BEATING THE ODDS: Jenkins grad Lugemwa helps Paralympian find her rhythm

Ian Maule/Savannah Morning News American Paralympic gold-medal winner Mallory Weggemann poses for a portrait before practice at the Chatham County Aquatic Center on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.

Like many athletes, music is an integral part of Mallory Weggemann’s life. For the gold medalist Paralympic swimmer, it motivates her to push through a hard workout, gets her adrenaline going before a big competition. Sometimes, it just encourages her to never give up.

She has a playlist customized for her workouts and pre-competition routine. The song “Superheroes” by The Script inspires her. She has a verse from it written on her Gatorade bottle, which reads: “Turn the pain into power.” DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win” reminds her she’s a champion.

“I’ve always listened to music before races,” said Weggemann, 26, who is paralyzed from the waist down. “It’s always been a part of my performance strategy, but I always looked at it from a lyrical standpoint.”

Now, she can take her music with her — right into the pool.

The resident of Eagan, Minn., literally swam to the music Wednesday at the Chatham County Aquatic Center during a training session with former Savannahian Dennis Lugemwa, founder of Swim to Music.

Lugemwa’s start-up company is designed to maximize athletic potential through the rhythm of music. Lugemwa is a Jenkins High School graduate and the former head coach of the Georgia Coastal Aquatic Team and the Nova Southeastern University Swim Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He left his job at Nova to launch Swim to Music in March and is currently working on putting his idea into an app.

“We use music in the water much in the way a dancer does,” Lugemwa said.

The key is finding the right beat. When Lugemwa trains with a swimmer, he gets a rough measurement of the beats-per-minute rate generated by their stroke. Then, using simple Traktor DJ software on his iPad, he runs through a playlist of songs that match that BPM.

“Certain songs just click with certain athletes; other times, you’re experimenting and trying to find the perfect soundtrack to their stroke,” Lugemwa said.

At his training sessions, Lugemwa sets up what is essentially a portable FM radio station and tunes two headsets, one for the swimmer and one for himself, into the frequency, allowing them to communicate while the swimmer is in the water. He also tunes his iPad into the frequency so the swimmer can hear the songs from his playlist.

If the swimmer wants to aim for a faster time, Lugemwa only needs to find a song with a faster bpm to increase the tempo. On Wednesday, Lugemwa and Weggemann worked on flattening her butterfly stroke. The butterfly may be the most difficult style for Weggemann without the use of her legs. Her body has a tendency to come up too soon, but with the right rhythm being ingrained into her mind, she kept her plank flat.

“She has to compensate,” Lugemwa said. “A lot of people can use their legs to balance them in the water. She has to hold this constant plank to keep herself balanced.

“The butterfly is all about staying flat. I was able to slow the beat down to force her to not come up so high.”

RECORD HOLDER

Weggemann was paralyzed when she was 18 by an epidural injection that was intended to alleviate back pain, but she never lost her love for swimming. As a Paralympian, she won gold and bronze medals at the 2012 Games in London and holds 15 world records. In 2011, she received the ESPY award for the Best Female Athlete with a Disability.

Weggemann has her sights set on the 2015 Parapan American Games on Aug. 7-15 in Toronto, but an arm injury that left her with nerve damage has hindered her for almost a year. Lugemwa’s technique has put her on the right track in preparing for the Games, she said.

“It’s helped me get back to the stroke rate I’ve been trying to get to since my injury,” Weggeman said. “I’ve had to learn to find the beats, but once I do, I’ve been able to hone in on that tempo. That’s one of the hardest parts — finding that perfect stroke rate. Swim to Music has helped me do that.”

With a Paralympic gold medal already in hand, Weggemann said she hopes Swim to Music will take her to an echelon of multiple golds at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.

“It’s helping me find that temp for each individual stroke,” she said. “Overall, I think it’s going to get me to the next level of my career. There’s still a lot I want to do in this sport.”

ABOUT SWIM TO MUSIC

Founder: Jenkins High grad Dennis Lugemwa

Goal: To maximize athletic potential through musical rhythm

Information: www.swimtomusic.com

For more about Mallory Weggemann, go to www.malloryweggemannusa.com

http://savannahnow.com/sports/2015-07-02/beating-odds-jenkins-grad-legem...

July 3, 2015
By NATHAN DEEN Savannah Morning News