A long read - some good stories, some good OSHY history, some good lessons

Top 10 Workouts – OSHY 2000-2020

Over the last 20 years we have had 10,000+ workouts. With time on my hands I tried to pick out the “best” of them. In general, workouts are great partially because of what is done in the workout and partially because of how the workout affects the future. Because of that more of these are from a while ago because there has been more time to see how they changed people / groups. 10 years from now the list will include more of today’s workouts.


Reading what is written I realized that this is more than a list of individual workouts. It is a glimpse into the philosophy of the program and what is emphasized daily. While the names of the swimmers may be foreign to you and many of the workouts happen long ago, each speaks to something that is important in the OSHY program. The seeds of the success of the OSHY swimmers both in and out of the pool are in the stories below. I hope you enjoy.



November 13, 2008 – AM workout. We started at 5:15 AM in those days. It was going to be a pretty quiet morning. The high school girls state meet was in 2 days, so most of the group was going to be resting up at home. As a walked out on deck, I saw Abbey. Surprised I said, “Abbey, Happy Birthday (it was her 17th birthday). What are you doing here?” She responded, “It is my birthday. I love swimming more than anything else and I want to start my day swimming.” She got no argument from me. Abbey was the heart and soul of the team from the time she was about 13 to when she graduated. She loved to swim. It didn’t matter where; it didn’t matter when. THE BEST LOVE TO SWIM.


While they don’t keep such records, I am pretty sure that no one ever swam more relays in the history of YMCA Nationals than Abbey. She swam 54 relays (out of a possible 55) over the course of 11 Y Nationals. Out of those 54 relays they finaled 38 times. Again, I can’t imagine too many ever had more relay finals.



Late December 2000 - Most years, with the schedule permitting, the OSHY team does the “All-Team Yardage Challenge” over the winter break. The idea of the Challenge is to take the year, add 2 zeros to the number, and then have the team swim that many yards. For example, in 2015 the team would have to swim 201,500 yards. If 50 people show up each person must swim about 4000 yards. If 100 people show up each person only must swim about 2000 yards. The more people that show up the less each person must do. The idea of the workout is to remind people that when you are a part of a team if you slack off someone else must do the work for you. When you have a whole team, showing up and putting out effort, it is easier for everyone.


In the winter of 2000-01 the All Team Yardage Challenge was set at 200,100 yards. The team was smaller than it is today. When the workout began there were 18 swimmers on deck. To be successful that day we had to average over 11,000 per swimmer, probably a little more to make up for the weakest swimmer, me. The best two OSHY swimmers decided to go 30 x 400 on 6:00. When they finished, we still weren’t done, so they continued and did 4 more until we got to 200,100.


Teams ebb and flow with their commitment to each other. Nothing is ever perfect. That workout turned the tide with that group of swimmers and families helping creating the foundational belief that one swimmer’s effort (or lack thereof) has a direct impact on the rest of the group. A rising tide lifts all boats.




In 2008 we had a group of Senior swimmers that thrived on anything that was a challenge. As we set off for camp with 24 OSHY swimmers, we made the decision to push anything a little further. Upon arrival we did the traditional swim across the lake, followed by a meal Lee prepared for us. After dinner we gathered for a meeting to outline the week. The days were as follows – camp, Grand Portage, camp, camp, travel home. As the meeting was concluding we pushed, “And you have to get all your food for the week, on your own, without a vehicle.” There was disbelief. After the shock wore off, they created their plan. 3 groups of 8, one group for each of the 3 camp days. Each morning would start with one group of 8 heading into town. 4 would run the 5 miles into town and do the shopping. The other 4 would hike into town with backpacks. By the time the running 4 finished the shopping, the hiking 4 would have arrived at Zups. They would pack all the food into the backpacks and then all hike back together. All this had to get done before 9 AM when “normal” activities would begin. “Normal” days were non-stop (nothing has really changed over the years.) The toughest day was the day after the Grand Portage (a 17-mile hike).  The 10-mile jaunt early the next morning was rough. The vans were pretty quiet when we climbed in to come home at end of the week.




Saturday, October 22, 2005 – Friday night at practice the Senior group was told that Saturday’s workout would not be in the pool. At 6 AM they needed to meet at the YMCA, ready to do an outdoor activity for about 6 hours. No other information. The next morning about 20 swimmers were ready to go at 6 AM, literally and figuratively, completely in the dark. We had employed a few parents to drive not sharing a clue with them either. We drove and drove and drove. After what seemed to the swimmers like forever, we stopped, piled out of the cars, at a place on a path that no one had ever seen before. As the parent’s cars drove away, the instructions to the dumbfounded swimmers were, “Follow the path. It will lead us home.” We were 20 miles out on the Wiouwash Trail with only the food and water we had brought with us. Swimmers and coaches spent the next 5 + hours on a grey chilly day hiking home.  We had no options, we had no cell phones, we just had to walk. We talked, shared stories, sang, made fun of each other, found an abandon kitten, and bonded. Complaining or feeling sorry for one’s self had no place on the hike. No one wanted to hear it and it wasn’t going to help us get home any quicker. That workout set the tone for the rest of the year.


