Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Glen Christiansen, a 1980 Olympian from Sweden who just came out with new swimming book, gave an ocean swimming clinic to the swimmers at the Japan International Masters Open Water Swim in Yumigahama Beach in Shizuoka, Japan.

About 2 hours south of Tokyo, Yumigahama is one of Japan’s Top 100 Beaches and sits along the eastern coast where the warm-water Kuroshio Current runs up from Taiwan. Tomorrow will be the third annual masters ocean competition that has drawn raves.

With swimmers coming from Great Britain, Sweden, America, Australia, Korea, Taiwan, and China, there was an eclectic mixture of international entertainment with hula girls, Rio Carnival dancers, clowns, jugglers, and traditional Japanese music in the event ceremonies.

But Christiansen‘s presence was felt by everyone who has grown accustomed to his clinics, especially after his dramatic recovery from a coma and a traumatic injury when he collapsed as he was walking down a flight of stairs. “The rehabilitation and recovery were difficult. Very difficult. But I have been coaching and advising people to overcome their own difficulties and challenges in their lives. Now it was time for me to apply my own advice to myself.

When I woke up from my coma after three and a half weeks, I couldn’t move my left side at all. When I got out of the intensive care unit, I started my first day of physical therapy and could not move my hands or fingers. Then I began to wiggle my thumb a little and gradually I improved little by little. But it was tough.”

In order for Christiansen to improve and prove his doctors wrong that he would never speak or walk again, he applied his old athletic mindset to his recovery. “When I finally could shuffle and move about, the nurses took me outside. But I wanted to be ready for this. So I got my old Swedish uniform from the 1980 Olympics. I put on the uniform and this was going to how I was going to attack my rehabilitation – with everything that I have. I had to have this mentality in order to get better.

Then after a while I was cleared to swim. I was pretty excited, but when I got to the pool, I was literally stuck. ‘How do I get in the pool?’ I asked myself. I could not dive in like I had all my life. It was a shock to me. So my friend suggested that I get in the pool by the stairs. I had never done this before, but I got in and had such a great time. I felt so much better in the water than I did on land. I was not strong and I had lost 15 kg of muscle, but I could swim. Just moving my muscles doing freestyle felt so good.

My friends and therapists thought that I was just going to swim up and down the pool to get used to the water, but I wanted to time myself for a 25. ‘Why Glen are you doing this?’ they asked. ‘You are not competing and just doing rehabilitation’ But this was for me, as an athlete. I had to know where I was now. Then this was my benchmark. From this point, I knew where I was. It took me 30 seconds to swim a 25. That was my mark. From there, I could improve day by day. Getting a little bit stronger and faster each time I took to the water.

Christiansen remains humbled by his recovery and help that he received along the way. “I had so many people helping me, praying for me. There is a power out there and I am very grateful for everything and everyone who helped me return.”

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association