I love reading biographies of accomplished, interesting and brilliant people and one of my favorite personal pastimes is to jot down whenever I come across what I call ‘swimming geniuses’.
A swimming genius is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a genius who loves to swim for exercise and has incorporated doing laps either in a pool, lake or ocean into part of their daily routine.
I’m partial to swimming because next to playing basketball and lifting weights, it is my favorite form of exercise – and it is easily my best sport.
I’ve competed in a bunch of open water ocean swims and back in the day I swam a hell of a 200 butterfly…almost Michael Phelpsian. I even wrote a whole post about the awesome psychological effects of swimming with your dog.
The point is… I love swimming.
And I’m always delighted when I’m reading a book about a remarkable person who also enjoyed grinding it out in the water.
As a young man, Benjamin Franklin was an excellent swimmer and when he was on his crossings of the Atlantic or just out on a boat off the coast of New England or Pennsylvania, he would often dive into the water and swim around the boat or near it for exercise.
While researching my book, Jocks In Chief: The Ultimate Countdown Ranking the Most Athletic Presidents, from the Fight Crazy to the Spectacularly Lazy, I discovered that several of our presidents excelled at swimming.
John Quincy Adams took regular, long swims in the Potomac almost year-round well into his old age – often for fifty minutes or more – and often in the nude.
John F. Kennedy was a backstroker on the Harvard swim team. He wasn’t any good competitively, but his heroics during his military service, when he dragged a crew mate to safety through two miles in the open ocean after they lost their boat, is the stuff of swimming legend.
Ronald Reagan was a lifeguard who once saved 77 people in a single summer.
Gerald Ford swam laps regularly in the White House pool.
One of the more surprising people I came across who turned out to be a swimmer was the elusive, brilliant, modern genius Nikola Tesla.
While Reading Marc J. Seifer’s comprehensive biography, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, I came across this gem about Tesla’s routine while working at Edison Continental:
“In the mornings, before work, Tesla would arise at 5:00 A.M. to swim twenty-seven laps at a bathhouse on the Seine….”
Yes, you read that right. Tesla, the man behind radar, radio, robots and almost everything electrical, woke up at 5AM every day like your average waterlogged swimmer and cranked out laps. Later in his life he was even a swimming instructor on Long Island (headline photo).
Now I’m not saying that just because me and Tesla both wake up at 5 A.M. to exercise, with swimming as our preferred sport, that we’re both geniuses… but I’m not not saying that.
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Jon Finkel is the award-winning author of The Life of Dad, Jocks In Chief, The Athlete, Heart Over Height, “Mean” Joe Greene , The ‘Greatest Stars of the NBA’ Series and other books about sports, fatherhood, fitness and more. His work has been endorsed by Spike Lee, Tony Dungy, Jerry Jones, Mark Cuban and Chef Robert Irvine. He is the co-host of the Life of Dad Show podcast and Lunch Break Facebook Live Show, and he’s written for GQ, Men’s Health, Yahoo! Sports, The New York Times and dozens of other national publications. He is also an avid speaker.