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Old swimmers never die, they just become larger than life

During the 2008 Olympic Games, many past sporting champions appeared on TV as commentators. This brought together many veteran swimmers. It was a great time for reminiscing about the Good Old Days and trying to recognise friends who hadn’t been seen in years. Tom was a larger-than-life member of the swimming commentary panel. He had ballooned since his glory days. Once he had been a triple medallist.

Now, triple referred to his XXXL shirt size—and a triple bypass might be somewhere in his future. It was hard to believe that he had been lean and trim only a decade before. But the old footage didn’t lie—and his present waistline couldn’t be hidden. When Tom retired from swimming after the Athens Olympics, he had been keen to make up for the ‘lost time’ of his early adulthood. While his university friends had been out partying and having fun, he had spent his time eating sensibly under the watchful eye of his mother, going to bed early, and pounding up and down the pool.

His coach had believed in high-volume training, and his program usually required 20–25 hours a week of high-intensity swimming and gym workouts. After his last race, he’d vowed to limit his water exposure to baths and showers.

Tom’s weight gain was quick. But he joked that he’d enjoyed every gram of it since it was achieved by a lifestyle that seemed like liberation from his years of regimented and disciplined existence. After two years, he was ready to settle down. He thought that one of the benefits of getting married would be having all his meals cooked for him. But even regular meals only seemed to make things worse, since he snacked a lot and piled his plates with favourite foods.

In his new job as a swimming coach he did little exercise. It was back to 4.30 a.m. starts to supervise squad training, and staying on the pool deck until quite late at night. He periodically tried to start swimming or running at lunch times, but usually abandoned his good intentions after a week or so because of fatigue and lack of time. Tammie also surprised her former team mates with her new look. People remembered her as a chubby but talented swimmer whose career had ended prematurely because of her gradual weight gain and the resulting battles with her coach.

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Lastly comment

Looking back, it had involved more misery than enjoyment or success. After she retired she too vowed to step right away from the pool scene. Although she didn’t party as hard as Tom did, she enjoyed the freedom of not having to train or watch what she was eating.

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