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Swimming Success at the National Senior Games

My apologies nor not having posted any stories in recent months, but I’ve been busy completing a play and a novella, along with intensive early morning swim training for the National Senior Games. Now that I've completed those tasks, I share with you a story about my swimming success. I’ll let you know about the play and the novella in the months to come.

Swimming Success at the National Senior Games

On an early June Sunday morning at National Airport I was thrown together with about 20 seniors ranging from their mid-50s to late 80s. These volley ball, swimming, tennis, pickle ball, track & field, and basketball competitors were easy to identify since we were all decked out in hats, shirts and in some cases pins indicating we were old jocks bound for Birmingham, Alabama, and the 30th Annual National Senior Games. I had previously participated in the 1999 games in Orlando, Florida, representing Maryland on its basketball team. This time, I was going as a swimmer having medaled and qualified in the Maryland Senior Olympic Games in the 50, 100, and 200 yard freestyle and backstroke events.

After my arrival in Birmingham and a warmup swim at the pool venue, I checked into my hotel in the Homewood section of the city. In the checkout line I met a fellow swimmer, Robert Shendo, a Pueblo Indian and talented artist, who resides in the Jemez Pueblo about 60 miles northwest of Albuquerque. We became fast friends, shared stories, meals, and libations along with his fellow Pueblo Albert Sando, a well-known silversmith who works with turquoise. Albert’s sport is shuffleboard. The Pueblo people were well represented in other sports, including archery, where they medaled.

Surprisingly, there were 18 competitors in my 80-84 age group compared to the three or four that normally compete in Washington regional meets. The competitors’ qualifying times were impressive enough to psyche one into training even harder, which I did in an early morning Masters Swimming program at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA, putting in 5,000 to 7,000 meters a week and two tune-up competitions in the three months leading up to the National Games.

My first event on Monday morning was the 200 yard freestyle, which Joe Redman, one of my coaches, advised me not to do, since it was an intense consumer of energy. When I thought about my morning training regimen, I decided to go for it since I began every workout with a 200 freestyle followed by a 200 kick drill, which was followed by four 150 sets of freestyle and alternating back stroke, and that was only the first half of the workout. This time, I decided to “taper,” a training technique used by elite swimmers. Simply put, you stop training a week or two prior to your competition to conserve energy. Since it was my first time at tapering, I compromised, and tapered for five days prior to my Sunday afternoon warmup prior to the start of the three-day competition on Monday.

Before my first event on Monday, the 200 freestyle , I warmed up at a steady medium-stroke pace for 300 yards, put on my warm-up suit and waited for the prior three events to start. Two heats prior to mine I jumped into the warm up pool and did two quick 25 yard swims, building my pace to tune up. The adrenalin was flowing and it was a relief to mount the starting block. I hit the water and dolphin kicked out beyond the flags and surfaced with two strong strokes to get my pace going, saying to my myself what Cindy Dixon, my morning coach advised. You have eight 25 yard lengths, build your stroke, two lengths medium, two medium fast, two fast, and if you have it in you, two all out. As I made the first flip turn I felt good, as I did the second when I quickened the pace slightly, but not too fast. As I turned for the final 100, I was feeling good, but I knew that I was in a danger zone. If I pushed too hard, I would falter. With 50 yards to go, I came out of the turn beginning to tire, but I kept saying to myself, don’t sell out. On the last turn, my rapid kicking came with a slight cramp, but somehow, will and adrenalin, I guess, got me home to win the heat and best my 2016 qualifying time by 12 seconds to finish fourth nationally. After that I felt I could get back on a plane and go home, but I had one more event that day and two each on Tuesday and Wednesday. An hour later, I was back in the pool in a crowded field of 17 for the 100 backstroke. I shaved a second off my qualifying time and placed eighth overall.

On Tuesday, I shaved almost seven seconds off my qualifying time and placed sixth in the 200 backstroke. The second event, the 50 yard freestyle, started off disastrously. On my entry dive, my goggles came down to my nose causing me to hesitate slightly. I went all out, had trouble seeing the wall, but somehow managed to nail the turn and head for home. By now, my vision was blurred causing me to jam my finger on the timing pad at the finish. Looking up at the clock, I was surprised that my time of 41 seconds bettered my qualifying time by 1:15 seconds, and was good enough for fifth place. Were it not for the goggles mishap, I might have finished third. Enough with the excuses, I was happy to have survived the equipment malfunction.

Wednesday‘s last two events were the 50 backstroke and the 100 freestyle. Everything went right in the backstroke. I got a super push off the wall and was dolphin kicking under the surface for about a third of the pool. I surfaced smoothly and my turn was perfect. Picking up the pace in the backstroke is difficult for me since my right knee often comes out of the water as I intensify my kick. Somehow I managed a strong kick and kept the knee under the surface quickening my pace. I finished 5.52 seconds below my qualifying time and in fourth place, missing third by a slightly more than a second. The 100 yard free was my biggest challenge. There were 10 competitors in my age group and seven of them had faster qualifying times. What did I have to lose? I decided to up the ante and begin to build from a medium fast pace in the first 50 and go all out in the second 50. As I turned for the final 50, I said to myself with each stroke, keep it up, don’t sell out. On the last turn I wasn’t sure if I still had it, but somehow it was still there. It was my best swim of the games. Shaving eight seconds off my qualifying time, I had placed third nationally.

The rigorous training regimen won out, but I was exhausted. I had a 6:30 a.m. plane the following morning. I returned to the hotel, napped, ate an early, albeit celebratory dinner, and left for the airport at 4:30 the next morning. Back to real life in Potomac, I was on the tractor and mowing the lawn at eleven o’clock. Read More 
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