My first week at Columbia Univeristy I met a guy named Jesus. It took me a while to figure out that “Hey-Zeuss” was spelled with a J and an S, but then I guess those lessons are a big part of why I wanted to live in New York. Jesus was the first person I met, besides my roommate, and ended up being one of my closest friends at school. We were both mechanical engineering majors, so our schedules were identical. Now he works for an engineering firm in Miami that fixes Endoscopic Scopes (which do cool things like colonoscopies). Jesus was a wrestler in high school, and has always been more of a fast-twitch athlete. He kicks my butt in basketball (not saying much), and, although he’s the same size, he could always put up way more iron than me in the weight room. When we hit the pool or the track, on the other hand, I always wondered what happened to the kid. This week I asked Jesus to tell write about his view on endurance sports, what he learned by being a friend to swimmers, and how he makes sport a part of his life in a different way than most of us.
Los Tres Amigos: Ben Collins, Mark Backman, and Jesus Gonzalez
I had always considered myself an athlete. At the very least, one could say that I am athletic. I played little league football from age ten through highschool, wrestled all through middle school and high school, and generally spent most of my time outside of home at the park playing any number of sports, none of which were running, swimming, or biking. Did I run? Of Course! Did I swim? I was raised in Miami, of course I swam! Did I bike? Certainly. But these were not things that I considered to be sport. Cycling was what I did to get from point A to point B. Swimming was a strictly recreational activity barring the few races my friends and I would hold from one end of the pool to the other. And running, well running was either done with a ball in your hands, between bases, or for conditioning. In other words, a means to an end, certainly not an end in itself.
I met two of my very closest friends in my first week of college. The first person I met was my roommate: Tall, very lean, very white, with hair that was in dire need of something, CPR possibly. Pool water is not good for hair. The second was a young man who happened to have the same advisor that I did, and we both happened to misinterpret our orientation documents in exactly the same way. We were the only two idiots to get lost. This one was even whiter than the roommate I had just met, and his hair …. oh the hair …. blonde afros on white guys was definitely a new concept to me. Both of these gentlemen were swimmers on our varsity team, GO LIONS!!!! The latter of the two was Ben Collins and the two of us didn’t know it at the time, but he was on his way to becoming one of the most dominant male swimmers in our school’s history. Not to mention, my definition of ‘sport’ was on its way to expanding considerably.
My swimmer friends introduced me to world of competition where your competitors don’t necessarily train to defeat you, they train to defeat their former selves. The clock is the real enemy. In most sports, although mistakes can be costly, its usually entirely possible for a player to recover. Swimming was a sport in which the smallest lapse in focus could, and almost certainly would, cost you the race.
During the off-season my friends and I would work out together. We’d go for a good lift then go warm down in the pool. Not enough can be said for how incredibly efficient swimmers are with their strokes. Now I swim, and I swim well. But swimming is not like running. It is not something that we as humans inherently know how to do. I’d feel like was I was swimming with a parachute on while my swimmer buddies glided through the water like merry mer-people. It was a humbling experience to say the least. But as I mentioned, swimming was not like running. I know how to run. And I’ve always kept myself pretty active, so I’m in decent shape. So, on some days we’d go for a run. These guys were swimmers, not runners, so I’d be able to show them what us landlovers could do with our feet. Right? Nope!!! Turns out that years of rigorous cardiovascular training in the water made these guys run like Kenyans. Once again, I was ashamed to call myself athletic.
I now compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wonder how much better I could be if I had the cardio fitness that my, once swimmer friends, now triathlete friends have.