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 News Article

Swimmer Uses Imagery Skills to Earn Warrior Games Medals

By Shannon Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va., June 28, 2015 – Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike McPhall earned gold medals in the men’s 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter breaststroke and in the men’s 200-meter relay and a silver medal in the men’s 50-meter backstroke during the swimming competition at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas, Virginia, yesterday as part of the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games.

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Army Sgt. 1st Class Mike McPhall swims freestyle during Army trials practice for the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Games at Fort Bliss, Texas, March 27, 2015. DoD photo by EJ Hersom

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During the Army trials at Fort Bliss, Texas, in March, McPhall worked with a sports and exercise psychology performance expert, Dr. Scott Barnicle, who taught him techniques he credits with helping him earn his medals.

“Sitting at the starting blocks, thinking about how I’m going to swim through the water, imagining myself beating everybody, and then it turned out that way. It really helped with the nerves,” McPhall said.

He said his confidence grew after he got his first swim event, the 50-meter freestyle, out of the way. “I was set from there,” he said. “I knew the backstroke was going to be harder. It’s one of my weaker events, but I’m still proud of what I did. I gave it my all, and that’s all I can do.”

McPhall, who teaches the Armored Basic Officer Leader Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, has Type 1 diabetes and Scheuermann’s disease. “It’s kind of like lupus. It has to deal with my skin and my muscles grouping,” he explained. He said the only exercise he can really do is swimming. “This is therapeutic, but I can also compete in it, so it makes it less boring,” he added.

Relaxation and Imagery

Barnicle said he teaches the swimmers how to relax and what a relaxed state is. “We take them through some relaxation exercises, slowing down their minds, slowing down their deliberate breathing and really helping them realize what a relaxed state is,” the doctor said. “And the reason for that skill is they can use it with their sleep, and they can use it before a performance to help with their stress.

“With imagery” he continued, “we really try to help them see and experience an event ahead of time, and it helps them really get a good sense of what to expect, and that sense of expectation helps them lower their stress levels and helps them feel a higher sense of self-esteem and self confidence that they have the skills to be able to handle that event.”

Barnicle said the athletes also can use these skills in work, at home and in everyday life.

“He not only taught us race preparation of how to focus and get the nerves out, but he also went over sleep habits,” McPhall said. “His class put me to sleep, and I hadn’t slept like that in probably months, so it was great. It was awesome.”

McPhall, who’s been in the Army for 19 years, said the techniques also helped him earn his first medals of the Warrior Gameson June 23: bronze medals in the 100-meter and 800-meter wheelchair races. “It was awesome; I was just really proud,” he said. “I got to support my team, because that’s what it’s all about here -- just the team. I already got my medals back at Bliss. Now it’s a team medal, so whatever I can do, I’m just happy to get it for the team.”

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Related Sites:
Special Report: 2015 DoD Warrior Games

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Sgt. 1st Class Mike McPhall poses for a photo after a swimming event during the Army trials for the 2015 Department of Defense Warrior Game sat Fort Bliss Texas, March 27, 2015. DoD photo by EJ Hersom  
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