Category Archives: Sports

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is Silhouette.

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Sailing across Tampa Bay at sunrise, at the start of the 2014 Everglades Challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer Lovin’, Take Three

By Vladimir Brezina

Catching a wave on the Jersey Shore…

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Catching a wave 2
Catching a wave 3
Catching a wave 4

In response to this week’s Photo Challenge, Summer Lovin’. The first two responses were here and here.

Travel Theme: Clean

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Clean.

Many are incredulous that the waters around Manhattan are clean enough to swim in.

But it’s true.*

MIMS 2012
MIMS 2012
MIMS 2011
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MIMS 2013

These are photos from the last three years of the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, a world-class, 28.5-mile swim around Manhattan, organized by NYC Swim every June or July. (Stories and more photos are here, here, and here.) This year on June 14, June 28, and July 12!

*Of course, you should still probably get your shots first ;-)

Ederle Swim 2013

By Vladimir Brezina

Under the Verrazano Narrows BridgeOn Sunday a week ago, August 18th, I found myself once more in my kayak accompanying a long-distance swimmer through New York Harbor.

It was the day of this year’s Ederle Swim, a 17.5 -mile open-water swim from Manhattan to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, organized by NYC Swim. This year’s swim was in fact the centennial swim, since the first successful swim over that course, after a number of failed attempts, occurred a hundred years ago almost to the day, on August 28th, 1913.

My swimmer this year was Barbara Held, from San Diego, California. Having completed her Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming—the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, the Catalina Channel, and the English Channel—Barbara was looking for new challenges!

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A Stand Up Paddle Board Earns Its Keep

By Vladimir Brezina

Finally! I knew there had to be some use for these things! ;-)

Spotted off Cape Ann, MA: A man on a paddle board tending to his lobster pots.

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His comment: “This is harder in winter.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Golden Hour, Take Two

By Vladimir Brezina

This week’s Photo Challenge is The Golden Hour.

One golden hour was here. But I can’t resist posting another one, which was so perfectly golden—

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(Belize, 2010. More photos are here. And yet a third “Golden Hour” post is here.)

Travel Theme: Motion

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Motion.

In expectation of what will likely be a hot summer here in NYC, here’s some cool, refreshing beach motion from last year—

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On the Jersey Shore, August 2012.

Manhattan Island Marathon Swim 2013: Photos

By Vladimir Brezina

IMGP4221 cropped smallEach summer, NYC Swim organizes a series of shorter and longer swims in New York City’s waterways. The premier event is the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS), a 28.5-mile race around Manhattan. Along with the English Channel and Catalina Channel swims, it is one of the three swims in the Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming.

Each swimmer is accompanied by a kayaker (as well as a motor boat). So on Saturday a week ago, I kayaked around Manhattan with swimmer Katy Dooley. Katy already knew all about swimming around Manhattan, having swum in MIMS in 2011 as well as 2012—but in both cases as part of a relay. This was going to be her first solo round-Manhattan swim.

This year’s MIMS turned out to be interesting, to say the least. Due to a cascading series of problems, some traceable all the way back to last year’s Hurricane Sandy, others to the unseasonably cold water, and still others to the heavy rains in the previous couple of days, only 11 of the 39 solo swimmers completed the entire swim unassisted.

But Katy was one of them! She powered through, finishing 5th (and 2nd woman) in 7 hours, 44 minutes. And by completing her swim around Manhattan, she became only the 69th swimmer to join the elite club of Triple Crown open water swimmers. A major accomplishment on a very difficult day—and inspiring to watch from close up!

I’ll write more about the swim in a future post. (My writeups of MIMS 2011 and 2012 are here and here.) But in the meantime, here are some of the photographic highlights of MIMS 2013.

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The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges

By Vladimir Brezina

The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges
Richard Hoad and Paul Moore
Bloomsbury Publishing
London, 2012

From the description of the book on Amazon:

“The World’s Toughest Endurance Challenges” profiles 50 of the most extreme marathons, triathlons, bike rides, adventure races, climbs, open-water swims and other iconic endurance events from around the world. Breathtaking full-color photographs and insider commentary from top athletes will thrill endurance athletes, extreme sports addicts, and outdoor adventurers of all stripes.