The epilog to story is that we had a swim meet that night. One of the 13-year-old girls that had hiked 20 miles that morning made a first-time National cut that night.



Palindrome Day 02/22/20 – The D group main set was


5 x          (4 x 50 on 45)

                                @ 1000 P

                (200 on 2:30)

                                Fast – add up all 5 200’s for a 1000 time

                (300 easy on 4:30)


There are a few things that we want to be associated with the OSHY name. One is that we are willing to do the hard work. We don’t complain. We don’t shy away. We are willing to put in the effort. Another is that we are inclusive. One of the trademarks of the OSHY team has been that we include others into what we are doing. The Champion Meet started with sharing an athlete that had come to see us with others, travel trips like the Pro AM have always been that way, practices have always been that way, NKB camp is that way. The 02/22/20 workout exemplified both hard work and inclusiveness. Christian (FSC + Univ. of Indy) and Elle (FSC) swam the set with our normal D group. A testament to the culture of inclusiveness is that it wasn’t strange having them workout with us. Business as usual. The set was awesome and brutal all at the same time. 3500 yards in 50 minutes, 2000 yards of it blistering fast. It was the kind of workout that would have been a disaster 2 months earlier, but with the kind of fitness that you only have after a 6 month build up it was AMAZING. Great groups don’t give an inch when pressed. No one gave an inch the whole time. The best work out of the year for a group that had a great year of workouts and races. The ADD UP 1000's were amazing, only to be exceeded by the positive energy of the group. I still get chills thinking about that workout.



Summer 2008, about 3 weeks before YMCA Nationals. The workout was 8 x 100 timed from the blocks. Ashley had been our leader / best swimmer for 4 years. She was getting crushed. After 3 horrific 100’s there were tears in her eyes, chin quivering. We talked. The decision was that it was important to the rest of the team that she continue. She had beaten everyone in almost everything for 4 years. They deserved the chance to “win” a workout once. If she stopped, for whatever reason, they would have been deprived of that opportunity. She finished that last 5, getting beat by swimmers that had never been close to her before. She never once took off her goggles. They hid the tears.


Three weeks later Ashley "A" finaled (top 8) all 4 of her individual races at YMCA Nationals and was a part of 4 relays that A finaled (the 5th relay missed the A final by .06.) Between individual races and relays Ashley finished top 8 in 8 races, the best-ever by an OSHY swimmer. The OSHY girls finished 7th in the country that year, our best finish ever. I am convinced that if Ashley had walked away from that workout, we would not have finished 7th. That one workout made a whole other group of swimmers believe they could be great, and Ashley was strong enough mentally to have a bad day and not let it destroy her.


The last relay of that meet was the 400 Medley relay, we placed 4th with a time that still stands as our team record (no small feat, because the swimmers were still swimming in Aquablades, the equivalent of today’s practice suits). Ashley’s medal from that race is in our trophy case.



Water jug challenge – Middle School Camp 2015. 25 swimmers, 25 1-gallon water jugs, 7 flights of stairs up a really steep hill. The workout was 25 swimmers with 25 jugs all the way up and then all the way down. Leave one jug at the bottom, 25 swimmers with 24 jugs all the way up and then all the way down. Leave one jug at the bottom, 25 swimmer with 23 jugs all the way up and the all the way down,….It was way harder than we thought it was going to be. 5 rounds into it, people were trashed. Only 20 more rounds to go. By 10 rounds the carnage was setting in, the stronger started taking 2 jugs up at a time to help those who could only drag their body weight up and down. The leaders stood at the bottom, counting rounds by the number of jugs left with us, and watching the suffering. By 15 rounds the swimmers were yelling non-stop encouragement to each other as they ran up and down. If you closed your eyes and just listened to their banter you would have thought everyone was perfectly OK, but when you looked at their faces coming down the stairs you saw anguish. It was spirit and commitment to each other that got them up and down that hill the last 10 times. A workout that no one that participated (or observed) will forget.



The first NKB Birthday Swim – February 27, 2010. This would have been a heck of a workout at any time, but considering the circumstances there are no words for it. Natalie had died a week before, Feb 20. Amid trauma and tragedy, you have choices that you have to make. One of the choices that we made was that we would do everything possible to not shut down. As hard as it was, we would not respond to the loss of life by stopping living. Natalie’s funeral was Friday, Feb 26. The next day, to honor her, to celebrate her birthday we would swim 17 (how old she would have been) 500’s (her favorite race) on her birthday (Feb 27). It was only possible because everyone chose to do it. Each person’s strength in being there fortified the person next to them. There must have been 50 or 60 people swimming. People came from everywhere, all people touched by Natalie. The interval was 7:30 except when you needed to cry, which everyone did. We finished 16, stopped the group, and talked. Natalie’s goal had always been to break 5:00 for the 500. Number 17 would be timed from the blocks. Sub 5:00 was the goal. We asked for volunteers. Eight, her sisters and her close friends, climbed up and gave every last bit of energy and emotion they had to the 17th 500. Jake made it under 5:00 and we celebrated and cried. Everyone else then finished their 17th 500 and we headed to Natalie’s house for Swedish pancakes and to sing happy birthday.


