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Posted: 2017-11-03 06:13:21

Terry Laughlin, who developed a popular method of swimming instruction that emphasised form over speed to help thrashing swimmers learn to glide through the water, died on October 20 in Albany. He was 66.

Laughlin became a coach after competing as a swimmer in high school and college. Early on, while observing his swimmers in the pool, he noticed that those with the fastest times usually completed their laps with the fewest strokes, slipping through the water with ease instead of struggling against it. Conventional swimming instruction at the time called for vigorous kicking and arm strokes in expending a maximum amount of energy for a faster lap time. Competitive swimmers endured endless laps and strength training without concentrating much on the manner with which they moved through the water.

"Only about 2  percent of the human race swims with instinctively long strokes," Laughlin told The Washington Post in 1999. "The rest of us have powerful instincts telling us to swim faster by stroking faster."

Laughlin studied the motions of the best swimmers, along with hydrodynamics, kinesiology and ship design, to develop a better way to swim. He first taught a class on what he called Total Immersion Swimming in 1989. Total Immersion teaches swimmers, both novice and experienced, to balance their bodies in the water and use controlled motions that integrate the entire body, not just the arms and legs. The aim is to conserve energy and enhance efficiency. With time and effort many swimmers learn to move more like a dolphin than a flailing Labrador.

"The best swimming is more art than science, as exemplified in the world's best swimmers, who demonstrate a grace, economy and flow in their swimming that is incomprehensible to most of the rest of us mortals," he told The Post. His techniques found favour with triathletes, who are often more comfortable on land than in water and want to conserve energy for later parts of a race. Marathon and open-water swimmers, who travel great distances in sometimes dangerous seas and lakes, also adopted the Laughlin method.

Laughlin collected his ideas in Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster and Easier, a book, published in 1996 that went on to sell more than 275,000 copies as an e-book and trade paperback. He held Total Immersion clinics for years and certified instructors to run their own clinics, spreading the discipline far and wide.

Mr. Laughlin's wife, Alice, who founded Total Immersion with him and now owns the company, said in a telephone interview on Friday that there were more than 350 certified Total Immersion instructors operating in more than 30 countries. The many people who have improved their swimming with Laughlin's teachings might be surprised to learn that early on he was not an especially gifted swimmer himself.

Terrence James Laughlin was born in Brooklyn on March 25, 1951, to John Laughlin, an electrician, and the former Patricia O'Toole, who worked in a doctor's office. The oldest of six children, he grew up on Long Island, in Williston Park, New York, and graduated from a Roman Catholic high school before attending St. John's University in Queens, where he majored in political science and graduated in 1972.

According to a biographical page on the Total Immersion website, he "felt a keen sense of disappointment" because of his poor swimming performance. He soon became a swimming coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, in Kings Point, where he began to develop Total Immersion.

Laughlin was a long-distance open-water swimmer himself, twice completing the 28.5-mile (46-kilometre) Manhattan Island Marathon Swim in his 50s and crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, approximately 9 miles wide at its narrowest point, in his 60s.

He married Alice McHugh in 1974, and they lived in New Paltz, New York. In addition to her and his daughter Fiona, he is survived by two other daughters, Carrie Loveland and Elizabeth Laughlin; two brothers, Stephen and Sean; and three sisters, Moira, Pegeen and Tara Laughlin.

Laughlin published several books updating his techniques after his first book was released. His daughter said that at his death he had almost finished a new, comprehensive book on Total Immersion and that it was expected to be completed and published soon.

The New York Times

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