OFF THE DEEP END by W. Hodding Carter


The Probably Insane Idea that I Could Swim My Way Through a Mid-Life Crisis--and Qualify for the Olympics
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Simultaneously self-deprecating and self-affirming memoir by a college swimming champion trying to improve his times while in his mid-40s.

Dissatisfied with his life as a freelance writer struggling to pay the bills, to get along with his lawyer wife Lisa and to rear four young children, Outside contributor Carter (Flushed: How the Plumber Save Civilization, 2006, etc.) found refuge in competitive swimming. He had been a Division III All-American and national champ while at Kenyon College, and although he realized that swimming on the U.S. Olympic team as he neared eligibility for AARP membership was probably just a dream, he decided to go for it. Training almost daily, he developed muscle mass and improved upon the race times of his youth. Perhaps more importantly, Carter discovered that the physical and mental routines provided satisfaction on many levels. (“I’ve been happy many times in my life,” he writes, “but satisfied? Hardly ever.”) That heightened satisfaction repaired a frayed marriage and family life. On almost every page, the author injects humor, usually at his own expense and most of it found in footnotes at the bottom of the pages—a clever device in an otherwise non-scholarly book. But he can also be serious, as when he shares the results of his study into whether the aging process can be delayed by rigorous physical exercise. Gurus such as Joel Stager, director of Indiana University’s Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming, guided Carter through his challenge of the conventional wisdom that after age 25 muscle mass declines by one percent annually. Perhaps the most important guide, however (other than his wife), was Jim Steen, his former coach at Kenyon, who allowed Carter back on campus as part of the book project. The final pages project goofy optimism that Olympic competition is within his grasp.

So well-written that even non-swimmers will enjoy reading about Carter’s Olympic quest.

Pub Date: June 10th, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-56512-564-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Algonquin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2008


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