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June 15, 2020

The Albany Armada Masters member wrote a book that details her experiences in swimming

USMS: To turn the title of your book on you, why do you swim?

Bonnie Tsui: Swimming has always played a central role in my life, but the role itself keeps evolving over time. Right now, in these tumultuous days, I'm swimming for the sense of calm and restoration that the water gives me. It's time with my own thoughts, but also an opportunity to swim to presentness, an acute sensory noticing of what's happening in the moment and nothing else.

USMS: How did you first get into the sport?

Tsui: Like a lot of people, I learned to swim with lessons at the public pool when I was very young. When my brother and I were 9 and 8 years old, our parents gave us the choice between soccer and swim team—and we said, "Swimming, definitely." We joined a year-round swim club and that was the beginning of 10 years of awesomeness.

USMS: What led you to become a Masters swimmer?

Tsui: I wanted to know what it would be like to compete again, only this time as an adult. Coincidentally, my 6-year-old son was joining his first swim team at the same time, and so it was really interesting and poignant to watch him do that, and to see how our experiences dovetailed.

USMS: How – choose your adjective here – harrowing, thrilling, hectic was returning to competition again with U.S. Masters Swimming?

Tsui: All of those things! Plus stomach-churning, blurry, adrenaline-pumping, community-building, fun. It feels great to push yourself, both physically and mentally.

USMS: What would you tell someone who hasn’t swum competitively in a while?

Tsui: This sounds counterintuitive, but take it slow! Ease into practice, notice how your body is feeling, build up your training to be the carrot just ahead of what your body is ready for.

USMS: What led you to writing “Why We Swim?”Why We Swim

Tsui: There are so many books about running: the mechanics of it, the evolutionary biology of it, how to do it better, great narratives about running races and journeys and big characters. I think of Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run" as the gold standard for a book that does all of that for running, and I wanted to write a book like that for swimming. A wide-ranging, expansive book with great stories about swimming and the water that also feels intimate and meaningful to the individual swimmer. 

USMS: Your book is filled with a lot of fascinating swimming-related anecdotes and facts. What were some of your favorites or the most mind-blowing that you came across in your research?

Tsui: I loved finding out about how our bodies respond physiologically to immersion: how swimming stimulates mobility and circulation, boosts vascular function, and reduces blood pressure over time; how cold water fires up dopamine and metabolism and the "browning" of white fat, to increase our energy output even more. The human body is just amazing—put it in water and you'll discover even more astounding things about what it can do.

USMS: The physical health benefits of swimming are widely known, but you touched a lot on the mental health benefits in your book. What have you learned putting together this book and experienced in your own swimming career?

Tsui: As a kid and as a young adult, I didn't think much about what swimming did for my head—I just liked the way my body felt during and after a swim. In recent years I have come to see the pool as a strengthening tonic for my mind, too. The rhythm of swimming, the flow of the water, and the deep breathing that is the nature of the thing makes it a meditative act. Writing the book was a way to interrogate that in my own life. I learned that swimming is a daily act of resilience.

USMS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Tsui: I know a lot of readers haven't been able to get in the pool, and that's a hard thing right now. But if you can, get in a lake, river, stream, or ocean—even walking within sight or hearing of water, every bit is beneficial to our bodies and brains. And I'm wishing everyone a speedy return to the waters near you.

You can read an exclusive excerpt of Bonnie Tsui's recently released book "Why We Swim" here.