Senior swimmers: turning back time

Participants find swimming ‘centering’

Early in the morning, Mark Rogers has the best view in the house as he surfaces from laps to look out the floor-level windows beside the indoor pool at the Northwest Cobb Family YMCA.

For a good portion of the year, he can see the sunrise during his 5:45 a.m. swims before work as a high school social studies teacher and swim coach for Cobb County. As summer sets in, he starts his day a little later, but it still begins at the pool. It’s his time to focus on his own thoughts.

“We live in this world of electronics,” Rogers said. “We have cellphones, we have our things. The hour in the pool is my quiet time. It’s my time to immensely relax.”

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

‘A way to grow old gracefully’

Rogers, 56, began swimming as a teenager in Chicago for his high school, and he continued with the sport when his family moved to Atlanta, where he finished school. He took a 25-year break after graduation and got back in the water at 44. Now he competes regularly in long-distance events representing the Atlanta Water Jocks.

The social benefits of these competitions, which typically include entrants ages 18 and up, are significant for Rogers. Participants regard older swimmers with deep respect, and it’s not uncommon to hear the loudest displays of support for these veterans. The oldest competitor Rogers has met was Anne Dunivin, who swam past age 100 and recently passed away at 105.

“It’s just a way to grow old gracefully,” Rogers said. “If you’re 85, and you do a (500-yard freestyle), you deserve applause.”

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

‘A fountain of youth’

Elaine Krugman’s, experience in the pool is similar to Rogers’ in many ways, including a decades-long break. Krugman, 60, swam in high school and then stepped away for 31 years. She missed swimming but had no pool access during that time.

Now she lives in Griffin and competes with the Atlanta Water Jocks, a team governed, as are more than a dozen others throughout the state, by the Georgia Local Masters Swim Committee. Like Rogers — the two are friends — Krugman enjoys swimming’s mind-clearing perks.

“I come six days a week, and the one day I don’t swim to let my body rest, I’m thinking about wanting to get back to the pool the next day to swim,” she said.

“On that day I’m not swimming, I feel kind of foggy in my head. I don’t think as clearly. I don’t want to do anything important on that day that would require me to be mindful because I just can’t lock in, whereas after I’ve been swimming, I’m clear-headed, and I can think so much better.”

Krugman cited the fact that swimming is a non-weight-bearing activity as a benefit for older participants. It’s easy on joints, she said. Those who partake end up utilizing all muscle groups, and it works for people of varying abilities.

“Another great benefit of swimming is that you don’t have to use all four limbs in order to get a good workout,” Krugman added. “If you have a disability or injury, there are many ways to adjust each of the four swimming strokes to isolate a limb from being used. And there is a lot of swimming gear available to help you do that. For example, if you are unable to kick, a foam pull buoy placed between your thighs will allow you to swim with your arms so you can rest your legs.”

She also sees the activity as a way to recapture vigor.

“To me, it seems like it’s a fountain of youth. The older swimmers are so much younger than their age on paper,” she said. “When I wake up in the morning, I feel my age, but when I swim, I feel like half my age when I’m finished.”

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