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by Phil Whitten

July 19, 2000

"For many, retirement can be most active time"

I met Tom Lane, now one of the nation's oldest Masters swimmers, back in 1978, when he was a lad of eighty four. I remember how impressed I was by his positive outlook. "Every day I look in the mirror," he told me then, “I say, 'My goodness, that's young Tom Lane in there.'" Fourteen years later I showed up at his doorstep in San Diego, tape recorder in hand, to conduct an interview. The tall, square-shouldered. white-maned gentleman was apologetic when he arrived five minutes late. "Sorry," he said, "I was out shooting nine holes of golf."

Lane exercises every day, and he looks it. Aside from golf "I always walk the course, never take a cart," he lifts weights, does calisthenics, bowls, puts the shot, tosses the javelin, and slings the discus; but his favorite form of exercise is swimming. He also continues to manage his own stock portfolio with great success and listens to music and tapes of favorite books. The fact that a bout with glaucoma in 1986 left him blind has not deterred him a bit. "It just presented a new challenge," he says with a smile.

Today, at the age of one hundred, Lane could easily pass for a healthy man in his early seventies. The retired patent lawyer has set Masters records in the backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle in three age groups. One of his goals was to become the first person over a century old to compete in Masters competition, but in 1993 he was preempted by two older swimmers. "I've always liked competition, and always liked swimming," he told me. "My mother taught me how to do the breaststroke when I was four. I compete mostly with younger men now; there aren't that many men in my age group."

But as Masters swimming has continued to grow in popularity, Lane's earlier records have gone by the wayside. "The number of older participants increases each year," he says, "so these young bucks are coming up and breaking my old records. But that's fine. Records are made to be broken. Now that I've moved up to the one hundred and over age group, though," he says with a gleam in his eye, "my records may last for a spell. Not too many fellas that age are up for a good swimming race. My philosophy has always been, 'If you can't beat 'em, outlive 'em.’"

Lane is an inspiration for younger people who feel that old age is synonymous with a sedentary lifestyle. He says that for many people retirement is when an active life can begin, when you can throw yourself into what you really like to do. His coach, Barbara Dunbar says that Lane is an inspiration for younger people: "It's inspiring for them to see that at a hundred and blind, Tom Lane is strong, extremely bright, and very lucid. It's good for them to see older people in great shape having a good time."

from The Complete Book of Swimming, by Dr. Phil Whitten, 1994, Random House

Tom Lane lives in San Diego, Calif., and swims for San Diego Swim Masters.