Four swimmers who are at least 90 competed at Short Course Nationals
U.S. Masters Swimming’s competitions are for adults of all ages, but no races seem to captivate meet participants, fans, and event staff as much as those for the older age groups.
Here are the stories of the four 90-plus-year-olds who competed at the USMS Short Course National Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Charlotte Sanddal, Big Sky Montana Masters
Big Sky Montana Masters member Charlotte Sanddal received a lengthy round of applause each time she competed, something that she jokes about.
“I think they’re glad I’m finally finished so they can go on with the meet,” she says.
Sanddal, 98, won all five of her events, honors that she adds to her 10 USMS records, 10 individual USMS All-Americans, and two FINA Masters world records.
She credits fellow Big Sky Montana Masters member Flora Wong, 92, for getting her into Masters swimming. Sanddal has since become an inspiration for other swimmers, leading to the applause she receives after every race.
“That’s what’s good about swimming,” she says. “People realize that you don’t have to quit. You can keep going and enjoy it, as well as meet people from all over. It’s a good way to spend your time. To know that I’m in a good place doing something that helps me in my life, to say keeps me out of the bars.”
Frank Manheim, Reston Masters Swim Team
Reston Masters Swim Team member Frank Manheim considers himself a bionic man. He’s had a knee and hip replaced and had a stent, pacemaker, and cochlear implant put in.
“The secret to medals in the older ages is the right remedial clinics and the best surgeons,” he jokes before turning serious. “[Swimming is] the perfect exercise because I still have bad arthritis in the right knee, but I didn’t want another replacement. I can’t run, I can’t jump.”
Manheim, 90, won four of his five events, including the 50, 100, and 200 backstroke. His success comes after working on improving his technique alongside his wife, Lucy Manheim, 78, a fellow member of Reston Masters Swim Team. His biggest adjustment was to straighten his arm on his recovery, which allowed him to get a better catch.
Manheim set a USMS record in the 50 backstroke with his time of 48.69. He didn’t believe he had actually set a record, his first, until he found that the previous record had indeed gone slower.
“I knew about [previous record-holder] Willard Lamb—he’s just an incredible champion,” Manheim says. “I thought those things were completely out of reach.”
Richard McClow, Libertyville Masters
Libertyville Masters member Richard McClow changed his outlook on swimming after he attended a swim clinic seven years ago. If he wanted to swim faster, he determined, he’d have to adapt.
“I’ve taken up all the latest and greatest technology, which includes streamlining, reducing frontal resistance,” the 90-year-old says. “I’m trying to do things that don’t burn up a lot of energy, so I decided what I really need to do to be a sprinter is work on my starts, my turns, and my dolphin kick. Those things I could boost myself, my speed, my times, without necessarily going fast on the straightaway. I wanted to offset the effects of aging.”
Consider the early returns a success.
McClow won four of his five events, setting USMS records in the 100 IM (1:52.03) and 50 breaststroke (52.10) in the process, the first individual records he’s set.
He swam in high school and then as a freshman at Purdue University before joining Masters in the 1980s. He’s swum off and on since then, taking a lengthy break to sail around the world in 1989 after he retired. One of his favorite things from his yearslong trip was backpacking in New Zealand and Australia.
McClow eventually found his way back into swimming after he returned home. His four gold medals from Short Course Nationals fed his passion in the sport.
“I love winning,” he says.
Barbara Eisele, Lowcountry Masters
Most swimmers enjoy their early years in a new age group because it presents an opportunity to swim against competition that’s older than they are.
Barbara Eisele, however, faces quite the challenge every time she ages up.
The Lowcountry Masters member swims every event in each age group, doing the most strenuous before moving on to the easier ones. She crossed off the 100, 200, and 400 IM, the 50 and 100 butterfly, and the 200 backstroke at Short Course Nationals, winning all of them.
“I came to Nationals because I don’t get any competition in [South Carolina],” says Eisele, who was the only person in the 90-94 age group. “I wanted competition. But nobody else showed up. There’s so many good swimmers in my age group out there that I’d really like to meet them and swim with them, but no luck this time.”
She started doing Masters swimming at the age of 67 when a friend persuaded her to start and has stuck with it. She jokes the key to success is outliving your competition.
Eisele received a lengthy round of applause following her 400 IM, which she jokes was only because she’s old. She plans to keep swimming and providing inspiration to other swimmers.
“[Swimming’s] just my thing,” she says. “I really don’t know why [everyone’s cheering for me when I swim], but it makes me feel good. I don’t feel like I am [a role model], but it’s nice to hear.”
USMS Records Broken
- David Guthrie, Rice Aquatic Masters: men’s 60-64 100 breaststroke (1:01.14)
- Robert Wright, MOVY Masters: men’s 70-74 100 breaststroke (1:09.14)
- Richard Abrahams, Colorado Masters Swimming: men’s 75-79 50 butterfly (28.70)
- Jennifer Mihalik, North Carolina Masters Swimming: women’s 40-44 200 backstroke (2:03.61)
- Steve Hiltabiddle, Colonials 1776: men’s 55-59 50 butterfly (23.57)
Note: All records are subject to change pending verification.