For most high school and college students, a summer spent by the swimming pool is like a dream after nine months of studies, pop quizzes and seemingly perpetual homework.
But for the competitive club swimmer in Southern California, summer and pools translate into something akin to a nightmare.
Summer means more free time and more free time means more time in the water--swimming something like six hours a day, 20,000 meters a day, seven days a week. That's twice as much as the swimmers do daily during the rest of the year.
"U. S. swimmers really don't do anything else in the summer but eat, sleep and swim," said Simi Valley swim team Coach Ingrid Daland.
To Southern California competitive swimmers training for national and international meets this summer, there are no vacations. Summers are training months, a blur of heaving water.
Summer workouts are a must. There is no choice.
"You can't afford to take a summer off," said Daland's husband, Peter, the USC and U. S. Swim Team coach, who is in Madrid preparing the national team for the world championships Aug. 17-24. "There are too many people who are willing to pay the price."
For U. S. swimmers the year-round battle begins in September and ends in August. Unlike the international swimming season, the U. S. season is divided into two sections--the short course (25-yard pool competition) and the long course (50-meter competition). International swimmers swim only in 50-meter pools.
The short-course season begins with training in September and ends for most at the NCAA championships in March and the CIF swimming finals in May, while the shorter long-course season starts in May and ends in August.
But because the long-course season is so short, many swimmers make the mistake of taking the summer off, swim club coaches say.
"If you don't train in the summer you become limited because swimming is a sport where you're only as good as your work total," said Peter Daland. "When you don't swim in the summer, you really miss out for several reasons. Mainly you miss the hardest swimming and the best opportunity for training, since there is no school.
"It's just like an escalator--if you step off the escalator in the summer, by the time you get back on, everybody else is way above you and, theoretically, you can never make it up. We used to have an expression--for every month you're out, it takes two months of work to get back into shape."
Those are months swimmers can ill afford to miss.
In the summer, days start as early as 4:30 a.m. Most teams hold an early morning workout and another in the late afternoon or evening.
"Most teams divide their summers into quantity and quality sections," noted Ingrid Daland. "So you start the summer with heavy-duty conditioning, lots of mileage and base training, then you throw in some speed work and then, in the end, you taper and get ready (for the August meets). And you can't go either way, you have to have all of it. It's like building blocks . . . if you miss one, the whole thing doesn't stand up."
Some coaches believe the long-course season should be lengthened, which probably would mean changing CIF and NCAA scheduling.
"I've always wanted to increase the length of the long-course season," said San Pedro/Peninsula YMCA swimming Coach Dan Halliday. "It just seems reasonable. We really don't get started (training for the long-course season) until June, so it's actually only two months of training."
This summer has been especially short for Nancy Grigg, 16, who is competing in her fifth U. S. National Junior Nationals this week in the 200-, 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle events in Austin, Tex.
Grigg, who prefers the long-course season, had to cancel swimming in her first senior national competition last week after her training was set back a month in June when the heater at the Verdugo Hills Swim Stadium pool needed repairs.
"I know I could have used more work, but that always seems to be the case," said Grigg, one of five Glendale YMCA junior national qualifiers. "Sometimes it's discouraging because you're always wondering if you need more work.
"It seems like before you start, it's over. The meter season is pretty weird. It's like putting all you're money into one pot and hoping something good happens."
But to make something happen, swimmers must put in long, tedious days.
"What you have is pretty lonely because you're face down in the pool and on your own even though you might have 10 other people in your lane," said Ingrid Daland, whose team averages 16,000 meters a day during summer sessions. "It's a pretty lonely sport. The workouts can be pretty tedious. Let's put it this way--I wouldn't want to do it again."
Daily training for most swim teams entails more than 15,000 meters in the summer.
Some swimmers, like the Dalands' daughter, Leslie, can peak at 20,000. The training seems to have helped.