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by Greta Van Meeteren

June 30, 2011

Swimming helped him beat smoking

Alan Pfeiffer-Traum is a systems architect in the High Performance Computing group at the University of Houston. The group runs the data center that houses computing resources used by researchers on campus. He has worked in several areas of computing and networking at the University of Houston for over 30 years. "That's a long time to stay at one place, but in a rapidly changing profession like information technology, it has never been dull and I have the rare opportunity to see the results of my efforts mature. Plus, UH has two swimming facilities on campus, one of which is the excellent natatorium in the campus Recreation Center. Why would I leave?"

Pfeiffer-Traum has been married for 37 years. The couple has a 34-year old son. Life was busy when they were both working and raising their son. He put in a lot of hours at work, which meant sitting in a chair hunched over a keyboard. He was a long-time tobacco user (pipe smoker). Several of his coworkers also smoked. In those years before smoking indoors was banned, they turned the office ceiling tiles brown.

"This is relevant to my swimming story," says Pfeiffer-Traum, "because when I finally decided to quit smoking 13 years ago, I got the advice that becoming physically active was a good way to remain a former smoker. Not sure why I chose swimming. I knew how to swim in the way that most people understand it. That is, I had no swimming skills but at least I felt comfortable in the water." He is surprised at how many adults never consider swimming because of fear of the water.

Since Pfeiffer-Traum is attracted to solitary activities, it was really unexpected for him to join an organized swimming group. He is grateful to his first coach and the swimmers for making him feel welcome then. It was a student sports club and he was clearly the oldest member. They introduced him to the formal structure of swim practice: interval training, how to do pace clock arithmetic, build, descend, kick sets, etc.

And then his first swim meet! His first coach told him that, with one exception, he had yet to meet anyone involved in swimming whom he disliked. Pfeiffer-Traum generally agrees. He looks forward to sharing practice with his lanemates who can be very cheerful even at 6 a.m. on a chilly winter morning.

He swims with COOG Masters (Houston Cougar Masters) where he is not the oldest member. "I appreciate and admire the generous, accepting culture of Masters swimming. It may not be obvious what benefit a very competitive 18-year-old would get from performing his much tougher set a few lanes over from the 75-year-old swimmer in lane two, but just think of the impression it makes on all swimmers to share the implied respect for relative effort and achievement."

He says the team has "fantastic coaches who know how to encourage and guide them at their different levels." Pfeiffer-Traum usually swims four or five days a week for a total of 10,000-20,000 yards. He tries to participate in the local swim meets (four this year).

"I'm lucky to have an exceptionally efficient breaststroke kick, so that's my favorite stroke. I love when I can go breast kick on long kick sets. My favorite event is 200-meter breaststroke. I know, it's crazy. This is surprising because otherwise my swimming skills are comparatively average. As of this year, I'm no longer embarrassed by my backstroke. So, I can say I swim all strokes. Because I came to swimming late, I still expect to see improvements like that—even at my age. I can add new events and maybe even get better times," he says.

Pfeiffer-Traum thinks that the Fitness Log at makes it very easy to participate in Go The Distance. "Admittedly it's a simple metric with a value that varies depending on the individual, but the program supports the image of a community of swimmers working on their individual goals." He regards these things—the team community, GTD, learning new stroke skills, meets, working for improved times—as motivators.


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