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HomeHealthCompetitive Swimming After 50

Competitive Swimming After 50

A year ago Mary Kaniewski not only couldn’t swim but she also couldn’t bear to put her face in the water. Now after one year working with Coach Rodger McCoy, Mary has qualified to participate in the National Senior Games in Albuquerque next year.

Mary is a member of the Water Wizards, DC’s senior swim team. “It took a while, but I really love being a part of the team,” she said, “I had been so afraid of the water that my husband can’t believe I can swim even though I brought home several medals after our last meet.”

Mary and the rest of the team’s success in the water is largely the result of the efforts of Rodger McCoy who founded the Water Wizards about 35 years ago. “He can take an adult senior who has been terrified of water all his/her adult life and turn that person into a strong, confident swimmer,” said Judy Brundage, who has been competing for eight years. “Rodger makes our eyes light up. It’s both physical and mental stimulation. He knows everything there is to know about swimming in and out of the water. When we get an ache or pain, Rodger knows what to tell us to do to get rid of it. He always teaches us something that brings us back the next day.”

When I visited the team practice on a hot, humid day last month, Rodger, with his whistle and stopwatch around his neck, spent the two hours briskly walking from one end of the pool to the other. He was teaching the team speed and endurance. He was also training them to perfect their breast stroke. “I train my team to be proficient in all strokes,” he explained.

Coach Rodger McCoy instructing the team at Rumsey Aquatic Center

Rodger said he started swimming late in life, then he jumped into the sport head first. “I like to do everything whole hog. I don’t do it part way. Deep down I want to be the best at whatever I do, and I never stop working at it. I realize how much I have to learn. My goal is to strive to be the best at whatever I am doing.”

Rodger, who says he is pushing 70, likes to have fun while coaching the Water Wizards. Yet he is very serious about what he does.

The Benefits of Swimming
Swimming has been linked to lower blood pressure, along with cardiovascular and muscle health. Swimming also puts seniors at lower risk of orthopedic injury while engaged in exercise. It improves circulation. It can also alleviate back pain and improve posture.

Swimming lets those with joint issues such as arthritis, gain the natural life-extending and metabolism-boosting benefits of exercise which can cause them pain if performed on land. It also can ease pain and make a person more mobile in general. Swimming can help to improve physical strength and balance in seniors. It’s good for people who have asthma. It also is easier on the body than other sports.

While the physical advantages of taking up swimming are well documented, the boon swimming has for a participant’s emotional well-being is often overlooked. Swimming decreases mental stress, according to Swim World Magazine. Healthy competition, feeling strong and team comradery can improve a swimmer’s confidence out of the water.

“People have all sorts of lame excuses for not joining our team,” he said. “They tell me: ‘I don’t know how to swim;’ ‘I’m just too old to learn;’ ‘I don’t have the time;’ ‘I’m afraid of the water;’ ‘I’m not competitive.’” Coach Rodger said the excuses don’t hold water.

Sally Stoecker

Sally Stoecker was one of those who had no interest in competition after retirement. “I always loved to swim,” she said. “I swam in college and was a life guard during the summers.

Because of her love of and prowess in the water, swimming as a way to exercise was a natural for her. One day two years ago, while swimming in the pool, a friend told her about Water Wizards. “It’s my favorite workout now. When I swam on my own I never pushed myself. Now I’m motivated to work harder. Each day I wonder what my workout in the pool will be like. It’s always different.”

When Sally first joined the team she couldn’t swim more than an hour. “I was beat!” Now she can swim the full two hours.

Judy Brundage calls Coach Rodger “incredible.” “He usually has the patience of a saint. He sees every stroke we take. When one of us is having difficulty or we are in pain he patiently tells us for the sixth or seventh time how to correct it and what we are doing right!”

Coach Rodger can turn around any negative one can think of as an excuse to not swim. Unlike most of the dozens of gyms and boutique exercise studios on Hill, becoming a member of the Water Wizards is free. Take a chance. Get your feet wet.

For more information about Water Wizards visit: www.dcwaterwizards.com. Or stop by the William H. Rumsey Aquatic Center, 635 N Carolina Ave., SE on Tuesday or Thursday mornings between 9 and 11:30 a.m. The water Wizards team is part of the DC Department of Parks & Recreation


Pattie Cinelli is a health/fitness writer who offers information about subjects on the leading ledge of health and fitness thought. She has been writing her column for more than 25 years and welcomes column suggestions and fitness questions. You can contact Pattie at: fitmiss44@aol.com.

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