Lots of athletes experience peaks in their athletic careers in high school. Others peak in their university years and a select few continue on to peak at World Championships, the Olympics or as professional athletes.
The life of a competitive athlete can be fleeting and is largely confined to those in their teenage years and their young adulthood.
But open water swimming is vastly different.
It is an entirely different world that enables one to feel young and literally slow down the aging process, especially relative to their dryland peers. It is for good reason that the Fountain of Youth is an aqueous solution. Swimmers feel young for many reasons:
The pounding of the pavement of marathon runners is replaced by the non-impact buoyancy of the water.
The injuries of team sports are replaced by enhanced range of motion and flexibility.
The muscular strains of weight-lifting are replaced by the gentle motion of arm strokes and 2-beat kicking.
The mental stresses of the work place and school are replaced by the adrenalin-rush and endorphin-release enjoyed in the open water.
But there are even more reasons why swimmers feel young.
Relatively speaking, the entire sport of open water swimming skews old, and certainly older than any team sports and nearly every land-based competitive sport.
On the world-class side of the sport, swimmers like Thomas Lurz, Petar Stoychev, Poliana Okimoto, Angela Maurer and others peak start peaking in the late 20s and continue to be world-class into their 30s and even into their 40s like Tomi Stefanovski.
On the shorter ocean swimming side of the sport, swimmers like Gerry Rodrigues, Alex Kostich, Bob Placak and Peter Winchester give good competition to men half their age.
In the channel swimming community, the number of channel swimmers who start to peak even later in life is well-documented. People in their 50s like Elizabeth Fry or in their 60s like the recently passed David Yudovin, people in their 70s like Dr. Otto Thaning, people in their 80s like Mally Richards, and people in their 90s like Lorna Cochran show how long an open water swimming career can be.
When people like this continue with the sport for decades, it makes everyone else feel relatively young. Whether it is a winter swimming event or a marathon swim, the fact that many swim so late in life is a great inspiration for the younger generations.
Even when the 250 inductees in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame are considered, there are still many who remain active and doing open water swims even after being inducted in the Hall of Fame retirement.
Athletes including Nick Adams (Great Britain), Antonio Argüelles Díaz-González (Mexico), Julie Bradshaw (Great Britain), Nora Toledano Cadena (Mexico), Anne Cleveland (USA), Lynne Cox (USA), Ned Denison (Ireland), Marcos Diaz (Dominican Republic), Elizabeth Fry (USA), Peter Jurzynski (USA), Jane Katz (USA), Vicki Keith Munro (Canada), Yuko Matsuzaki (Japan), Angela Maurer (Germany), Sally Anne Minty-Gravett (Great Britain), Michael Oram (Great Britain), Penny Palfrey (Australia), James Pittar (Australia), Lewis Pugh (South Africa), Carol Sing (USA), Martin Strel (Slovenia), Irene van der Laan (Netherlands), and Christof Wandratsch (Germany) still have some swims left to do.
In the open water world, the second half can be the better half.
Mally Richards explains, “I do my swimming during the week, probably doing around about 800m to a 1 kilometer. But, I’m also active with bowls and enjoy my beach walks but am starting to suffer from back problems. I’ll keep doing it until I’m unable to finish it, then I think it’ll be time to call it quits.”
Cochran admits, “I will keep training and hope for the best. At 91 years old, you don’t say I am going to do this and I am going to do that. It’s a bit ridiculous, but I will give it my best shot.”
Arbuthnot has a different perspective for his continued competitiveness. “The fact that I’m the only one to have done all of the Midmar Miles definitely is an incentive for me to keep going while I can. My training was fair this year, but the swim ended up going very well for me so I’m quite pleased.”
Copyright © 2015 by World Open Water Swimming Association