed using music to set a pace in CPR classes. They want just over 100 compressions per minute which can be held by mentally playing “Staying Alive”, “Row, Row, Row your Boat”, or “Another One Bites the Dust” (but don’t sing that out loud while doing CPR please.) Stroking every other beat gives a pace of 68 SPM by my count. I can keep that up, but he’s pushing a bit when he does that. Next we considered the play “The Fantastics” and chose “Try to Remember” which gets closer to 60 and gives him time to complete his strokes.

I’m now having him swim a bit, ask how it feels, make a couple of observations and see what he’d like to focus on. Then he swims. I’m making few interruptions to allow him to build his muscle memory on the things he’s doing well, and just giving occasional suggestions for tweaking.

He paid me one great compliment. “I can’t hear you swimming next to me! That tells me more about the stroke than anything else!” While he does his laps, I am doing mine in the same lane, often in butterfly, and at about twice his pace. He doesn’t hear or feel me passing him or swimming mirror image beside him when I match speed with him. He lives his life trying to hear what’s around him, so he pays attention to what he can hear. He seems a bit surprised each time he bumps me, not having realized I was so close.

June 8th is our target date.
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