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by Michael J Stott

July 19, 2000

From burned-out to Masters star

Coming out of high school, Wally Dicks was one of the top two breaststrokers in the country. He received a full ride to Tennessee, but only stayed a year-and-a-half. "When I left swimming, I was so burned out, I didn't even want to take a shower," he says.

Thereafter, for exercise, he rode bikes and lifted weights, mindful of his tender knees from years of breaststroke. "Three years ago, my life needed a new direction, and I got back in the water," he says. Early on, he was coaxed to join a 400-yard medley relay team that broke the national record by five seconds plus and qualified for seniors. "A year later, I went to nationals."

Aside from the competitive thrill, Dicks cites the sheer joy of the Masters experience and the people with whom he has forged a common bond through swimming. "I love the meets and the brunches afterward. I'm having so much fun now. I think Masters swimming is the greatest." As a bonus he even met his wife at a local meet.

Dicks' star has continued to ascend while his times have dropped. At the moment he holds four world records: SCM in the 50 and 100 breast (28.82, 1:03.18) and LCM (29.09, 1:05.03). He also owns five American records in the 200 breast LCM, the 50-100-200 breast in SCY and as a member of a 400 SCM medley relay. But even more exciting is the fact he is only three tenths off Olympic Trial cuts in the 100 breast. And he's pursuing it with a passion.

To get there, this man, who is active in his family's chain of health food stores, trains seven days a week, swimming two to three hours a day, covering 5,000 to 7,000 yards. He stretches for a half hour before practice and 15 to 20 minutes at other times during the day. "As Masters, we have to stretch. As we get older, we lose our flexibility and are more prone to injury," he notes.

Dicks has 15 months to find those three tenths. He's optimistic, but admits that he is not well known on the Masters circuit. "I've only been to three national Masters meets," he says. What do you want to bet the word is getting around?

Originally published in Swim magazine, March-April 1999