Dr. George Schmidt, an optometric physician practicing in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., began his swimming career under the tutelage of Coach Jack Nelson of the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team. He earned All-America status four straight years while attending Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, and three years at Ohio State University. He became an individual medley specialist in high school because, he says, "There was always one guy on the team in each stroke who was better than me. I got stuck swimming a lot of 200s and 400s, but I really wanted to be a sprinter, since they never seemed to have to train so hard."
After college, Schmidt swam Masters for just one year, in 1975 at age 25, where he won a total of four national championship races, earning All-America status. "Finally winning a national championship was very rewarding, though back in those days many of the 25-29 times weren't as fast as they are now in the 50-54 age group," says Schmidt.
He continued swimming AAU (then USS) until age 32, when he quit because of irregular heart rhythms and didn't swim again until age 48, other than once every year or two getting in and swimming a few 100 freestyles on a four minute sendoff, just to prove he could still get across the pool. Within his first few months back into Masters swimming he injured his rotator cuff while doing dry land exercises, then ruptured a cervical disk in his neck which severely limited his training and he even stopped competing for 12 months. He was motivated by his teammates to get back in the water for a world record breaking relay, and decided that the pain was something he'd have to live with and swim through. (His neck was helped greatly by using a snorkel for all kicking exercises and warm-ups.) He has since been on more than seven world record breaking relays competing with Gold Coast Masters out of Fort Lauderdale.
Schmidt usually trains by himself, with no coach or team to push him. His training regimen consists of 3-4 days per week, approximately 1,100-1,300 yards/meters per 30-40 minute session, and usually includes 400-500 yards of descending 100s as the main set. He finds if he trains harder than that, his shoulder flares up and he has to back off for a week or two for healing. "I believe that it's very important to swim your fastest when you're the most tired, focusing on maintaining an efficient stroke," says Schmidt. "Too many swimmers train themselves to swim slowly and inefficiently, which may be great for cardiovascular training, but it's not certainly not helpful for swimming fast. Focusing on stroke and control is the key." I also firmly believe most Masters swimmers probably train too frequently, not allowing their body to recover fully before the next workout.
Schmidt's training regimen appears to work, as he has earned a total of six All-America finishes in 2000 and 2001, in the 50 and 100 freestyles, 100 IMs and 50 breaststroke. ("I'm finally the sprinter I always wanted to be!" says Schmidt.) In 2001 he finished in the Top Ten in the 50-54 age group in 22 events, including all four strokes and individual medley (including the 400-SCM IM, just to prove to his detractors who think he's just a pretty sprinter!). He also was ranked number one in the FINA world rankings in three individual and six relays that year. His favorite race is the 100 IM. "I love the 100-SCM IM, because the number one world ranked swimmer in that event can claim to be "The Fastest All-Around Swimmer in the World" in their age group. His time in 2001 was faster than anyone else over the age of 50, so he earned bragging rights that year.
Besides his unique swimming philosophy of quality, not quantity, Schmidt is a great believer in nutritional therapies. In fact, it was nutrition that finally helped rid him of the persistent irregular heart rhythms that took him out of swimming for sixteen years, and helped him lose the 35-40 lbs of extra "insulation" he was carrying in his mid 40s. He is a strong advocate of taking supplements, and believes they are a key to his success in swimming. "I believe every athlete should be taking certain nutrients for cardio protection, and this is especially true for those of us over 40." He adds, "magnesium and potassium are essential for normal cardiac rhythm and recovery, as well as maintaining blood pressure and preventing diabetes, but most Americans (90%, according to government studies) are deficient in magnesium. Coenzyme Q10 is used to create energy in every cell of the body, and especially in the heart. Those who take CoQ10 are four times less likely to die the first year after a heart attack. What's more important, in my opinion, is that these nutrients will likely prevent the heart attack in the first place, and those of us who stress our hearts need them even more." He also takes antioxidants, amino acids and other nutrients shown to improve oxygen capacity.
Schmidt has developed a website devoted to Nutritional and Health Research. He encourages all Masters swimmers to take supplements on a daily basis because, as he puts it, "You may not be the fastest in your age group right now, but all you have to do is outlast all your opponents! It's kind of like the fable about the tortoise and the hare: Persistence ultimately pays off"!
Schmidt's goals for the immediate future are to get his shoulder fixed and start training a little harder so he can break some individual world records as he ages up to 55 in 2005. He suffered a setback in January 2005 when his left biceps tendon tore completely in two. Interestingly, his shoulder is causing less pain after the tear than before, so he's hopeful of reaching his swimming goals.
Editor's note: We asked Dr. Schmidt which nutritional supplements he uses. Here's his response. "The nutrients are on the webpage: Synergy 2000 is a very comprehensive product, at a fraction the cost of anything comparable and covers the bases quite well, containing several phyto-nutrients. Before competition, I also take 100-200mg of extra CoEnzyme Q10, omega 3 oils (fish oil capsules) daily to help reduce inflammation, and occasionally Acetyl-L-Carnitine (for cardiac and brain support).