FEATURES,  View from the Water

View from the Water – Terry Laughlin tribute


The death of Terry Laughlin is a sad loss to the swimming community, but his legacy will live on. By Simon Griffiths


The last time I met Terry

Laughlin, earlier this year,

we played a game of pool. He

wasn’t very good at it. But

with every shot, he got better. Winning

or losing didn’t matter. It was the

process of continuous improvement

that inspired him and gave him joy.

He watched, he analysed,

he practised and he got

better.

He told me he’d go

away and practise

some more, and

he promised me a

re-match. Sadly,

that re-match

can’t happen now.

Terry died from

complications

linked to prostate

cancer on 20 October

2017. He was just 66.

The process he applied to

our game of pool extended to all

areas of his life, especially swimming

and the teaching of swimming. He

also greatly enjoyed writing about

swimming and was passionate about

sharing his love of the water. He was

a consistent and thought-provoking

contributor to these pages between

2013 and October this year. In our

August issue, he wrote movingly about

living and swimming with cancer.

The central concept behind Terry’s

approach to swimming was that our

primary focus should be on reducing

resistance rather than increasing

propulsion, which runs contrary to our

instincts when we hit the water. His

second powerful idea is that, instead

of training ourselves to be able to

sustain hard physical effort for longer,

we should seek ways to minimise our

energy expenditure while swimming

and avoid wasteful efforts. As a

consequence, we should be able to

swim faster for longer.

Terry spent countless hours

watching the world’s best swimmers

and trying to figure out what makes

them so fast. He was a skilled observer.

For example, in the summer I shared

a video with him of Ferry Weertman

approaching the finish of the 10km

World Championships, which he

won. It looked to me as if Ferry was

breathing both sides, every stroke.

Terry disagreed. He said Ferry was

merely turning his head to keep an

eye on the competition. We asked

Ferry, through Twitter, and

he confirmed Terry

was correct.

Once he’d made

his observations,

he considered

what he could

incorporate

into his own

swimming

and that of

the people

he taught. He

advocated focusing

on one technique

point at a time and

fully engaging your brain in

the swimming process to accelerate

learning. He would constantly measure

his stroke rate and stroke count – the

two measures that determine your

speed through the water – so he could

track the effect of changing his focus

points. He didn’t train for swimming,

he practised. He never stopped looking

for ways to swim more efficiently and

this meant his swimming was always a

journey and always a pleasure.

As a teacher he developed a process

that works particularly well for people

who come to swimming later in life or

take up swimming again after years of

neglect. He appreciated that most of

us will never have the fitness, strength

and time to spend in the water as

elite swimmers but we could at least

emulate the techniques that made them

fast, and we can also experience great

joy in both the learning process and

swimming journey.

My own experience with Terry’s

teaching has been entirely positive. I

swim faster now than five years ago

and have a much greater awareness of

what I’m doing in the water, and I enjoy

swimming more. Terry didn’t just teach

front crawl either. I once did a half-hour

session with him on breaststroke and a

few months later I knocked six seconds

of my 200m time.

His passing is a sad loss for the

global swimming community. We are

fortunate that his name and legacy

lives on through the network of Total

Immersion coaches he has nurtured

through his life’s work.

I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year.