By Chase McFadden//Contributor | Friday, May 1, 2020
“Swimming is central to who I am. It’s been a constant thread throughout my life.”
Mike Lewis — USA Swimming’s photographer extraordinaire — shared these thoughts for a profile piece featured in Splash magazine. Putting together the story afforded me the opportunity to reach out and speak with an individual whose work I’ve come to greatly admire. Talking to interesting humans is a sweet part of this gig.
During 45 minutes of what I would consider a conversation — most memorable interviews flow that way — Mike’s passion was palpable. His voice reverberated with a reverence for swimming and photography and the melding of the two.
You feel it in the images, the elegance and explosiveness of the sport framed with an intimacy familiar to one who has experienced it himself. Focusing the camera is a spirit kindred to those who are captured by it. The soul of a swimmer infuses the work.
“Swimming’s in my DNA,” Mike reflected during our chat.
Turns out, I live with a Mike — not in name, but in molecular makeup.
Sixteen and sporting a head of frizzy, fried hair that screams chlorine, my Mike needs swimming like the average person needs oxygen. He needs the oxygen, too, but prefers to take it in as he turns his head to the side.
Right now, my Mike is a little lost. Lots of Mikes are, whether age six, 36 or 66. Mikes of different sexes, races, ethnicities and nationalities. Globally, this is a tough time for Mikes of all shapes and sizes.
Like most public facilities, aquatic centers are closed until further notice, and Mikes shudder at the thought of a shuttered pool.
Many athletic pursuits can still be experienced — at least to some extent — while maintaining a social distance. It’s pretty easy to find a place to shoot a basket. The 29% of Earth that isn’t water is available to runners.
But it’s a real challenge to swim without a pool.
Which isn’t to diminish the frustration athletes in other sports are experiencing right now. You can only challenge yourself to a game of one-on-none PIG so many times. Just saying that there are some unique logistical obstacles to swimming.
In warmer regions of the world, Mikes might be able to access some open water, but doing so is tough for a Mike like mine. He lives in Wyoming. A week ago, it snowed a foot here.
There’s a certain irony in that the situation necessitating the closure of pools is the exact reason many Mikes need them most. Water offers a constant, predictable buoyancy to minds heavy with the weight of a world which is wholly unpredictable.
Even a drained pool would soothe my Mike, though. It could be bone dry and still be just what he needed.
Most Mikes — including mine — would prefer to submerge. Feel the feel of the water, have it envelop them, hold them like an aqueous comfort blankie.
But for many Mikes, swimming isn’t just about the water. It’s the space, the place, the people.
“The accomplishment of performance is one thing, but that’s eclipsed completely by the friendships, the relationships, by the fact that swimming makes a bad day manageable and a good day better,” photographer extraordinaire Mike Lewis explained of his swim devotion.
At the pool — both in water and on deck — is where my Mike can truly be himself. His friends, teammates and coaches take him as is, and he in turn accepts them for who they are. Together, they care for one another, cheer for one another, love one another unconditionally. They’re one big for-the-most-part-happy family of Mikes.
Reluctantly, my Mike acknowledges that pools are currently closed for the greater good. Everyone is on humanity’s squad, and humanity desperately needs everyone to be a good teammate right now.
Fortunately, Mikes make good teammates.
Mikes realize that long term success comes from short term sacrifice.
Mikes understand that the payoff is down the road, even when the direction, length and bumpiness of that path is unknown.
Hmm. Sounds a lot like flattening the curve.
Hang in there, Mikes. Humanity needs you.