How Healthy Is A Lifetime Of Swimming?

How Healthy Is A Lifetime Of Swimming?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

With 2,250 masters swimmers walking around the George Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara, California at the 2014 U.S. Masters Swimming National Championships, the sights around the famed pool deck are like living advertisements for optimal health and happiness.

So many swimmers of all ages are fantastically fit and trim. Flat stomaches, slim waists, broad shoulders, firm muscles, broad smiles, and genuine camaraderie dominate the pool decks. Their physiques are as impressive as their stories are inspirational.

Swimmers from Olympic level (medalists Matt Biondi, Nathan Adrian, Anthony Ervin, Josh Davis, and Rick Colella) to accomplished people from all walks of life are swimming all kinds of events in Santa Clara this weekend.

With the global growth of masters swimming and open water swimming, including ice swimming and marathon swimming, we wonder what the long-term effects of a lifetime of swimming will be on the current and future generations of swimmers.

While some people in history have always swum all their lives, the availability, opportunities and motivations to swim throughout one’s entire lives have never been so evident as in contemporary times. Swimmers like Laura Val, Richard Burns, David Guthrie, Tim Shead, Rick Colella, Jim McConica and Nancy Ridout show the capabilities of what swimmers can do when they swim their entire lives. These individuals are incredibly fit and continue to swim times that would be mind-boggling only a few years ago.

These swimmers are leading the way on how one’s life can be significantly and profoundly changed by a life of swimming.

The current crop of swimmers under the age of 30 will be swimming – for competition, health and fun – for another 5, 6, 7 and perhaps 8 additional decades. How fulfilling and how healthful will their lives be? Significant, we believe.

Sarah Condor-Fisher, Ph.D., LL.M is one of these lifetime swimmers whose talents are a match for her healthy living surrounded by swimming.

Dr. Condor-Fisher was a Czech national team breaststroker during the 1980s and a professor of American Literature. She authored over 20 books on language and law, many volumes of poetry and half a dozen novels.

She is also an attorney who provides free services and legal advice to non-profit organizations, refugees and political prisoners. Dr. Condor also serves as an expert witness in linguistics and interpretation of legal documents.

Packing in as much as possible in her day, the masters swimmer, coach, personal trainer and nutritional analyst recently authored Swimming Workouts: for Master Swimmers (available here).

Her newest book contains very succinct tips and points on what she learned during my swimming career. “It helped me to organize my own workouts, now, more than 20 years after my last competitive days as a member of the Czechoslovak Olympic Team.”

Her life story, capabilities, and achievements are beyond what most of her American teammates and fellow competitors can imagine.

In 1988, I tried to run away, cross the border to Austria. It was a thrilling adventurous moment of reaching out for freedom. Two in the morning, five miles of closely-watched tilled fields nearby Bratislava…” her voice trails on. She was nearly shot and ended up being arrested by the KGB and cross-interrogated. “It was just like you see in the movies from those days,” she recalls. “I was stripped naked, body-searched, placed in jail.”

But swimming literally saved her life. “When the KGB learned that I was a member of the Olympic Team, I was saved. But it also caused a big uproar and I could never compete internationally again.” Her story – along with her life at the Sports Institute for Olympic Athletes under the dictatorship of her coaches – is described in her novel Escape.

In 1990, she moved to London where she lived for 5 years. A swimmer of high intellect, she became a member of Mensa International and founded the Einstein Society for people with IQ over 180 and studied philosophy at University College London. “Subsequently, I moved to Prague, where I took my masters in English and Ph.D. in American Literature. I taught literature and history for 8 years during my Ph.D. studies. I briefly worked in Brussels for the European Community on the White Book Project.”

During this time, she not only coined a new legislative terminology, but also a member of International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness and competed in bodybuilding and fitness. By 2003, she found herself in Southern California where she took up law, obtained her Juris Doctor in 2010, passed the California Bar, completed her LL.M. (Masters of Law) in 2013. “I obtained my U.S. citizenship after much struggle last year. That is my greatest achievement and I would exchange that for all my swimming titles and degrees of higher education at any time.”

