Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

20 Pools - A Swimming Odyssey: Pool # 6: Willamalane Park Swim Center, Eugene, Ore.

Most people don't equate the Grateful Dead with swimming pools, but in my personal journey, the two are 100 percent intertwined. For the non-Americans reading this post I have to back up a little. The Grateful Dead, although never really popular until much later in their career, are one of the founding pillars of American rock and roll. They sprung out of the San Francisco folk scene of the early 1960s and created the free form style of rock which is now referred to as "Jam Band."  They toured constantly; played a different set list every night; promoted bootlegging and free distribution of their music and cultivated (using the word "'cult'ivated" carefully here) the most loyal fan base in the history of music.

In 1981 I was introduced to the band and quickly became one of their passionate followers known as "Deadheads."  I was also a member of the University of Illinois diving team and nearly everyone I knew was either a swimmer or a diver. Swimmers always have music going through their heads so the long, twisting musical pieces were a perfect counter to the endless boredom of the black stripe on the bottom of the pool. Divers are naturally creative, adventurous animals so the deep musical exploration made perfect sense to us as we tried more difficult dives from higher and higher takeoff points. The Grateful Dead and diving were so braided in my head that I had dreams where band members were at my diving workouts. Garcia, the lead guitar player was particularly good with back and reverse spinners; whereas Weir, the rhythm player had a clean set of required dives.

It was during this time that I also bought my first guitar and started playing music. My first music book was "Happy Traum's Guitar for Beginners" and my second was "The Black Book." The Black Book was not the official title of the book, but any Deadhead who has ever tried to learn the band's songs knows this as the Bible of Grateful Dead music. Nearly all their original material was in the book and I went about trying to learn every song they played.

Had there been an Internet at this point, I'm sure my early musical journey would have been more comprehensive, but being a college student with no money, I played what was in front of me. I also had access to Beatles, Pink Floyd, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin books, but for the most part, I was learning those tunes in the Black Book. At the same time, my brothers and many of my old high school swim team mates had their copies of the Black Book and were shedding wood on their own instruments. Over the years the swimming pools disappeared and were replaced by microphones and amplifiers; Speedos were replaced by guitars and pianos.

Fast forward 30 years and my friend David Burroughs invited me to a Grateful Dead open jam at Luckey's Club in downtown Eugene, Oregon. Eugene has long been a hot bed of Grateful Dead culture so I jumped at the opportunity to sit in with the local talent. I've done hundreds of these open mics and jams so I know if you don't get there early and sign in, you either won't get a slot, or you will be the last to play and the bar will be empty.

I got to the pub at 6:30 and was one of the first ones to set up my gear. I was ready at 7:00, but the show didn't start until 9:00. That gave me two hours to kill. When hanging out in a bar that usually means watching sports and throwing down pints. But I play like crap when I'm drinking and I'd already eaten. Only one thing to do... Find a swimming pool!

I got on my phone and discovered there was an indoor pool just a few miles away at the Willamalane Recreational Center. I asked David to watch my gear, then hopped in my van and GPS'd my way over to the pool. They had open lap swim until 8:30, so I paid five bucks; found the locker room; slapped on my suit (now permanently hanging on a bungee cord hung across the back of my van), pulled on my goggles and headed out to the six-lane 25-yard sweat-box of a pool.

It's the kind of sweat-box I grew up with in high school, so even though I'd never been there before, it felt familiar. I had to convince the lifeguard I wasn't going to drown, but eventually he came around to holding down my chair so I could flop in. Something I miss from cycling is that it gave me time to memorize song lyrics. I would learn new tunes on guitar, then spend hours on my bike going over the lyrics. In the pool, that doesn't work as well because you have to count laps. I've tried to work on lyrics, but if I do, I can't remember how many laps I've done.

But here, I didn't really have enough time to pull my full mile. I just swam and went through all the lyrics I planned to sing at the bar. I have no idea how far I swam that night, but It was easily 1200 yards. When the lifeguard pulled on his whistle to end the session, I looked around to see if they had a handicap lift. They had the lift, but the battery was dead. This meant I had to pull myself up on the side of the pool; climb on to a deck chair; dry myself off then finally transfer into my wheelchair.

I was pissed their rig wasn't working, but it was good practice - because pool #7 would be a doozey: Club Moses Swimming Pool and Party Palace, Jorpati, Nepal

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