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As the Fire Fades

Competing is still great even as times slow

Ashley Jones | October 5, 2011

As the Fire Fades

Ashley Jones painted "As the Fire Fades" to accompany his feelings about aging and swimming.

Have you ever come to the realization that the intensity you have felt in the water for so many years is no longer there? You know—that extra something that kicks in, moving into a higher gear, causing you to stretch farther, kick harder and drive to the wall.

It just happened to me the other day—the realization that I am no longer overly concerned with how fast I am swimming. I have watched my times slowing down in the last five years, but have failed to look at the process taking place as this was occurring.

The last five years are the only ones I have to go by. I quit competing when I was 50 because I became disillusioned with the way people were treating each other. It became cutthroat to see who would be on the “A” relay, for example. I determined that I would return when things changed or I did.

So 25 years later, I heard about the FINA Worlds at Stanford and began working out again. I was swimming about 800 meters a day during those years of non-competition, but nothing on the clock. When I began doing repeats, I knew I was slower, but the old burning sensation at the end of a set was still there. Every Friday, I would time myself in one of my events. Those times I can remember. I won three gold and two silver medals at that meet.

So last Friday, I swam a 200-meter breaststroke in 4:01. I rested a few minutes and then swam a 25 butterfly in :20 or so. Five years ago my breaststroke time was 3:42 and the butterfly was about :17. It isn't the fact that I know I am not as fast, rather knowing that I don't care.

I suppose I have finally come to realize that I am now an 80-84 male and the time has arrived when being younger is no longer a goal (conscious or unconscious). There is great satisfaction in just competing, no matter the times.

Years ago I held a vision of diving off the blocks when I was 100. Now my goal is to dive off the edge of the pool. Growing old is something that will take me some time to catch onto. I think I'm ready.

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