Lessons from Legends: A Resolution for Discomfort


By Chuck Warner//Special Contributor

How can our series of articles on “Lessons From Legends” include a sensation as a subject? From the perspective of nine-time world record holder and 1975 Sullivan Award winner Tim Shaw (selected the greatest amateur athlete in the USA), severe discomfort or pain can be personified. In the book Four Champions, One Gold Medal, which chronicles much of his swimming career, Shaw eloquently describes his approach, “Each and every day you know that somewhere in that evening’s main set, he (pain personified) will be waiting for you--looming. Go after him. Look him right in the eyes, and don’t back down. Don’t be fooled by the look on his face that he has ‘your number’...it’s a façade. He’s a paper tiger. Blow right through him.”


A New Year is often filled with personal resolutions that are all about change. The fact that each of us must accept is that change, by its very definition, is uncomfortable. Want to lose 5 pounds? We’re going to have to feel the discomfort of hunger, or healthier tastes, and/or an increase of our exercise output. Want to go on a particularly extravagant vacation? Today’s money belt may have to be tightened with more savings/more denial/an increase in discomfort. Want to swim faster? Then it’s necessary to experience more discomfort in training or in racing than one ever has before.

Pain is something to hold in awe because of its positive power, not something to fear. While the pain from injury tends to come from a sharp sensation in a specific location, the “training pain” that Tim Shaw refers to comes from an overall sensation that can take place in the form of the popping of capillaries deeper into muscle tissue, the burn of lactate running through an athlete’s system or the battle to maintain technique in the face of fatiguing muscles. Four-time Olympic gold medal winner John Naber likes to smile and describe his method of approaching the ‘pain barrier’ by explaining, “I think of it like going up and down a hill. The quicker you can get to the top, the more you can enjoy the ride down the other side.”

Tim Shaw’s description of breaking through the pain barrier is similar: “You’ll find that within 150 to 300 yards you’ve driven through to the ‘other side’ for that day. And will finish your set with a great second wind, and an awesome feeling found in that unique setting.”

Great swimmers break through pain habitually. They welcome the discomfort.

Here are four common suggestions for dealing with discomforting pain:

  • Accept that it is part of the process of positive change.
  • When it first arrives acknowledge it.
  • Then focus intently on something else such as counting strokes, a favorite song, visualizing yourself racing in your championships or utilizing a teammate in training as a make believe rival in competition to race.
  • In your training or race review, reinforce your achievement in your mind. Note it in a logbook. Share and confirm your experience with a close friend.

Then enjoy your transformation into what you’ve dreamed yourself to be.


Although your resolution to embrace discomfort may be a new experience for you, Tim Shaw’s insight comes from the perspective of enormous athletic achievement; “He’ll (pain) be waiting for you tomorrow. You’ll have to call his bluff again, but it gets easier and easier every day. Eventually it will become a habit, a way of life, to where it is so second nature that you don’t think about it in school, or driving to workout or on the kick set. That’s when you will be a champion... when you’ve conquered yourself to that degree.”


Common people achieve uncommon results when they are willing to get on, and stay on, a success path…even when it’s very uncomfortable.


Get started. And Then They Won Gold (Small)


For more information or to order Chuck Warner’s books Four Champions, One Gold Medal or …And Then They Won Gold, go to www.areteswim.com (access Books * Media), Swimming World Magazine or the American Swimming Coaches Association. You can follow Chuck Warner on twitter@chuckwarner1.  

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