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by Linda Shoenberger

September 1, 2010

He swam it because it was there

Jim Ryan swims in the 50-55 age group. In 2006 he and a group of fellow swimmers at the Greater Plymouth Community Center in Pennsylvania entered the pool’s East Coast Virtual Swim challenge. He started swimming and never stopped. On April 21st, 2010, swimming alone, as is his trademark, he surpassed the 5,000-mile mark.

No one gave him a medal. He didn’t wear a technical suit. The media didn’t show up. He merely acknowledged his own personal satisfaction at accomplishing his goal.

“It’s kind of funny. I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. I never thought of 5,000 miles as my goal. This is not a competitive thing. I just did it.”

The East Coast Virtual Swim was started by Zach Doll, an Aquatics Director at the Greater Plymouth Community Center. He started the program to encourage use of the pool for fitness. The swim was set up to be 1,208 miles (1,800 yard miles, or 72 lengths of the pool) from Plymouth Meeting, Penn. to South Beach, Miami. All yardage was to be completed at the center. Yardage done in other venues was ineligible.

Ryan enjoys long distance swimming. He says he does his best mile times when he works out at least 5,000 to 7,500 yards a day. “I’m one of those people who have little or no fast twitch muscles. I’m not going to turn out a 1:07 and hold that pace all the way through.” Cracking the 20-minute mark in a race is his forte.

Ryan isn’t retired and he doesn’t have all the time in the world to swim. In fact he is a sales account executive for AT&T. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two teenage sons. When he gets home from work he helps his sons with homework or pitches to them in the backyard. He goes to the pool after he has touched base with everyone. There’s no hurry because it’s not a competition. It’s just something he likes to do.

The Greater Plymouth Community Center pool closes at 9:30 p.m. If he gets there at 7 p.m. he does 2-1/2 hours of swimming. If he gets there at 8 p.m. it’s 1-1/2 hours of swimming. “It’s what I like,” he states matter-of-factly.

Weekends are different. A pretty standard weekend day entails a double workout of 7,000 yards in the morning and 7,000 in the afternoon. Or if his son Jim Jr. is lifeguarding he usually swims the whole shift – noon to 6 p.m. A straight fifteen thousand yards is not an unusual workout for him.

“I spend more time looking at the blue lines on the pool bottom than most people spend watching TV. If anyone wants to reach me on weekends or in the evening, they know to call the Center.”

Ryan describes his fitness swimming as an opportunity to be by himself and sort through the day. “There is so much to think about,” he says. Once he gets going he can easily slip into analyzing his catch, pull and kick. It’s a chance for him to concentrate without interruptions.

At other times he’s found the Finis SwiMP3 very effective in helping him psychologically stay with the flow. “It’s really handy, almost necessary sometimes,” he says. “I may do one lap, do a flip turn and say to myself, ‘Oh my goodness I have 389 more of these to go!’ So the music really helps those days.”

Each 1,000 miles has significance for Jim. The first 1,000 took him 15 months to complete. Then he began to wonder if he could do it in less time. He used visualization of his routes to push himself farther in less time.

“I treat it like I’m really swimming the Atlantic Seaboard in my mind. I visualize going down the coast. I may go 10,000 to 14,000 yards a day then sit out a couple of days and head back down again.”

He describes events that help him stay out of the water for a couple of days at a time. It gives him time to rest and recover.

Using these mindful techniques helped him make the second 1,000 miles in 13 months and the third 1,000 in 10 months. During one 2-1/2 year period he says some nuisance medical issues kept him from getting his time in the pool.

Never tiring of fitness swimming, Ryan has been a member of USMS since 1981. He swims for the fun of it. Typical workouts are 6 x 1500 leaving on 22 minutes or a 5,000 yard pull set. He usually puts in around 240,000 yards a month.

The East Coast Swim is still a standard fitness opportunity for the Center’s members. Fellow member Kristine Porter logged 1,300 miles three months ago. Ryan’s first partner in the East Coast Swim, Chris Lebold, still does the swim too.

“We joke around a lot,” says Ryan. I’ll say, “I went to Florida, turned left and went to Spain. Or I swam from Philadelphia to Hawaii.”

“It’s not a competitive thing. I guess that’s its own reward. To get there, I’ve survived bouts of pneumonia, heart issues and numerous other physical issues, but I’ve made it this far.

I treated it like I was really swimming the coast. When hurricanes were coming, I’d step up my yardage toward the storm and sit it out while the storm was pounding the area I had reached on the map.

I’d step up my yardage to get past Daytona in the spring to avoid the gathering of sharks that happens every year. Oh, I wasn’t really along the coast, but I treated it the way one would if they really were!

The distance between New York and London is 3,459.34 miles. New York to Honolulu is 4,968 miles. Philadelphia to Santiago, Chile is approximately 5,000 miles.

In the end, all I ever wanted to do was go the distance … because it was there to do.”