Test of tapering has reward at the end

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Northeast Dubois senior Haley Brinkman received a back rub from assistant coach Tammy Schulthies alongside teammates Taylor Knight, left, and Kaitlyn Bauer during the Wildcat Invitational in December. The Jeeps and other area squads will return to Jasper for Saturday’s sectional following a late-season process of tapering, which encompasses everything from healthy eating to exercises in visualization.

Herald Sports Writer

The exercise is clear, calming and critical.

It starts when Addison Nolan begins the stopwatch on her phone. She then closes her eyes and lays down.

As the seconds tick, Nolan visualizes each stroke, each kick, each turn she’ll make in the 100-yard backstroke race at sectional.

The Jasper senior aims for an exact time — down to the hundredth of a second — and as her hands touch the wall in her imagined lane, Nolan hits the stopwatch once more. Eyes open.


It’s one of Nolan’s choice exercises while tapering for swimming sectional, slated for Saturday at the Jasper High School Natatorium.

With Nolan and many area swimmers, the tapering experience is expansive. While typically linked with lessened distance in training and the occasional high-intensity workout in hopes of familiarizing swimmers with postseason speed, the practice now extends far beyond the pool.

Not only does it encompass what you swim, but also what you eat, see, wear and think.

Southridge junior Taylor Miles, who started swimming competitively at age 9, has gone through the tapering process some 20 times. They’ve varied in length — from a week and a half between the Pocket Athletic Conference meet and sectional to the two-month taper she performed last winter to help prep for both the high school postseason and a pair of competitions for her club team.

After her first time tapering, a 10-year-old Miles wound up scurrying to a state title in the 100 butterfly competing for the Southridge Aquatic Raider Gators club team.  

So it’s simple, right? Taper. Race. Win.

Not quite.

Even if swimmers sometimes relish in the lowered lap counts during training, the discipline tapering calls for is often the more arduous aspect.

When the Heritage Hills boys swim team tussled through an improv water polo match at practice, “they pulled the ”˜you’re tapering so you can’t play because you can’t exert too much energy’” card, Patriot senior Emma Burns recalled.

Instead, Burns and her teammates settled for a 3,000-yard workout — a 40 percent cut in their normal distance — where “you sometimes feel like you’re not going anywhere,” Burns said.

Then there’s the food.

Ugh. Tears.

With a swimmer’s consumption, imagine all the dietary divinities. Miles sees cheese fries and chicken strips. It’s Oreo Blizzards and fettuccine alfredo for Nolan. Northeast Dubois senior Haley Brinkman eyes bacon at team breakfasts.

Now throw it all in the garbage.

The savory stuff is replaced by healthy carbs and proteins. Sweets, soft drinks, chips: out. Juice, veggies, healthy carbs, lean meat: in.

Miles’ older sister Mallory, now a senior on Ball State’s swim team and more of the “health freak,” by Taylor’s account, has offered her younger sib some suggestions. So Taylor tolerates sipping V8 fruit drinks and has even succumbed to the fact that turkey burgers are, eh, tolerable.

The grub control can be tough, said Jeep coach Jennifer Wright, whose conscience infiltration — Are you sure you needed that candy at the basketball game last night? — seems to seep into more minds as sectional approaches.

“All season long, you don’t necessarily play mind games, but you’re always questioning,” said Wright, who even had a swimmer last season text her to ask if each food selection was a good choice or not. “Sometimes commenting about it makes them change their mind.”

Tapering’s final touches are perhaps the most anticipated. For sectional, many girls change to Fastskin swimsuits, made of a high-technology fabric to reduce drag. Yes, they can be a bit constricting. Miles requires help from her mom, Jill, while slipping into hers.

“They’re extremely tight, so you really can’t breathe,” Brinkman added.

And equally awaited are the razors. Neither Nolan, Miles, Burns nor Brinkman has shaved her legs since the start of the season, which is the norm, they admitted with a laugh.

“It is the grossest thing a girl could possibly go through,” Nolan said.

But with Saturday comes bliss.

“You can actually feel the water hit your legs, and it’s so smooth,” Brinkman said cheerfully. “You feel like you’re just gliding through the water.”

While the suits and shaves provide a concrete advantage, the mental stimulus is just as important.

“We want to feel like we’re ready to go and that this is our moment,” Nolan said. “This is our time to show everyone what we can do.”

But what can actually be accomplished in a two-week preparation period?

With Miles, it could mean quite a bit. After a regular season riddled by illness, including a strep throat diagnosis last week, the defending 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly champion said tapering’s visual rehearsals are everything.

“If your mind isn’t there, and you’re saying you can’t do it, you’re not going to be able to do it,” said Miles who, like Nolan, paddles through races in her head. “No matter how well you’ve tapered or how hard you’ve worked this past year, it’s not going to mean anything if your mind isn’t there with it.”

Even when she “was freaking out” at last year’s sectional, Burns saw the dividends of tapering discipline as well: a 12-second cutback on her 500 freestyle time from the PAC meet two weeks earlier.

When completed in earnest, the taper is the ticket.

The first time Nolan attempted the stopwatch scheme, she was 30 seconds off the time she had in her mind. But with each attempt, she got closer.

And that’s what the taper is all about, the defending sectional backstroke champ said.

“The first time (tapering) I said, ”˜Oh, this is ridiculous,’” Nolan said. “But the moment I got in the water, I felt great. ... It’s completely worth it in the end.”

Contact Joe Jasinski

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