A few years ago, Steve Katz, doctor of chiropractic, looked out on the pond he had built in his West Tisbury backyard and thought it could be better. The pond was small and took a long time to clean, and was mostly just an aesthetic thing, a soothing part of the landscape.

But Mr. Katz envisioned something bigger and more interactive. He saw a school of learning among the lily pads, a one-lane classroom to practice and teach a type of swimming he had first encountered in 1996, and in recent years had become his obsession.

To listen to Mr. Katz talk about Total Immersion swimming, created by celebrated swim coach Terry Laughlin, is to see a mild mannered 73-year-old chiropractor transform into a giddy young boy. To watch him demonstrate the freestyle stroke, swimming with ease and barely a ripple, is to turn back the clock on the viewer, too.

Mr. Katz is now teaching Total Immersion classes at his West Tisbury home, on a mission to transform swimmers from mostly fighting the water, “even good swimmers” to becoming part of it, flowing with a patient and gentle stroke. He likens it to the feeling one gets while ice skating, with each stroke a long and effortless glide.

“If I’m smitten by something, I go for it,” Mr. Katz said about his total immersion in Total Immersion.

The principals of Total Immersion are many, both subtle and eye opening, but can be summed up in just a few words.

“It’s not the size of the motor, it’s the shape of the vessel,” Mr. Katz said.

Finding his flow in the backyard pond. — Jeanna Shepard

Mr. Katz is a lifelong swimmer and athlete, even playing semi-professional baseball for the Portland Mavericks. Glimpses of the former second baseman can be seen in a documentary about the team called The Battered Bastards of Baseball.

“I played baseball for the University of Michigan,” Mr. Katz said. “And when I was a chiropractic student in Portland, Ore., I heard about open tryouts for the team. I had serious dreams about being a professional baseball player and so I devoted a year to training again and tried out for the team.”

Mr. Katz earned a spot but only played for a year. He graduated from chiropractic school and instead of continuing to play ball in Portland, he headed south to California to begin his career in a field he discovered in the 1970s when he was 23 years old. Today he practices chiropractic in the Bay Area and Vineyard Haven, working out of Slavin Chiropractic for about three months every summer.

Mr. Katz’s wife, Dr. Iris Gold, also works at Slavin Chiropractic as an acupuncturist. It was Ms. Gold who first got her husband to visit the Vineyard. But it took a lot of convincing before Mr. Katz became smitten with the Island. He wouldn’t even visit for the first seven years of Ms. Gold’s suggesting they take a trip east.

“Iris had spent some summers here, because she taught at Northeastern University. And then she met me in California, and she kept saying ‘you gotta see the Vineyard.’ But I said no, you got to see California. I took her all over the state, to the glaciers, into the mountains of Yosemite.”

When Mr. Katz finally gave in, he wasn’t impressed with the Island.

“I didn’t really like it. It was a gray day on October.”

On the next visit, however, he went for a swim.

"it's not the size of the motor, it's the shape of the vessel." — Jeanna Shepard

“And I discovered the water was warm. It was a revelation. In the Pacific, it’s freezing. You get in for two minutes and then you’re warming up for an hour.”

The couple purchased their West Tisbury home in 1997. The rebuilding of the pond, with its 60-foot swim lane, was finished in 2022.

Mr. Katz encountered Total Immersion through Mr. Laughlin’s 1996 book by the same name, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he took action, attending his first workshop.

“It was six hours on Saturday and six hours on Sunday. There were 18 of us, some who could barely swim. And what really impressed me was at the end of the course everyone was dramatically better. And I thought, I want to go further with this.”

He took more workshops and some private lessons, learning how to master techniques such as the two-beat kick, a front-quadrant stroke and how the hips are the key to everything.

He had to take a break in training because of a bout with prostate cancer, but when he started up again, he had a new goal: to become a Total Immersion teacher. He attended the Total Immersion Academy in New Paltz, N.Y. Terry Laughlin died of prostate cancer in 2017 and the school is now run by his daughters.

“You can see how that would have affected me, hitting so close to home,” Mr. Katz said of Mr. Laughlin’s death.

Mr. Katz began digging deeper into Total Immersion but then Covid hit. He kept practicing on his own, sending videos to the academy to demonstrate his progress. When Covid eased a bit, he flew to New Mexico to study with a master trainer and afterwards was accepted into the program and became a certified teacher.

He taught his first class in 2022, at a wellness retreat at Rancho La Quinta in Mexico.

“I finally got to see the results of my teaching, from seeing people flailing in the water to getting good. And I had a guy who was a world champ in body surfing,” Mr. Katz said. “But he wasn’t a great swimmer, even after all those years in the water, not technically.”

Mr. Katz uses a phrase of Mr. Laughlin’s called “terminal mediocrity” to describe one’s acceptance of the way things are with relation to athletics, where a feeling of good enough is enough. But it also appears to pain him, a man who fully embodies and exudes positivity, using a potentially negative phrase.

Immediately after saying “terminal mediocrity,” he quickly points out that having fun and getting some aerobic conditioning out of swimming really is good enough.

However, if the desire is there to take it up another notch, to achieve a certain level of fishiness in the water, minus the gills and scales, then Mr. Katz will be waiting pondside for all takers.

Steve Katz can be reached at 415-279-5934 or stevekatzchiro@gmail.com.