Masters Swimming and Ill Health

by SwimSwam Contributors 6

November 23rd, 2023 Lifestyle, Masters

Courtesy: Turlough O’Hagan

For almost six decades, my journey in competitive swimming has been a testament to my enduring passion for the sport. It all began at the tender age of eight when I joined our local junior club, YSAU Lurgan. Fast forward to the present, and I now proudly represent our local Masters club, South Cakes Masters. Swimming has been a constant thread weaving through the fabric of my life, enriching not only my own experiences but also leaving a lasting impact on my family and countless friends. The early years were marked by an intense love for the sport, characterized by rigorous training, relentless pursuit of improved times, enhanced stamina, and honed technique—a celebration of the exuberance of youth.

However, the landscape has shifted dramatically as the sands of time have taken their toll, accompanied by the unwelcome companion of ill health. Adapting to this new reality has required a complete overhaul of my approach to training and swimming.

The joy of pushing physical limits and chasing personal bests has given way to a more mindful and measured engagement with the water. Age has necessitated a recalibration of expectations, prompting a shift from the intensity of youth to a more sustainable and health-conscious approach. Each stroke, once propelled by the sheer thrill of competition, now serves as a therapeutic exercise—a means of navigating the challenges that come with the passage of time.

While the nature of my relationship with swimming has evolved, the essence remains unchanged—the profound impact it has on my life and the lives of those around me. In fact, thanks to swimming post-bone marrow transplant is what brought me back to being somewhat my old self. Swimming, once a playground for testing the limits of physical prowess, has transformed into a sanctuary of solace and well-being. The rhythm of the water, the gentle resistance of each stroke, and the buoyancy that once fuelled fierce competition now offer a soothing balm to the strains of aging and the trials of ill health.

From the exuberance of youth to the wisdom of age, the pool continues to be a source of joy, resilience, and a testament to the enduring spirit of Masters swimming amidst the challenges of ill health.

In a typical month, I find myself out of the water for approximately one week due to chest infections—a frustrating cycle I’ve had to adapt to. During a good week, I can manage two to three swims, covering 1200-1500m each session. However, after a chest infection, it takes about a week to build up my distance, leaving me with 2 to 3 weeks of half-decent swimming. I attempt to compete in galas during these better weeks, but unfortunately, I often have to withdraw due to health issues.

Over time, my times have naturally slowed down. While I used to swim 1500s, 400s free, and 400 IMs, now my 100 has become my 1500. This shift has led me to reflect on whether my competitive days are over. Was I Finished with Galas?

The Celtic Masters Short Course Competition took place on Sunday, November 19th, at the NAC in Dublin. About a month ago, I entered the 100 free, feeling not too bad until about Friday, November 18th. Unfortunately, approximately a week before the competition, I started feeling a bit under the weather, with a persistent cough. My bad week was approaching. Despite staying out of the water for a week, I wasn’t feeling great. The question lingered: Would I be able to compete in the Celtic Masters? Driving down with my best friend John, I was uncertain about whether I should or could compete. However, the atmosphere of the gala gave me a lift, and I found myself unable to resist. I opted for a slow warm-up, swimming 200m of mixed strokes.

Despite the somewhat labored breathing, it wasn’t enough to deter me from swimming the 100 free. The nerves were building up again as I found myself on the starting block. The swim went well—I paced it effectively and finished as fast as my body would allow. Admittedly, my tumble turns could use some work, but overall, I was pleased with my performance. My time of 1:38.41 is a far cry from my youth time of 1:00.04, but I embraced the accomplishment nonetheless. Now, 1:38.41 is my new 100 free personal best, and that’s what I’ll be aiming to beat in the next gala. Surprisingly, I won a silver medal, and I was genuinely thrilled. I honestly believed that my days of winning medals were behind me, so this was the cream on top.

In a nutshell, as we get older, we start to slow down. That’s life for a Masters swimmer, and that’s life for most of us. The journey continues, and every achievement is a celebration. The determination to adapt, both mentally and physically, as we age in competitive swimming is key. Your suggested slogan captures this spirit perfectly: “KEEP CALM AND KEEP ON MASTERS SWIMMING.” It’s a great reminder that the journey doesn’t end with age but evolves into a new and resilient phase.

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2 months ago

Turlough you should try serrapeptase for those depressing colds and flus. sounds like you need to boost your vitamin D3 due to your climate. I still hope to be swimming at your age—–love it and swim masters like you!

3 months ago

Keep on keeping on! You are an inspiration.

Jack Milinovich
3 months ago

Oh did this article ever hit home hard. I had such a great year last yr at 73 and looking forward to swimming hard thru my 74th year and have fun moving up to 75. One simple blood test and my year has been shot being diagnosed with cancer. I will / should be cancer free by 11-27-23. But it’s tough to make up a missed year of training. But I still have time to work hard.

Reply to  Jack Milinovich
3 months ago

Wishing you a speedy recovery and healing prayers

Norm Bartner
3 months ago

At 89 I know what you mean. Getting ill is something I plan into my month. It makes very tense, but I love competition and preparing for it. Goals are few at this age, but every session in the pool I have goals, & it is very satisfying to achieve these self imposed goals. It also serves to work off the ” overeating day”.
Also swimmers are very nice people at all the pools I have frequented..

3 months ago

Thanks for the perfect Thanksgiving reminder!