Monday, May 7, 2012

April 30-May 6: Just Swim

On the way home from track practice last Wednesday, I heard a news report about Junior Seau’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. While I’d heard it earlier in the day when it was first reported, what was news to me was this: reportedly, his friends and family were shocked and had no idea that he’d been suicidal. Since almost 80% of all who consider suicide give clear signs of their intent in advance of any attempt, this just baffles me, particularly in light of the October 2010 car accident that had been suspected as a suicide attempt.

But it’s quite possible that those around him didn’t recognize any warning signs, even if they were there. Though some of the obvious signs, such as verbalization of an intent or giving away prized possessions, are well-known, others are not. Anxiety, withdrawal, insomnia, impulsivity, rage, or pervasive pessimism can all be brushed aside as somebody “just being themselves,” but can indicate emergency of very serious mental illness leading to intense inner turmoil. And even though somebody in the U.S. dies from suicide every 14.2 minutes – which  is roughly the same rate as colon cancer – you will hear little about prevention and warning signs, even though we’re bombarded with information about colonoscopies and diagnostics for other diseases on a daily basis.

I’m not sure why this is, aside from the fact that many people are scared of those with mental illnesses, which are present in over 90%of those who attempt suicide. This also baffles me, since over a quarter of all Americans battle mental illness at any given time. And even with the wide impact of suicide and the incredible prevalence of mental illness in the country, this doesn’t seem to change.

Awareness campaigns for just about everything permeate our transit systems, radio advertisements, and news articles. Yet suicide and mental illness seem to get little attention relative to their impact on the lives of almost every person in America.

Since I don’t have millions of dollars laying around to start my own campaign, the best I can do is contribute to an organization already working on one – such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). And after a recent spirited discussion that several of my friends and I had about charity racing, in which we contemplated just how much benefit went to the racer versus the designated charity, I decided the following:

For every person who does complete the 50k in May swimming challenge, I’ll donate $50 to NAMI.*

No, this isn’t a race. There’s really nothing in it for you except that you get to spend a lot of time staring at a black line at the bottom of the pool before most people are awake. You don’t get to go for a PR or cross a finish line or have anybody anywhere cheering for you. You won’t get admiration from friends and family for being brave. You won’t get a t shirt. You won’t be traveling to a race in an exciting city. You’ll just get to swim in a pool, or open water venue, near your home or office or school, over and over again all month.

No, you don’t have to donate a penny to NAMI yourself (but you can if you want to). And no, I will not demand your credit card number and charge you if you fail to meet a fundraising minimum (Seriously? Who would do that?). You won’t have to ask anybody anywhere for any money. Nobody even has to know you are doing it. Just get in the pool and swim.

And what’s in it for me? Basically, nothing, except that I give to NAMI regularly and can never decide exactly how much, so this will make that process easier for me. Plus, swimming is awesome, and more people should do it, and mental illness is terrible and we should do something about it.

If you’re in, just leave a comment below by May 15. And start swimming

Anyhow. That’s what’s up for May. In other news, I also swam last week. And did other stuff.

Monday: 3500 yards of swimming in the morning, an hour of steady spinning on the bike trainer in the evening.

Tuesday: 3800 meter practice with DCRP in the evening.

Wednesday: 7 mile run with a bunch of threshold-level work thrown in.

Thursday: Rest day.

Friday: 7.2 miles of hilly, hilly running followed by 40 minutes of stretching and strength training in the morning. An easy 2000 yards of swimming drills and technique work in the evening.

Saturday: 26 miles of biking on the Columbia Triathlon bike course (more details on Thursday).

Sunday: 3800 yards of swimming with a few speedy 50s thrown in.

*In the very unlikely event that a ton of people decide to do this, I’m limiting the total donation to $1000. Because, as noted above, I don’t have millions of dollars lying around. But I really doubt that 20 people will sign up.


  1. I know I'm not making it to 50K, but I just wanted to say that this is freaking awesome. Thinking I'll donate something for every K I do complete.

  2. Well, of course I'm in now.

    I wonder if I can order caps that say "Swimming for NAMI" on one side and "I pee in the pool" on the other. Inappropriate?

  3. There is no way I am going to make it to 50K - totally not a strong enough swimmer. But I will split the difference with you. 25k for $25. And I will chip in the other $25 if I make it!

  4. I would love to participate in this but know I could not complete that kind of distance in swimming (or even commit to making it to the pool regularly). I agree with your comments regarding charity races and I had NO IDEA that some organizations paid for travel and race fees!

  5. Hmm this is very tempting, for such a good cause and all! Swimming a lot tends to put me to sleep these days (literally, I want to take a nap on my keyboard afterward) but I could give it a shot... I'd better start soon though!

  6. Hmmm. I haven't swum in years. Oh, and never swam laps or was on the swim team. How long does it take for someone with undoubtedly terrible form to swim 1 mile?

  7. Okay, me in a bathing suit just isn't going to happen now. But I'll donate money because I have struggle with depression and eating disorders and I understand the stigma around mental illness.

    I think this is a great idea and thank you so much for the information about NAMI.

  8. I found the news about Junior Seau very sad, I think because it came just a few weeks after I learned about the suicide of a former coworker (who I hadn't seen or talked to for years, but was one of the nicest people I have ever worked with).

    With some busy weekends and out of town travel I'm not sure I'm going to make it to 50k, but I'm certainly going to give it my best shot. And I'll make a donation to match however many K I do manage to complete.