Keeping her stroke in tune

FITNESS PROFILE

Health: Terri Byrd manages her workouts in the pool between raising a family and coaching. And earlier this summer, she realized her goal of swimming across the Chesapeake Bay

August 29, 1999|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Special to the Sun

Terri Byrd zips through the water. She must swim fast in order to get in 3,000 meters during her sons' nap.

Byrd, 36, puts 3-year-old Gunther and 5-year-old Austin down on cots in the office of whatever pool she's working at, and heads for the water. Staff members are ready to alert her if the boys wake, but usually they don't even know she's gone. "I know I can do 3,000 yards in an hour and a half," she says laughing.

Fortunately, a speedy swim comes naturally to Byrd, who swam backstroke and freestyle for Towson University.

The 36-year-old teaches and coaches at the Dundalk Aquatic Center, and she coaches the swim team for the Catholic High School of Baltimore.

This year, though, she got in over her head when she agreed, after being goaded by her sister and father, to enter the Chesapeake Bay swim in June. To get in shape for the 4.5-mile swim across the bay, she began swimming a mile and then worked up to doing three one-mile swims.

No, that didn't add up to 4.5 miles, let alone in waves and currents. And Byrd knew it. But her family was making plans to buy the Milford Mill swim club, and that took all of her energy. "My training was actually getting worse instead of better."

But she entered the bay water anyway. She didn't even realize that it was unusually choppy. "I hadn't been in the ocean since I was 14," she says.

But to complete the swim, she said, "was my goal in life." It's a goal she set, in part, to motivate herself to get back in shape -- not so much for her body but for her mind.

"It keeps your mind crisp," she says. "It keeps your stress and tension down."

But she almost didn't make it. Halfway through, in the shipping lane, the current caught her and was threatening to push her against a concrete piling. "I was just exhausted," she said. Nearby, men in a canoe were monitoring her, and she asked if she could just grab the canoe to rest for a minute. No, they told her, pointing out that under the rules, if she stopped and grabbed a boat she would be hauled aboard. "Then he yelled at me," she recalls, the amazement still clear in her voice. "He said, 'Put your head down and swim!' But they made me so mad I did it. If I saw him again after the race, I would have choked him. I never did see him again, but if it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't have made it."

Now she's back to her usual routine, where she hops in the pool three times a week and warms up with 500 meters of freestyle. Then she'll swim 200 meters of freestyle or backstroke -- five times. Sometimes she'll break that up with a bit of butterfly or breast stroke, but she has mild scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, and butterfly in particular aggravates it.

She would like to participate in master's swimming events, but finds it hard to mesh schedules of practices and meets with the demands of her sons.

It was the imminent birth of her older son that prompted her to change careers to become a swim coach.

She had left swimming after college and, as a manager for a food service, she had traveled extensively for nearly a decade. Because she didn't feel safe running in strange cities, she tried to find hotels with a pool where she could fit in a quick swim.

She was eight months pregnant, snowed-in in the Pittsburgh airport, "and I thought to myself, 'This is not the way I want to raise a family.' "

She quit her job and started teaching swim lessons and coaching swim teams. Ironically, the hardest thing for her to teach was water exercises.

"I'd never learned how to relax in a pool; it was strange," she said, musing that she had always entered pools just to train, and climbed out exhausted the minute she was done. Not only did she learn to enjoy the water, but the classes kept her in shape through her second pregnancy.

Now that she's got her stroke tuned up again, would she consider another bay swim?

"I don't like the water," she says laughing. "I don't like fish. I don't like knowing there's snakes in there and crabs around your toes. By July I said, 'No way am I going back in that again.' But now I wouldn't say it's totally out of the question."

Pub Date: 08/29/99

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