MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- In the early hours of the day, a swimmer prepares to fulfill a goal. Unfortunately, his teammates are not with him, but he doesn’t hesitate to start anyway. There is little time for toe-dipping or getting a comfortable feel of the water by splashing it on the face. The chilly, 43-degree weather may attempt to intimidate him, but a much hotter fire inside ignites a semper faithful immersion into the water.
Don Tolbert, systems integration officer, Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School, underwent an 8-mile swim at the Training Tank to work toward increasing his personal standards in swimming endurance.
“Last year, we did a 5-mile race,” Tolbert said. “We began in September and worked, increasing the miles from there. We’re working up to swim 10 miles next month.”
Tolbert, a retired Marine, along with fellow swimmers, completed a 7.4-mile swim last month to celebrate the 238th birthday of the Marine Corps.
Now, with his eyes set on swimming an even longer distance, he targets eights miles. In a 50 meter swimming pool, this required no less than 129 laps, a daunting task that demanded strategy.
“Once he gets moving, he keeps the consistency going,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jose Valdez, systems integration chief, MCCES. “He picked up on swimming articles to help himself in the water, and discovered that some swimmers will grab the water and push themselves off of it. It has very minimal splash, it’s like hot-knifing butter.”
Placed at the head of the lane are three pairs of goggles, two water bottles, one pair of flip-flops, a wristwatch, and a sheet of paper with the word “relax” written in permanent marker.
The waves Tolbert creates ripple into the neighboring lanes, but they are empty. He beat other swimmers and even the morning sunrise in his testament of aquatic will.
“I look at [swimming] as fitness for life,” Tolbert said. “There are a lot of benefits to the body by staying active. That manifests itself into the sports that I enjoy.”
Three sounds fill the air: the small talk of present lifeguards, a radio station boasting its selection of ‘80s music, and continuous movement of Tolbert in the water, which bears resemblance to auditory determination, if there ever was one.
“I like to challenge myself with distance,” Tolbert said. “Last month was the 7.4 mile swim, the longest I had gone. This will break that record.”
Tolbert keeps a constant speed going. His face surfaces every few seconds for a quick breath, and his arms cycle overhead and into the water like a windmill. Minor splashes gently pound the pool. For his first time traversing this distance, wasting valuable energy is not in the cards.
Half an hour into the nearly 13,000-meter trek, the sun finally begins to rise. The Combat Center starts to wake up. Little changes in the swimming pool, as Tolbert keeps going and going. On a bench, Valdez keeps a clipboard and stopwatch to time each lap, at Tolbert’s request.
“This is about technique and endurance,” Valdez said. “He’s constantly trying to improve.”
Tolbert shows no signs of putting his swimming aspirations to rest. Rather, it joins his passion for exercise alongside running and cycling.
“Now, I’d like to get base involvement on long-distance swim events, such as the birthday one we did last month,” Tolbert said.
A call to all swimmers up to the challenge, no doubt.