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Ave atque vale, Terry Laughlin | Fresh Freestyle

Hail and Farewell.

This week we have cried, reminisced, laughed, and cried all over again. Our friend, mentor and inspiration Terry Laughlin passed away on Friday October 20th after living with metastatic prostate cancer for two years. Throughout the time we have known him, including the time living with the aggressive form of metastatic cancer, there are many truths about Terry that we will never forget.

His extreme passion for anything swimming – teaching, coaching, practicing, writing or racing, was always done with a smile and sense of complete fulfillment. We would often hear him say ‘that was the best swim of my life’.

Combined with his passion was an unwavering projection of optimism. On a recent phone call that occurred during his treatment, he spoke to us with such a positive outlook, and almost glowed through his words that when he was in the water he felt no pain.

He would jump at the chance to swim…..with anyone at anytime. It truly was his cocoon of contentment.

Happiness is Swimming – Terry, Celeste, Suzanne and Dinah, Lake Minnewaska NY 2013

Terry truly was so excited to see people – kids, swim teams, fitness swimmers, triathletes, open water swimmers, fearful swimmers, beginner swimmers, anyone at all, develop a love for the water, and more importantly develop a love for never ending improvement in their swimming. His creation of the successful Total Immersion swimming methodology will continue to reach a broad range of swimmers and enable many people to swim, and swim well.

At the beginning of September, Coach Dinah had sent Terry some photos and updates from a Total Immersion open water camp she was directing. In two sessions all swimmers had already exceeded their goals and set new ones. He replied ‘Thank you for sharing. Wish I could be there with you right now.’ Words from his heart.

Teaching with Passion, St John USVI 2015


Terry had a warm sense of humor and an infectious belly laugh to match. Coach Suzanne had recently texted with Terry and shares their last exchange…

“This speaks to his traveling nature and sense of humor. He loved to travel, try new foods, and especially seemed to appreciate artisan breads and unique lodgings.

The last time I saw Terry in person was at a Total Immersion clinic in Yellow Springs Ohio. For the clinic, fellow TI Coach Vicky and I stayed at a grand hotel in downtown Yellow Springs. Terry bought two loaves of bread for us,  they were sold as ‘his’ and ‘her’, fresh, whole grain seeded loaves. ‘Hers’ had seeds on the inside and ‘his’ had seeds on the outside. We texted about the amazing bread and the clean lodgings with the cute café.And the best part of this memory was how funny he thought the names were and his belly laugh when he explained why they were called his and hers loaves.

His last text to me was ‘Everyone here enjoyed your company and Vicky’s’. Heartwarming.”

Friends teaching together, Clermont Florida 2016


Having Terry as a friend and mentor indeed was a privilege. His input into our swimming over the years has shaped us as athletes, teachers, coaches and people.

We would like to take some time individually to reflect, and as Terry would have taken delight in reading, a main set for a swim practice from each of us that conveys some of our memorable experiences from our time with Terry. Please take your time to enjoy the sets, and may your ‘laps be as happy as Terry’s’.

From Coach Celeste

I am grateful for the many opportunities that have come up over the years through TI. Meeting people,traveling, teaching, learning: I am most grateful for Terry and for TI. I am amazed at his ability to recall people, and stroke counts, and swims he has had! He lived the Kaizen philosophy by continuously looking for simpler, clearer ways to teach TI. He was a very trusting, open, and curious person. I will just offer that i am grateful for all the opportunities that have been available to me because of Terry and TI.

On reflecting back to my early exposure to Terry, I would say that starting to practice stroke counting and combining that with my time was very helpful. Swimming golf as it was referred to was an extremely insightful approach to measuring whether or not I was swimming efficiently, especially when ,attempting, swimming fast.

For a main set: 1200y/m
4 x 25 counting strokes– no focal point except to count. Rest as needed between. What was your average over the 25’s?.
4 x 25 noting time, no focal point. Rest as needed. What was your average time?
3 (4 x 25) focus on counting strokes and gathering time. At the end of each 25 take a moment to ad them to get your score. Between each 4 x 25 rest :30 sec to 1:00. After the set is done note any consistency in your score.
3 (4 x 25) same as above, but see if you can lower your score by either taking one less stroke or going a little faster. Use the following focal point as a method of lowering your score.. Practice a neutral, relaxed, stable head position. Be sure to return to neutral after each breathe. Rest as need between 25’s and record your score. Between each 4 x 25 rest :30 sec to 1:00. After the set is done note any consistency in your score. Did things change when you added the focal point?
3 (4 x 25) same as above, but see if you can lower your score by either taking one less stroke or going a little faster. Use the following focal point as a method of lowering your score. Practice feeling the entry of your recovery arm with the shifting of the hips- feel the hand entry connected to hip rotation going down and forward together. Rest as need between 25’s and record your score. Between each 4 x 25 rest :30 sec to 1:00. After the set is done note any consistency in your score. Did things change when you changed the focal point?
4 x 25 see if you can clear your mind to go back to counting strokes and adding time to get your score without a focal point. What, if anything changed from the first set of 25’s to now.

