At Cal, they live in the bowels of Haas Pavilion down a compact hallway from Spieker Pool. They are some of the most elite and successful athletes on campus, yet many people fail to acknowledge the Olympians that live in our midst.
Put an elite swimmer on land and you will get mixed results - some of the athleticism that is evident in the water translates well outside of the pool, but much of it does not. Swimmers are early to rise - often times their workouts begin before dawn - and definitely early to crash.
These athletes can seem lazy at times. The mystery of tapering, otherwise known as an excuse to never climb a flight of stairs, to sit down as much as possible and avoid physical movement at all costs, is foreign to athletes of other sports.
But after spending an afternoon in the pool with some of the Cal men's swimmers, I came away knowing one thing - these athletes are physical specimens.
Sunday afternoon's workout was barely that for the swimmers. It was an "on your own" light swim in the pool, probably equivalent to a walk-through for the football team. I came ready to work, complete with a tiger-striped speedo. After all, I wanted to do my best to blend in with the team.
As the swimmers swiftly swept through the water without exerting any effort, one lap at a "sprint" pace left me gasping for air. The lifeguard's extra concern was obvious.
Even the most basic elements of swimming were difficult. The flip-turn filled my nostrils with chlorinated water. The butterfly looked more like a dying caterpillar that emerged from his cocoon without wings.
I even put myself through a timed sprint. A 50-free, complete with dive-in and attempted flip turn, came out at about 40 seconds. Want some perspective? Senior Nathan Adrian holds the American record in 20.71 seconds.
So when the men's swim team leaves for the NCAA Championships in Minnesota next week, I'll have a new appreciation for what they do in the water. Their strength, endurance and precision with technique is truly phenomenal. The fact that many of them are the best in the country at what they do makes it all the more impressive.
So while swimmers were mysterious to me before, I now have a more complete understanding of what they go through. If I were them I'd avoid climbing flights of stairs as well. After all, I'm three days removed from this "light" swim and I'm still hurting in places I didn't know existed.
Don't worry, we'll do our part here on the Bear Blog to make swimming less of a mystery to all of you readers. The good news for you is that reading about the team doesn't leave you completely exhausted.
Can you even tell the difference between Bear Blog writer David Seawright, above, and returning national champion Tom Shields, below? Didn't think so.
Photos by Bear Blog photographer James Besser.