But she continues to enjoy swimming in her adopted country where she can simultaneously explore both her professional and swimming potential. “The women here at the U.S. Masters Swimming National Championships are so competitive. And everyone who I met is so friendly and easy to talk with in the stands and in the pool.” We asked her about her swimming:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Where do you currently train?
Dr. Sarah Condor-Fisher: I train in Cerritos Olympic Center. I set up a masters club, called Masters of Cerritos.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you compete in open water swimming competitions or triathlons?
Dr. Sarah Condor-Fisher: No, not yet. But I used to do triathlon competitively for about 3 years between 1990 and 1993. However, it was too time consuming and I had to give it up for intellectual pursuits. But I am afraid of sharks. However, when I was between 6 and 10 years old, my parents went to Yugoslavia with me. I loved swimming in the Mediterranean (Adriatic) Sea. In the Bay of Cotor in Boka Kotorska, Montenegro, I once rubbed against a dolphin. We became friends for about a week and swam together every day. Unfortunately, it was only a two-week vacation…But I took a U.S. Masters Swimming course led by Bill Brenner. It was excellent. He taught us so much.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: How did you find your Olympic experience?
Dr. Sarah Condor-Fisher: My Olympic experience was too much hard work, constant cramps. We had poor food, no supplements, no vitamins…we trained 2 phases: 1 hour morning in the gym doing basketball, football, or weightlifting, plus 2 hours in the pool. In the afternoon, we did 2-3 hours in the pool and twice a week, we had relaxation time after the workout, sauna, hot-cold Jacuzzis, massages with our personal masseur etc.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: You discuss micro-, meso- and macro-cycles in swimming in your book. What do you mean by those terms?
Dr. Sarah Condor-Fisher: It’s very simple: Macrocycle is once or twice a year: planning by months up to the contest. Microcycle is usually weekly training plans.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Are these cycles different for age-group swimmers, collegiate swimmers, and masters swimmers?
Dr. Sarah Condor-Fisher: No. What alters are the individual routines, their workouts. Cycles depend on competition season. They are planned backwards from the main event, usually the Nationals or the Olympics. However, you can qualify to the Olympics from any 50m contest, an invitational, etc.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What dryland exercises are most valuable to a (healthy) masters swimmer in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s?
Dr. Sarah Condor-Fisher: This is too complex and complicated to answer succinctly, but there are routines and workout basics available in my book. As I have had 8 years of experience as a professional bodybuilder, I also know a lot about nutrition, supplements and banned substances. I taught for four years at the Third Faculty of Medicine at Charles University, Prague. I also worked as a nutritional analyst and personal trainer for quite a few years. You cannot separate nutrition and lifestyle from workout, dry or wet.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Are there any commonalities between competitive bodybuilding and competitive masters swimming?
Dr. Sarah Condor-Fisher: Yes. Lifestyle: sleep early, eat on a regular basis, vary food on pre- and post-workout grounds. Sprinting – both swimming and athletics have more in common with bodybuilding – they are anaerobic exercises with need for coping with quantum of lactic acid immediately. You must know your body and understand the Kreb’s Cycle. This is especially important in knowing how to take your BCAAs, Creatine, Glutamine and protein shakes.

Swimming Workouts: for Master Swimmers contains a selection of workouts from Dr. Condor-Fisher. The book is intended for those who want to keep in shape and compete in U.S. Masters Swimming competitions. “If you are over 40, fit and disciplined, yet have no more than two hours a day to spare, often less, sometimes every other day, and if you believe yourself to be sufficiently fit and disciplined to improve and compete, the book is for you,” explains the summary.

The book contains basic advice on workout planning, cycling, as well as basics of nutrition, stretching and dry exercise routines. Its main purpose is to describe various swimming workouts and sort them out into macrocycle periods in order to make an adult’s pool time more productive and enjoyable. These routines are printed in large letters, one per page, so readers can copy them and take them to the pool.

Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones