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One Thousand Miles of Butterfly

by Laura S. Jones, Staff Writer

Peony Munger loves swimming and loves the butterfly stroke. While many Masters swimmers may feel the same way, Munger is the only one we know of whose love has carried her through 1,000 miles of butterfly over the past four years, one continuous mile at a time. She’s not resting on her laurels, though. Her next goal is to complete a virtual all butterfly swim across the United States.

Munger, 76, swims with Hydropower Masters Swim Club. Each practice, “she does a mile of butterfly before she does anything else,” says Carolyn MaGee, 65, a teammate and coach of Munger’s.

Her feat is even more amazing because she did not grow up swimming. “I played basketball in Korea but never learned how to swim,” Munger says. Her mother was afraid she would drown, which she almost did after moving to the United States at age 32. After the frightening incident, her husband pushed her to learn to swim for her own safety. She did, but was not really comfortable in the water until she started swimming Masters in 2000.

“Then I realized this was the very best exercise ever. My most fascinating stroke was butterfly, so I knew I wanted to learn it. I am a very stubborn old Army nurse,” she admits with a laugh. Originally from South Korea, Munger speaks with a strong and musical accent. Asked if she swam the morning of our interview, her response was “of course! To me, this is the most precious sport I can imagine.”

MaGee explains how Munger came up with the idea for her goal. “She had been doing quite a bit a fly at practice and had swum a mile fly in practice. In 2007 at a meet we hosted in Wenatchee, Peony wanted to swim the mile butterfly, which she did in 56:40. She was very excited that she had made her goal to swim it under an hour. After that she decided she would swim a mile of butterfly at each workout and started keeping track of all of it.”

Shirley Schreiber, 64, is another teammate and coach of Munger’s, and she adds that “Peony has fibromyalgia and migraines. She finds that with the butterfly stroke she doesn't have to turn her head so it is easier on her. Then it just snowballed into swimming a whole mile all butterfly. The butterfly isn't her fastest stroke but it is her favorite.”

Munger doesn’t take any drugs for her migraines or fibromyalgia, explaining that for her, “swimming is a lifesaver; it does more than any doctor can do.” Helping her along the way was a sign in her pool’s locker room: ‘Anything is possible.’ “Looking at that sign each day was inspirational.” She also credits “eating all the healthy food I want, like a pig eats, to give me energy,” as a reason for her amazing endurance.

Having enjoyed so much encouragement from her Masters team, Munger found a way to give back. “On her 70th birthday all she wanted was to for everyone to swim 400 butterfly,” says MaGee. “Nine people on the team did it. Peony gave a small trophy to everyone who did it. We have continued that tradition every year on Peony’s birthday. Each year more people are willing to make the attempt. Last year on Peony’s 75th birthday 35 people did it. Peony gave everyone who made it a sweatshirt commemorating the event. She loves watching everyone else do it.”

Munger’s advice to others is to “make a plan and make it become a habit. At first it was very hard for me to do it each day, but each day got easier. Hard things get easier if you just keep doing them. Then take a nice hot shower after each day’s accomplishment.”

“I golf too, but it is different. [In 2002, she was the Washington State Senior Champion.] The swimming world is so loving. I think I am married to the H2O!” She laughs, and then admits to having a real husband who is 89 and joins her in the pool once or twice a week.

Marcia Anziano, 66, chair of the Fitness Committee offered her thoughts on Munger’s feat. “I find it pretty amazing that anyone could swim that much fly. She’s obviously a very motivated person. I think and hope her story will inspire others. Having a goal is a way to get you to the pool. Without a goal, it is too easy to put it off.” Anziano adds that it easier to improve and keep setting goals, even fitness goals, when you are working with a group.

Munger’s goals and teammates have helped create one impressive swimmer. “I am the happiest a human being can be,” says Munger.

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