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by Betsy Durrant

December 3, 2009

During the morning workouts I coach in Virginia Beach, many of us repeat the same quote: “I want to be like Marianna.”

87-year-old Marianna Berkley is an excellent swimmer, (three USMS individual records, one USMS relay record, All-American in 5 events, and a #1 world ranking – all in the last year). But what makes Marianna special and enviable, is her energy and the life she leads outside the pool.

Marianna still pulls herself out of the water without a ladder and climbs on starting blocks without assistance, something she attributes to her 35 years of teaching swimming lessons – getting in and out of the pool with the kids.

Marianna spreading mortar

Most of the time Marianna is consistent about training; at practice she works hard to do everything I ask. However, her training is routinely interrupted by her trips. These trips are not guided tours or leisurely cruises. Marianna likes to go to places where she will learn something. In 2007, she and one of her daughters spent a month in Mexico, living with a local family and studying Spanish. In 2008, they went to Peru for more Spanish classes. In September, Marianna accompanied her daughter and son-in-law to Mongolia where they worked on two houses for a Habitat for Humanity International project.


Marianna on camelback

In Mongolia, Marianna’s job was to spread mortar while other workers set the cinder blocks. She says that some of the local people were concerned about her climbing up ladders and working on scaffolding, but she’s used to climbing ladders. She cleans the gutters of her home by herself.

The two houses being built were several miles apart and they had to travel between the two sites on horseback or camel.

When Marianna returned from Mongolia, she didn’t come back to practice right away. She rested for a few days, then went camping and hiking in the mountains of Virginia for a few days with another one of her daughters. As much as I want to be like Marianna, there’s no way I can keep up with her pace and activities!