When Dirk Marshall touched the pool wall last March 22, his first thought was, I could have done better. It was a few moments before reality sank in: He had just won the biggest race of his life, the Short Course National Championships for the 100-yard butterfly. On top of that, the 26-year-old Harvard law student had beaten the reigning Olympic gold medalist, Anthony Nesty of Suriname, who had won the 100-meter fly in Seoul just six months earlier. As Marshall started to savor his win, he recalled one of the three Scrod Saws: Every dog has his day.
Marshall is the Scrod God (i.e., cofounder and leader) of the Boston Scrod swim club. But few swimming devotees at the 1989 short course nationals in Chapel Hill, N.C., had heard of it. Boston Scrod resembles a swim club in name only, and even the name is questionable ("We don't think it's a kind of fish, just a cut of fish," Marshall says).
Some two dozen people call themselves Scrod, the majority of them Harvard students, employees or alumni. At practice sessions held during recreational hours in Harvard's Blodgett Pool, they spend as much time standing and chatting in their lanes as they do swimming. They have no coach and by traditional swimming standards do almost no training. Nonetheless, a school of five competitive Scrod swam its way to an eighth overall finish for the men's team title at the short course nationals. What the Scrod do have are plenty of mottoes ("Not just the catch of the day"; "Win or fry") and two more Scrod Saws, which reveal the club's competitive zeal (Talk's cheap) and training philosophy (Never confuse effort with results).
"All of life can be reduced to those three things." Marshall says of the saws. Or maybe just all of swimming.
The Scrod come to practice not only to socialize but also to work on stroke efficiency and to simulate race conditions, rather than just pile up daily laps. "It took me from October to January to believe this program works," says Chris Hancock, 27, a computer instructor and '83 Harvard grad who joined the Scrod last fall. Hancock had been a varsity swimmer for the Crimson for two years. "I used to feel that the more yards you trained, the better you would be," Hancock says, expressing standard swimming wisdom. "But, as Dirk says, 'It's easier to train to train, than to train to race.' " Hancock tried Marshall's recommended training sets, which had him in the water for about an hour a day, less than a quarter of the time he spent in the pool as a college swimmer. To Hancock's surprise, he soon set a personal record in the 100-yard freestyle.
Two other former Harvard swimmers, Kresimir Peharda, 20, and Scott Jaffe, 19, joined the Scrod last year and also lowered their times while swimming less. Jaffe, who will be a senior in the fall, had set Harvard records in the 200-yard breaststroke, IM and freestyle before quitting the swim team in 1988. He had had a falling out with the coach and felt burned out. Then Marshall called and invited Jaffe to swim with the Scrod. "I learned a lot about resting," Jaffe says. He now plans to transfer to the University of California and get back into NCAA competition as a freestyle sprinter. Marshall thinks Jaffe's potential is world-class.
Marshall developed the Scrod swimming plan out of necessity. In 1984, his junior year at the University of North Carolina, he suffered a rotator cuff inflammation in his left shoulder. He tried to swim through the pain, and finally had part of a ligament removed, but the operation didn't work and he was still in pain. Mary Jo Klier, his club coach in his hometown of Kansas City, Kans., devised a program of short but specific stroke work that puts minimum stress on the shoulder. Though his training schedule was erratic because of his law school commitments, and because he could swim only about 3,000 yards before the pain became unbearable, Marshall still found his times improving.
The Olympics had been Marshall's goal. But his injury put the '84 Games out of the question. When the '88 U.S. Olympic trials loomed, he trained until his shoulder was on fire but felt confident that he could make the team. Two days before his 100-meter butterfly race a case of food poisoning destroyed his chances. "It was such an ironic and pathetic day for me," Marshall says. So the win at the '89 short course nationals was, in a way, a sweet vindication.
This summer Marshall will begin working for a law firm in Portland, Ore., where he hopes to find a pool to swim in. He may train for the '92 Games. Although he'll be 29 by then, he thinks that perhaps every dog has two days. "I know I'm aging, but it's not something I'm worried about yet," he says.
He speaks with the same insouciance when asked to describe the Boston Scrod. "It's an attitude," he said. "It's a way of life, it's a swim club."