Dear Friends

In the past 10 years I’ve written many times on “Injury as Opportunity.”  This resulted from experiences where injury or illness required me to slow down in many ways. My belief in the healing powers of water and swimming, has motivated me—whenever possible—to use swimming to aid in healing. Swimming to heal–rather than train–promotes much deeper self-examination and self-awareness.

This first occurred in 2004.  I’d detached the biceps tendon in my right shoulder while lifting weights. (Careful form, slow movement, moderate weight . . . but a middle-aged shoulder.) Formerly routine actions–donning a seat belt, pouring tea, flicking a light switch on the wall–were too painful to perform with my right arm.

Yet I continued swimming. My health insurer required five months of therapy before surgery, and I expected to regain strength and function more quickly afterward by remaining active. I experimented with several stroke modifications, seeking a way to swim with minimal pain.

Before long—so long as I mindfully avoided certain long-time habits–I was actually swimming pain-free. By the time of surgery I was even swimming slightly faster than before–despite being unable to pour tea without searing pain!

I’ve swum ever since with those techniques. You know them today as Rag Doll Recovery, Mail Slot Entry, and Patient Catch. [Read the full account in the blog post How to Swim Faster and Pain-Free.]

Something similar has occurred since my prostate cancer diagnosis, which I mentioned briefly in the post Opportunity in Adversity, last December. At that time, the plan was to remove the prostrate . . . after which, I anticipated I’d return to care-free, cancer-free, living.

However, pre-surgical tests suggested that the cancer had spread to my bones. Though this would only be confirmed in early February by a bone biopsy, I knew ‘in my bones’ that it was true and the news threw me into a state of doubt, fear, and dread that lasted several days.

The one startlingly bright spot in that dark period came on Jan 23 when I went to a Masters meet and swam three events—200, 500, and 1000 Free. I’d entered the meet planning to make it my last hurrah to six weeks of no swimming during recovery from surgery, which had been scheduled for Jan. 25. Though I was feeling ill that morning, I went to the meet anyway.

The Meet of my Life

I felt transformed once I was on the pool deck. I was in a somewhat weakened state and had been swimming pretty slowly in practice. I knew I had to swim with the best technique, mindset, and pacing I could muster in order to meet this challenge.

Though my times in the 200 (2:35) and 1000 (13:56) were my slowest ever, and the 500 (6:48) my second-slowest, in every way that mattered, it was the best meet I’d swum in 50 years.

I felt happy and engaged throughout several hours at the pool. I enjoyed time with long-time friends—and made a few new ones. And I swam absolutely lights-out. The high from that experience lasted through bedtime that night.

That showed how critical swimming . . . and being an athlete in training for challenging and meaningful goals . . . would be to recovery.

Taking Charge

The news that my case was more complicated also galvanized me take personal responsibility for my recovery. I began to study the book Radical Remission by Dr. Kelly Turner, a gift from Jonathan Amoia, formerly a coach on a Masters team on which I’d swum in the early ‘00s, now a financial planner. Jonathan’s gift is characteristic of the many thoughtful acts from people who learned of my situation.

The book described many instances in which people who’d been deemed incurable brought about spontaneous remission of their cancer, and the curative factors they had in common. These were diet, exercise, avoidance of stress, strengthening the immune system and bringing one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual capabilities to full bloom. In posts to follow I’ll describe how I’ve pursued this program.

While my situation, thankfully, isn’t nearly as threatening as many of those described in the book, the Radical Remission philosophy was exactly what I needed at the time. I’d known for two months that I had cancer, yet had felt helpless waiting through tests and many delays. It’s known that cancer cells reproduce at an extreme rate and I was deeply anxious for treatment to commence.

The book showed me that—even while still trusting in the powers of medical intervention—there were many supplementary alternative healing approaches I could employ myself.  Most important I would feel that I was taking control of my own recovery.

Doctors often say there is no ‘silver bullet’ in cancer treatment. I’ve come to disagree. If there is one it’s the power one gains by acting as agent of your own recovery. It gives you the mental and spiritual strength it takes to convert dis-eased cells back into healthy ones.

Two ‘arrows in my quiver’ were:

  1. Fifteen years of mindful swimming practice, a jump start toward essential psychic strengths.
  2. A Kaizen mindset, which has led to every stroke feeling well-nigh blissful.

Zero-Cancer Swimming

Shortly after I learned I had bone mets I joined the organization ZeroCancer for those with prostate cancer and their supporters. This provided the inspiration for “Zero-Cancer Swimming,” which means two things:

  1. As I swim, I feel vibrant health and strength in body, mind, and spirit. I do emphatically feel cancer free.
  2. Employing visualization and affirmation to return cancer cells to their natural healthy state is essential to Radical Remission. I practice at every opportunity, but it feels most genuine and powerful as I swim. My practice is itself an affirmation which states: “My body is strong and healthy and has the resources to heal itself.” I believe every mindful stroke is ‘zero-ing out’ cancer cells.

In the past two months I’ve sensed profound beneficial change in habit, clarity, and mindset that I attribute directly to this experience and which I know will endure beyond my journey to healing.

“The Defining Event of my Life”

Several weeks ago, I received an email from TI Coach Celeste St. Pierre. Though her email was to several TI coaches, one part spoke to me with uncanny directness, a moving story about James Stockdale from Brian Johnson’s “The Optimizer” newsletter. ( if you’re interested in subscribing.)

In 1965, Stockdale, a U.S. Navy pilot (later an admiral; he ran for Vice President on Ross Perot’s Independent ticket in the 1992 presidential election) was shot down and spent six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Stockdale had just 30 seconds after his plane was disabled before landing, and what he knew would be a long and brutal confinement. In his final seconds of freedom, he had the presence of mind to reflect on some Stoic philosophy from Epictetus. He summarized his thoughts in this quote from his book Courage Under Fire.

I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

In far more eloquent terms than I had, he crystallized thoughts I’d developed gradually over the prior two months.

This weekend, at the New England Masters Championship at Harvard, I will swim the 1650-yard freestyle (1500m equivalent) my first mile race in the pool in 10 years. Though I expect it will be my slowest 1650 ever, I’m anticipating it more than any other race I’ve swum in 50 years. Next week I’ll let you know how it went.

May your laps be as happy as mine,


Follow every lap of my practice here.

Join me at my next workshop, March 16 in New Windsor NY.

Or when I coach at our Triathlon Swim Camp April 7-11 in Clermont FL