Anyone who is brave enough can swim the English Channel. But only the best swimmers in the United States can stick a toe in the flume.
In February, Augusta's Tom Northcutt got to test the waters.
Because he has been ranked in USA Swimming's Top 10 for the past three years, Northcutt was chosen to spend Feb. 12-16 training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
He was one of only 18 swimmers from across the country who earned the right to go to the home of the flume, the only swimming "treadmill" of its kind in the world.
The flume can simulate any altitude and current, allowing scientists to study the effects of a range of variables on a swimmer's performance.
And it allows coaches to videotape and critique a swimmer's stroke.
"They break down your stroke and see where your power points in the stroke are, and where you're meeting the most resistance," Nothcutt said.
The whole point is to reduce drag in the water, he said.
His days began at 6 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m., stopping only for meals.
"That was the hardest part," he said. "But it was worth it. It was very interesting."
Coaches analyzed his strokes, nutritionists analyzed his diet, and doctors analyzed his lactic acid.
"As you exercise, lactic acid builds up in your body," he said.
They took blood from his ear and tested it for the amount of lactic acid.
"It lets you know how fast your body builds up lactic acid and how fast it gets rid of it," he said. "It helps determine what kind of a swimmer (sprinter, long distance, etc.) you are."
Locally, the 39-year-old Northcutt swims in the masters group for Greater Augusta Swimming. He competes an average of eight to 10 times per year in the 35 to 39 age bracket.
He's looking forward to moving up next year.
"It's kind of opposite from being an age group swimmer when you're young, where you move up and you're on the bottom," he said. "You want to move up because you're the youngest one."
Northcutt spends his days working as an accountant for Auxiliary Services for Medical College of Georgia. He aids in overseeing all of the revenue aspects for the school, from the bookstore to housing.
"We don't appropriate money. We make our own money," Northcutt said. "So it's like having a bunch of small businesses, basically."
He began swimming at 13 in his home state of Tennessee. He received a swimming scholarship to Augusta College, which dropped the swim team during Northcutt's junior year.
He took a four-year hiatus before getting back into it.
While he mostly swims now for the fun of it, he still spends 15 hours a week in the pool and dreams of being at the top.
"If you get number one, you get All-American status," he said. "The highest I've gotten in nationals is second. (First) is a goal. Hopefully I'll get there one day."
He believes that the advice he got will help him become a better swimmer. The most helpful tip was to keep his elbows high on all of his strokes.
"It won't help this year, because the change I'll have to make is something that I've been doing for 17 years wrong," he said.
But he learned a lot from training like a pro.
"It was a lifetime experience to get to go there and train," he said.
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