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Remembering Terry's trip to Berlin

Terry Laughlin and James Harding in front of Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, November 2016

Total Immersion Founder and Head Coach Terry Laughlin sadly passed away in October 2017. This is a brief account of his first trip to Berlin in November 2016.

Terry arrived on a grey chilly morning at Schönefeld Airport in Berlin having just spent the three previous days in Israel taking part in two 10km Red Sea swims over consecutive days. He came only with a small travel bag and light jacket - I think driven more by enthusiasm than concerns about practicality and not exactly prepared for the Berlin weather in November! At that point in time Terry had already been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for about a year and a half (of which he wrote/blogged about widely) and it was astonishing to everyone that in between rounds of chemotherapy and illness he was still making achievements as a swimmer, coach and mentor that most other people can only aspire to.

Having only arrived myself in Berlin just a few weeks earlier I was still finding my feet, but as the resident TI Coach in Berlin I was happy to play tour guide and enjoyed organising a little plan of the "sites" (whilst also getting to be a tourist for a while). I had met Terry only once before when I attended a TI Smart Speed workshop in Old Windsor near London and his positive comments about my swimming and encouragement during that workshop had basically inspired me to train as a TI Coach.

After breakfast at Gorki Park cafe the first stop on the tour was the obvious one - the Fernsehturm (the iconic TV Tower) followed by the Brandenburg Gate and then lunch in the restaurant on top of the Reichstag. Over lunch Terry talked with enthusiasm about the future of TI. At that moment in time he was hopeful and optimistic about being able to manage his illness so it was easy to make plans about the future - like holding open water workshops in the lakes surrounding the city. He was however upfront during the trip about the fact that he wanted to visit places he'd never been to, like Berlin, just in case it was his last chance. That evening we would found out who would be the next President of the United States and Terry, who had studied Political Science, wanted to follow the action on TV from his hotel room so we agreed to meet early the following day.

The next day we were joined by TI Coach Werner Goldbaum and made trips to the Checkpoint Charlie and Topography of Terrors museums. After a short trip up to the viewing platform at the Panoramapunkt in Potsdamer Platz we decided it was time for a swim. I wanted to show Terry Stadtbad Mitte, the beautiful pool dating from 1930 which I have blogged about before. Focused as ever Terry made lap after lap meticulously counting his strokes and making turns in the incredibly shallow (60cm approx) end of the pool. It was inspiring that someone who had just finished intensive chemotherapy, had swam 20km a few days before still had so much focus and energy for swimming.

Stadtbad Mitte

After the swim Terry met a friend who invited me to join them at dinner at Gugelhof restaurant (apparently Obama's favourite in Berlin). Presuming I would catch up with Terry soon and having some other routine things to do, I decided not to take them up on the offer - a personal regret as it turns out that was my last chance to spend time with Terry.

Although Terry had actively blogged over the course of his battle with cancer, the announcement of his death in October, just a year after his trip to Berlin, came as a shock to everyone in the Total Immersion community and in the swimming world and was reported by the international press. There was an extraordinary response including obituaries in The New York Times and Economist, as well as a personal tribute by Tim Ferriss whose blog posts about his breakthrough experience of learning TI have inspired many others. Terry had many friends and students from around the world who will be inspired long into the future by his revolutionary approach to swimming. An approach, which as TI swimmers and coaches, we truly believe is the most fulfilling, inspiring and enjoyable way to swim. Thank you Terry.

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