Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chasing the Dream: Book Review + PODCAST

When I was younger I probably partied too much, but I've greatly tempered my behaviour. I go out and socialise, because the alternative is to stay home and get bogged down in nothingness. - Ryk Neethling

It took me 4 days to read Chasing the Dream, the authorised biography of South Africa's swimming sensation, Ryk Neethling. More accurately, 4 nights after work, reading until one or two in the morning. Reading the book made me want to go and swim in the gym (but not until I'd finished the whole book).

Clinton van der Berg does a credible job in his first outing as book writer, maintaining invisibility throughout, and giving the platform entirely to Ryk, whose voice comes through with powerful authenticity.

You may be surprised to hear that Ryk was a shy little boy once upon a time, with some of his reservedness caused by a speech impediment. You may also be interested to know which coach pushed Ryk the hardest, and made him the toughest. Here's a clue - not a US-based coach. Disturbing - the enmity between Dirk Lange and Ryk [His dislike of me was relentless], who had very personal, very angry differences. This reminds one of Jack White's struggles and frustrations with rugby's sport administrators. It's great that Ryk courageously admits these problems - and does so in a way that doesn't seem defeatist or spiteful.

Even so, don't expect a sanitised, self aggrandising story. Ryk calls a spade a spade, and an asshole an asshole.

Ryk draws us into his inner circle of relationships, giving us the inside track on Amanda Beard, Ian Thorpe (see above), Michael Phelps (an entire chapter devoted to him) and sensitively portrays his conflicting feelings between chasing his dream and being there for his ailing sister Elsje. There are also fascinating moments of self-examination, from his own failures (Ryk retired in 2000 before making the switch to short distances), to those of his Broederbond father. Ryk manages to maintain dignity in this honest account of a boy from Bloemfontein, who dreamed big, and went far away to chase those dreams.

For some the many references to meets and times may be confusing, and there are one or two rough patches where the storyline seems to skip forward and then hiccups back slightly. These are the only troublesome bubbles caught up (as you're likely to be) in the smooth pacing of the story. The authentic voice maintains a steady momentum through the froth, which ought to get you through his life story in record time.

The last chapters on the Beijing Olympics are as riveting as the chapters of young Rykie. Will Ryk attempt a fifth Olympics? Buy this book and find out!

Rating: 8/10

Listen to Ryk's 10 Commandments
Order Chasing the Dream here.

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