Use this set for fun, curiosity as in what changes when You pay attention to “x”? Is it more challenging to swim, count, and have a specific focus? Let go of any judgement about what happens in the swim, enjoy any differences that can open new doors to, insights, cause and effect. Have fun with it. Make it the best swim of your life.

From Coach Dinah

One of the most admirable qualities of Terry was his outside the box thinking. Swimming efficiently, and one of the reasons Total Immersion methodology is so successful across a broad range of athletes, was Terrys deep understanding of how the human brain learns. I love that he ignored traditional and tangible, and delved into literature that explained learning and mastery at a neurological level. From there he developed sequences to teach anyone to excel in the water. My main set is a reflection of some focal points that explore this, his use of feeling the water combined with specific thoughts to create movements – focal points I had never even considered in my decades worth of swimming before meeting Terry. It includes some breaststroke as it was my worst stroke growing up in traditional swimming environments – I asked Terry one day, why didn’t someone correct me? I was almost mad at years of swimming so poorly in that stroke. He said so calmly and with no judgment – they simply didn’t know. Enjoy the exploration and know that he would be happy to see you swimming!

Main Set 1000y/m, rest as you need
4×50 Freestyle -at the beginning of every length as you push off the wall, feel the thickness of the water cushion the body, and as you lengthen into a tall and relaxed streamline position, feel the water return you to the surface to begin freestyle.
1×50 Breaststroke – as you lengthen and streamline at the end of each stroke, feel the position of the body return towards the water surface – just as you reach the top of your position begin the next stroke.
4×50 Freestyle – as your lead arm hinges into catch, with the palm facing back – feel the same thickness of the water under the forearm – gathering moonbeams as Terry and his friends would say – how many can you trap with firm consistent pressure?
1×50 Breaststroke – feel the same hinge and pressure in the breaststroke catch – do you feel double the moonbeams?
4×50 Freestyle – as you swim this interval press against the water keeping the palm facing back, and try to keep the water as still as possible, feel the least amount of movement around your fingers and hands.
1×50 Breaststroke – as you press back and scoop inwards towards the body, can you gather and send energy forward with the least amount of turbulence, swimming as quietly as possible.
1×200 Freestyle – build pace every 50 during this interval by adjusting the firmness of your press on the water. Swim as quietly as possible, disturbing the water the least.
1×50 Breaststroke – use this interval to reconnect with a long tall body line, the cushioning of the water, and a gentle smile for a swim well done!


From Coach Suzanne

The first time I met Terry was at my coach training course. When he walked in the room, he illuminated it with his smile, and greeted me by name without hesitation. I felt as if we had known each other for years, even though we had only corresponded by email for a few weeks. His capacity for remembering names, details, focal points and moments of mastery, even after years had elapsed mesmerized me. Every time I listened to Terry speak or coach, I learned something new from him. His capacity for bringing in fields seemingly unrelated to swimming and tying them into the sport was uniquely academic, insightful and set him apart from any other coach I’ve ever met.

During my coach training course, we discussed a test set at the deep end of the 50m pool. He leaned over the edge, while sitting on the diving block and asked me for my times and stroke counts. He took the time to not only suggest how I modify the set to try and achieve better master, but also explained his thought process and multiple options. He empowered me to become a better coach, not just a better swimmer.

Here is my set, inspired by that first impression of Terry coaching me in a sunny California pool.

Terry’s Mile (1600 y/m total)
(200) Swim 2 Rounds of 4 x 25, 10 seconds rest. count strokes for the 25 as follows. #1 Count hand entries. #2 Count hip rotations, #3 count kicks (can you do it?) #4 count what felt easiest.
(300) 4 x [3 x 25] rest 5 seconds between 25s, leave “on the top” of the pace clock for each set. Use the stroke count from swim #4 above as “N”, and for each 25 swim “N-1”, “N”, “N+1” Try to calibrate your recovery speed to hit your stroke count. Slow your recovery to lower count, speed up recovery to increase stroke count
(600) 4 x [3 x 50] Rotating through these three focal points focusing on “shaping the vessel”
#1) Let the hand and forearm slice into the water through a small hole
#2) Let the lead arm part the water as it extends forward
#3) Let the body follow the path created by the lead arm
(300) 4 x [3×25] use each focal point above and while counting strokes (do the streamlining thoughts decrease stroke count?)
(200) 2 x [4×25] Count strokes as follows #1 Hand entries #2 Hip rotations #3 Count kicks (2bk), #4 count what felt best. Did your SPL decrease from set #1?

Thank you for becoming a part of our memories with Terry. Documenting our thoughts and feelings has been difficult as we process the raw emotions of the week. With time we hope that these memories bring only happiness and joy, and a continued love of swimming and learning.

Natet in pace, Terry, Swim in peace.

Celeste, Dinah and Suzanne

Rainbow of Peace, St John USVI 2015