Trudgen (Day 40)

It was a glorious sunny day today; unseasonably warm and, as we swam a bit later, the sun was in full force when we arrived at the bulb. Charlotte joined Angie, Colleen, and me today, which was lovely. For the last nine years, Charlotte and I have been meeting once a week—at first to have breakfast and talk about our kids’ school stuff and now to walk and talk about every bit of minutia in our lives. She’s restored my sanity many times, but especially during the worst of the pandemic when everyone was home all the time and my weekly walk with Charlotte was a salve to my soul. “Are you going to see your therapist?” Eliza used to ask last year when I’d leave the house Thursday afternoons. 


So I feel a special glee to be enticing Charlotte into the world of open water swimming.

We swam and chatted, relishing the fresh feeling of the water, the stunning views. The wind has picked back up and blown away all of that murky air that stood between us and the city yesterday. Despite it being Charlotte’s third swim in the bay (I think), we ended up staying in for forty minutes. It was just too beautiful to get out. 

Pretty much the whole time, I swam a wonky version of sidestroke, which has become my go-to swimming method. Before open water swimming swept me into its thrall, front crawl was my favorite stroke. In a pool, I tend to front crawl most of the time and though I am decidedly slow, I can do it all day long. 

This winter, I’m barely swimming front crawl at all. For starters, it takes me at least five minutes before I’m willing to put my face into the cold water. But even once that hurdle is crossed, I resist swimming head down; it’s too beautiful. I don’t want to miss out on the clouds, the birds, the views, the ever-changing water. Furthermore, the friendly swimming companions I’m usually with are too irresistible not to chat with. So these days you can usually find me swimming head up, with a few bursts of front crawl, backstroke, or butterfly thrown in to remind myself I still know how.  

The obvious head-up stroke for open water swimming is a modified breast, but breaststroke kicking kills my knees and so I have been swimming a weird version of the side-stroke. 

Rose Pitonof, No. 4, The Side Stroke, from the Champion Women Swimmers series, issued by Pan Handle Scrap
Publisher: Issued by Pan Handle Scrap Company
Date: 1913
Medium: Commercial color lithograph

Sidestroke is a stroke I remember from my childhood, but pretty much forgot about until my body started doing it last month. Today I went down a rabbit hole of swimming history and learned that I’m swimming a version of what was once called the trudgen stroke (after John Trudgen, an English swimmer who introduced it to competition in the late 1800s). The trudgen uses the scissor kick from sidestroke and crawl-like arms. Breast and trudgen used to be the main strokes for competitive swimming in Europe when it became popular in the 1800s. The picture above depicts Rose Pitonof doing the trudgen. She was an American marathon swimmer born in 1895 (the photo comes from the Chanel Swimming Dover website, which celebrates the history of Chanel swims). I’m reading some fascinating stuff about the emergence of various swimming strokes in different parts of the world (and the way racism played a role in the resistance to the obviously faster front crawl when it was first introduced to European swimmers). I’ll have to save it all for another post, though. 

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