- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
On one occasion, it appears that the outcome of a race was assured beforehand, no matter what mayhem the swimmers wrought upon one another. The suspect event, which took place in Egypt last October, began at midnight on the Great Bitter Lake and continued at dawn down the Suez Canal. Marty was led so far astray in the dark by her native rowers that she passed the same girl twice in three hours. Herman Willemse, a Dutch schoolteacher who looks like Clark Kent in and out of his street clothes but is far and away the best long-distance swimmer in the world, caught up with Marty at the entrance of the canal, passionately shouting: "This bloody lake! They've been leading me in bloody circles!" The Egyptians won it big.
During this race, Marty became so mesmerized counting the bricks in the canal wall that her manager, Buck Dawson, led her out to the middle of the canal, where she discovered she was able to take advantage of the ships that were steaming in the opposite direction. She got right in behind them and rode their wakes. Almost anything goes in long-distance swimming. The rules only state that no artificial swimming aids, such as fins or floats, are permitted, and that any physical contact between the swimmer and a member of his crew or the boat is forbidden. For example, there is nothing in the rules about "scooping." Scooping is an old and dishonorable form of propulsion that is chiefly practiced in the back bay at Atlantic City. When the tide is flowing against the swimmers, they hug the shore where the water is knee-deep and, still kicking, pull themselves along the mud bottom.
Perhaps the most disheartening experience that a swimmer ever had was one that befell Greta Andersen, who won an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle for Denmark in 1948 and was the doyenne of long-distance swimming until the advent of Marty, who has beaten her three out of four times. Greta was competing in the 1959 Capri- Naples race when a swimmer passed her while eating a banana that he held in his right hand. She could not believe her eyes until she noticed that in his left hand he was holding a rope, the other end of which was attached to his boat.
So what is a good-looking, sane, middle-class, mixed-up kid like Marty Sinn, who does not need the money, doing in a sport like this?
Marty was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., where her father, who died several years ago, managed a small factory that is now run by her mother. "I think they make little parts for bigger machines," says Marty, hopefully. "I haven't the faintest idea." They make production counters, which are fitted to punch-and-drill presses in auto plants to count the number of pieces that come off the presses. When she was a little girl Marty used to ride around town on her bicycle, sneaking into swimming pools much the way other kids sneak into movie theaters. By the time she was 14 she held several state freestyle records for women. When she speaks of this era she always starts off by saying, "When I was an amateur...," or, "Before I turned pro...," which she did in 1962.
Since Marty was 11 she has been a camper and counselor at Camp Ak-O-Mak [which means across the water] on Ahmic Lake in central Ontario. The camp is operated by Buck Dawson and his wife Rose Mary, who was Marty's swim club coach in Ann Arbor and is the daughter of the late, celebrated swimming coach, Matt Mann. Ak-O-Mak calls itself merely "An Athletic Camp for Young Ladies," but it is actually a swim-or-you're-sunk proposition. The nearest thing to arts and crafts is painting canoe paddles on a rainy day, and Ak-O-Mak's antimotto is a line of Matt Mann's: "Lady, if you want your daughter to sew beads on a belt, send her somewhere else." One of the camp's most popular activities is the four-mile individual medley.
"Just for fun I used to run a couple of miles through the woods or paddle nine miles into town," says Marty, recalling her early days as a camper. As she grew older, she began to swim to town while the others canoed, so that when she heard of the 15-mile swim at the Canadian National Exposition, she says, "It sounded like fun—like swimming into town for ice cream."
About the same time, Marty was losing what speed she had at the conventional distances. "I was getting worse," she says. "It seemed sort of silly, so I decided I might as well try pro swimming." In her first pro race, a two-mile swim at Karney, Ont., she won $25, which she used to pay her way to the National Exposition, where she was the first woman to finish, was fifth overall and earned $2,300. By the end of 1963, she had competed in five races, was first woman in four of them, and won a total of $7,500.
She had found a field in which she excelled, but it was one that was making increasingly greater demands on her time and energy—what had started as a lark had become, at times, an ordeal and an obligation. Swimming lengths in an Ann Arbor pool when you are 14 is one thing, but getting in shape for a 25-mile swim when you are 20 and life offers so many other rewards (like hunks-and-a-half or reading The Red and the Black) is something else again.
Training is the most dismal part of long-distance swimming, mainly because it is so intolerably boring. During the winter Marty takes it easy: she plays a little handball with the boys at Michigan, works out with 20-pound weights and swims an hour a day. At Ak-O-Mak she swims four to seven miles daily and does some cross-country running, in refutation of the saw that swimming and running do not mix. "I'm terrible," she says. "I run like a girl." The problem is to find something to think about to pass the tedious hours while swimming mile after mile. "For the first quarter mile, I think about my stroke," Marty says. "Then I try to think hard on a particular subject so that my arms will be rotating automatically. When my head is encased in my bathing cap and goggles it seems to be completely disassociated from my body. Sometimes it's even a surprise to find myself swimming. With my head and eyes dry, there are times that the water doesn't even feel wet. It's funny. You have to be a little creative to start thinking of a topic. Then, as you swim along, you go from one subject to another. After a while, you build up a large repertoire of topics. As with the violin or anything else—the day-to-day preparation is boring, but a person should have enough self-discipline to get through each day.