About eight years ago. I was doing a fly set in the local YMCA pool. After I'd done a few repeats, a guy holding a baby in the shallow end asked about my swimming. He looked around thirtyish. I guessed from his build that he had probably been an ex-high school, possibly college football player. He was curious about masters swimming in general; I answered his questions patiently. I had just set my first world masters record several months before, a fact I managed to quickly work into the conversation. (In the first few heady months after setting that record this generally took me about the same amount of time it actually took me to swim that 200 meter fly, roughly two and a quarter minutes.)
I felt very much the grizzled veteran of the butterfly wars. He finally mentioned that he had done a little swimming himself.....when he was a Navy Seal. All of a sudden it was as if the entire pool had tilted the other way and all the water had gone to that end. I now felt like the little baby he was holding in his arms.
If you've been a Navy Seal, or a member of any of the other Special Forces, that pretty much automatically makes you the coolest guy in the room. It's the ultimate badge of macho accomplishment; it means you've done stuff other guys couldn't dream of doing.
A lot of guys know this, which is why some will lie and say they were in the Special Forces when they weren't. (I've met one or two guys I'm pretty sure were lying about it.) But I could tell immediately this guy was the real thing. He had an air of calm seriousness and a complete lack of bravado which made it clear he was telling the truth.
I've known other tough guys, and I've met many people far more accomplished than I am. But I don't think I've ever felt a pool tilt quite so suddenly before.