There are wounds that will never heal. But that does not mean that you do not pursue healing. Healing is a process. Being healed is an end. Regardless of whether you are ever healed, healing is important. That first Birthday swim, the first NKB Camp, every Birthday swim since, NKB Camp since, and every time someone puts on a purple cap, we are healing. Hoping to be healed is an unattainable goal. Continued healing is an attainable objective.


Hemmingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”




July 12, 2016 Middle School Camp - The Grand Portage – A River of Mud. The Grand Portage has been an OSHY camp tradition since 2003. It is a 17-mile hike that covers the last portage of the French Voyageurs as they canoed their pelts (furs) down the lakes and rivers of the northern territories to Lake Superior where they would then be transported in bigger boats for the trip to the east coast and to Europe to be sold.  We start at Lake Superior, hike 8 ½ miles to the Pigeon River, which is the border between the US and Canada (when the water level is low you can wade across the border – no passport necessary), and then return. Normal years the challenge tends to be distance, but occasionally heat or downed trees are the issue. This year looked like it would be ok. There had been a few light rains in Ely. Seemingly nothing to worry about. BUT the Grand Portage is 150 miles from Ely and the weather there is not necessarily the same as in Ely. As we started the Grand Portage, 36 people between campers and leaders, it was wetter than expected, but we marched on. The farther we went the muddier it became. On the way to the Pigeon River if you were at the front it was pretty muddy, if you were at the back each step you took was in the footprints of the 35 people that went before you. It was really muddy in the back. THEN we turned around to return and everyone had to go through the slop that we had stirred up coming out. It was a never-ending river of mud. The beauty and the curse of the hike is that there is no bailout. You must get out under your own power. We hiked for hours, seemingly going nowhere, through the river of mud. Normally the hike takes between 5-6 hours. That day it took 8 ½ hours. We made it back to Lake Superior before dark, exhausted. Our reward was by a dip in 50-degree water, before returning to Ely.



Over time the memory of many experiences fade. Few of the 36 that hiked the Grand Portage that day will forget it. Four years down the road I still hear kids talking about it regularly. I look at the pictures from that year and the kids are SUCH LITTLE KIDS. What they did that day was amazing. A great reminder not to underestimate the capacity of young people.


I see who those kids are today, 4 years removed from the hike. Tough as nails, supportive of each other, never shying away from putting in effort to improve. The mud from that day has long since been washed away, the strength earned remains.  



November 19, 2007. It was the Monday after the Champion Meet. That summer our girls had had their first top 10 team placing at YMCA Nationals, we had been the top Wisconsin girls’ team at YMCA Nationals for 4 straight nationals. We were pretty good. But not at the Champion Meet. They showed up at the Champion Meet with bad attitudes and worse efforts, except for “I LOVE TO SWIM” Abbey, she had lit it up while everyone else was feeling sorry for themselves. Most of them had forgotten that it was consistent attitude and effort that was the foundation for their achievements. The felt entitled. Swimming isn’t a sport where entitlement gets you anywhere. Success must be earned.


As Sunday at the Champion Meet wrapped up, I pulled Abbey aside and told her that I would need her leadership tomorrow. I knew I could count on her. If there was anything that she loved more than swimming, it was the people that she swam with. She loved being a part of a team.


On Monday, they warmed up, got out, and I unloaded a lecture on them. Not much eye to eye contact.  Still there wasn’t a lot of acknowledgement that something had to change.  Then lanes and main sets were assigned. The first set given was jaw clenching tough. And that was the easiest set. After about 10 minutes of assigning and explaining there was one swimmer, Abbey, and one lane, Lane 1, left. Most assumed that she was going to get off easy because she alone had performed well that weekend. Blood drained from people’s faces when her set was announced


5 x          (1000 fly on 13:30)

                (200 easy free on 3:30)


Without saying a word, Abbey climbed in Lane 1 and started. For the next hour plus she silently grinded out her set. She went between 12:28 and 12:37 for her 5 1000s, about a 1:15 per 100 average, never sneaking a one arm stroke, never doing a one hand touch.


Equally silent, her teammates swam their sets, each tremendously challenging in their own way. Throughout that hour plus swimmers would look over to lane 1 in disbelief at what they were witnessing. A day or two before it was a group that was willing to complain and feel sorry for themselves. That was over.


That single workout changed everything. Entitlement was gone. Complaining was gone. Feeling sorry for one’s self was gone. Often success leads to complacency. That was the road we were on. Abbey’s attitude and effort that day got us off that road and on to a better one. Leadership needs not be vocal, actions speak louder than any voice.