Masters Helps All Ages Get in the Swim

I was pretty proud of myself when I entered my first Pacific Masters swim meet this year at age 52, and despite my severely arthritic hip, raced two pool lengths in 35 seconds. That was until I noticed numerous other competitors, in their 60s to late 80s, limping badly or using canes to get around the pool. And then I spied Fred High, 82 and Hilda Buel, two days shy of 89.

We were all swimming relays for different teams. I swim with the Berkeley Aquatic Masters (BAM); Fred and Hilda swim for the San Mateo Marlins (SMM). But Masters swimming is for adults of all swimming speeds, says BAM coach Blyth Lucero. “You don’t have to compete, and if you do, it is against swimmers whose age and times are similar.”

The minute I saw Fred, I ran for my pad and pen. Still wet and between races, I jotted drippy notes as we chatted. Fred had severe polio as a child. But his mother told him he could do anything he wanted, and apparently threw him into a lake at a young age, forcing him to swim. Now he and his wife, Doree, “travel any distance for meets and make vacations out of them.”

I watched Fred prepare to race. He leaned on a cane and his long sticklike legs wobbled as he made his way to poolside, where he was helped into the water. Then Fred swam, all with this upper body, fast — really fast. In the water, Fred seemed to have a different body.

Next I caught up with Hilda. As she changed into a warm-up outfit covered with worldwide swim event logos, she said that she started competing at age 67. “That was when I learned the butterfly,” she explained. She has several gold medals and has been a member for the Top 10 fastest swimmers since 1993.

I wish I could mention all older swimmers throughout the Bay Area.

The Walnut Creek Masters team boasts, among others, two sisters: Betty McMillan, 73 and Coralie Bidwell, 76. BAM’s Kurt Krueger was back in the pool 12 days after surgery for a broken hip. And fellow teammate Mike Woodruff, 57, swims despite a previously dislocated shoulder.

I have my coach, Blyth Lucero, to thank for my transition from the rehab pool to Masters’ swimming. Beaming as she watched me finish a lap, she offered tips to improve my stroke then said, “You belong right here with the Master swimmers.” At the meet, when I marveled over Fred’s strong swimming, Blythe commented, “It is not surprising; he is at home in the water. He is more comfortable swimming than walking.”

She has seen swimmers use walkers right up until they get in the pool and race. “Swimming,” she says, “is the perfect sport for people with disabilities.”

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