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On Being Athletic

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

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Quite the athlete–in six inches of water!

I’m not athletic.

Or at least, I never thought I was. True, I’d been on a couple of teams when I was young (fencing, swimming) and been told I had “potential”.

But the formative comment on my athletic abilities came from a gymnastics coach when I was 8: “She hasn’t got it.”

By “it” he meant “kinesthetic sense”—that ability to know exactly where your body is and what it’s doing at every moment. It’s an ability that’s foundational for most athletic endeavors.

The coach was right—I didn’t have it, and I could see its lack in my everyday life.

I fell off things, or tripped and landed face-forward (my lower lip has been split so many times my dentist is in awe of the scar tissue). Especially early on, I could drive my kayak coaches to despair with my inability to understand basic movements: “Move the blade up, Johna… no, UP… Johna, just LOOK at me!”

So I internalized that lack, and for a while it defined me. I had many other strengths, but no kinesthetic sense—or so I thought.

Here’s what I didn’t know then, and know now: Kinesthetic sense—and with it, athletic ability—can be learned.

Sure, there are prodigies who have it at birth, and many more in whom it develops rapidly with just a minimum of encouragement. Like other human abilities, athletic talent appears to be distributed along a spectrum.

But for those of us on the “don’t have it” end of the spectrum, it’s possible to develop it by thinking about your body, what it does, and how it moves.

A revelatory moment came last year when I was taking CrossFit classes. The coach was a wool-cap-wearing tattooed guy in his 20s with interesting facial hair and the wiry body of a professional skateboarder.

“There’s one fundamental athletic motion, ” he told me, and demonstrated it: Driving your body upwards using your legs as a spring, straightening your bent knees and driving from your heels.


Learning to kayak-surf (before developing my kinesthetic sense)

Damn if he wasn’t right! It’s the classical motion of kayaking (driving your heels forward to propel the boat forward with your strokes). But you also see it in practically every other sport, from basketball to golf to rock-climbing. To get it right, everything has to be in proper alignment (heels, knees, back, shoulders) and even the positions of your toes and your neck matter.

CrossFit taught me to pay attention to form, because the coaches encouraged us to do weighted squats—and if you do squats with poor form, you blow out your knees (and potentially create insurance liabilities for the CrossFit gym). Good coaches are therefore dogmatic about teaching you the right form.

So I spent hours watching myself in the mirror, lifting weights and struggling with chinups and situps. I’d shut my eyes and try to feel where my knees, toes, and shoulders were—then open my eyes and see how close I’d guessed.

The attention to form paid off in kayaking—suddenly, I made progress in areas that had been baffling to me in the past. And the more I thought about where my body was and what it was doing, the better I got.

I recently took up barefoot running, which is all about proper form. You have to think about curving your toes up (you want to land on the balls of your feet, shift your weight to your toes, and then to your heels). And you need to keep your neck relaxed and your shoulders back… and use that “fundamental athletic motion” to drive yourself along.

And for once in my life, I’ve found an athletic activity that’s easy for me.  That attention to form feels natural, innate. No, I’m not fast—but my goal isn’t to be fast. If I’m moving, I’m going as fast as I need to. My goal is to develop the form and motion that will allow me to run as much as I want—and I don’t know how much that will be, yet.

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Practicing my low brace form (don’t want to fall into the Gowanus Canal!)

What’s even more interesting, though, is how the whole experience has changed how I move my body in everyday life.  I find myself doing the “drive” when I get up from a chair, or instinctively adjusting my balance as I climb the stairs, thinking about whether my center of gravity is over my heels or my toes.  And my movements have gotten more graceful and confident—like those of the “natural” athletes I know.

I doubt that having a kinesthetic sense will ever be instinctive for me. And the coach was undoubtedly right—I would likely never have made it to the upper echelons of gymnastics.

But the fact that, as an adult, I can acquire “it” is eye-opening to me.

If someone who “hasn’t got it” can become athletic—what other seemingly impossible things might be possible, after all?