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Superstar Karlyn Pipes-Neilson

Wants to become oldest NCAA qualifier

Lee Nessel | July 19, 2000

Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen , 37, swimming for San Diego Swim Masters, set new world and national records during a short course meters meet hosted at the Allied Gardens Pool on Sunday, October 3. Pipes-Neilsen lowered her own world mark for women 35-39 in the 1,500-meter freestyle by four seconds with a time of 17:36.24. In October, she lowered her own 3,000 record for women 35-39 by over 42 seconds to post a time of 32:54.57 (avg. 5:28.5 per 500).

Returning as one of SWIM's top Masters for the third consecutive year, Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen tackles all challenges with a "just do it" mentality. Not quite ready to leave the 30-34 age group this March, she admits she has probably done enough damage. “I think people in my age group are ready for me to get out.”

Aside from setting 15 national and six world records (eight of which are faster than those in the 23-29 age group), two 1996 highlights for Pipes- Neilsen are her fourth-place finish in the 200-backstroke at the U.S. Open, and her tenth place finish at the USS Senior Nationals in Fort Lauderdale. She was most proud of her 2:17.73 from the nationals, which qualified her for the Olympic Trials—six months too late. "A goal is a goal. You hold onto it, and keep striving for it. The place didn't matter; it was finally reaching that goal. I made it six months too late—or a few years too early."

Pipes-Neilsen's latest goal is to attend and swim in college at a Division I school. She hopes to win a hardship case with the NCAA which would restore two years of eligibility and allow her to be one of the oldest women ever to swim in Division I. She says she took for granted the 15 full-scholarship offers she received at age 18. "Now, I think I'm mature enough to go back and really do it the right way," she says. "Hopefully, I'd have a lot to offer a college program."

The support of her family is paramount to Pipes-Neilsen. She calls her husband Eric swimmer, friend, trainer, lover, coach and mentor - the wind beneath her wings. Her mother, Adrienne Pipes , is also back in the water after a year off, and Pipes-Neilsen is glad once again to have her "instant roommates": Karlyn, Eric, Adrienne and her boyfriend Lloyd, a Filipino backstroke champion, always share a room at meets. "We keep it in the family, and it makes it so much more rewarding. That's what Masters swimming is—it's supporting each other and sharing our love of the sport."

published in SWIM magazine, March-April 1997

Last year was a banner 1995 for Pipes-Neilsen, one of three repeaters from SWIM's 1994 cavalcade of top Masters swimmers. She set an amazing total of 16 world Masters records, bringing to 20 the global marks she owns in the tough 30-34 age group. She moved within tenths of a second of making the 1996 Olympic Trials in four events and she celebrated her marriage to Eric Neilsen, 30, who serves double duty as her coach.

Pipes-Neilsen, who returned to swimming less than three years ago after living what she calls "a bad lifestyle" says she swims for the sheer enjoyment of it and because she loves the people in the sport. "Yes, I'd love to swim in the Olympic Trials in March, and I expect to make the cuts. But what's most important to me is to have fun when I'm swimming. With Masters it's hard not to have fun."

While she's having fun, she's also blazing new standards that will be hard to top: she ranked first in ten short course events and 15 long course events last year, setting records in every stroke except breaststroke. She ranks her long course 400 IM mark (5:00.84) as her best performance. "It was like an out-of-body experience," she says. "I can't even remember swimming the last 100 free," in which she split 1:06.

The love of swimming was a major theme in her wedding last September to Eric Nielsen, a water-polo player, turned triathlete, turned Masters swimmer. After the ceremony, more than 100 guests plunged into 65-degree ocean temperatures, swimming a half-mile while wearing celebratory caps. Winners earned hand-made plaques and medals with a distinctive Pipes-Neilsen wedding logo.

Currently a student at Palomar J.C. in California, Pipes-Neilsen hopes to finish her interrupted college education at a Division I university next fall. She'd like to become the oldest female NCAA qualifier ever.

published in SWIM magazine, March-April 1996

see also Reflections from Barbara Dunbar March 18, 2002

Karlyn A. Pipes-Neilsen lives in Coronado, Calif., and swims for San Diego Swim Masters.


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