The unattached swimmer in the Southern Pacific LMSC has broken five USMS records since returning from cancer
When his friend suggested years ago that he should compete again, Andrew Bray couldn’t think of a reason why he shouldn’t. He’d already been training at a high level, so why not participate in meets after his lengthy break from Masters Swimming competitions?
Bray earned a U.S. Masters Swimming All-American in the 1500-meter freestyle (LCM) in 2009 and then six more All-Americans in 2011 before he received a life-changing diagnosis during the middle of a shift in his work as a firefighter: Bray had throat and neck cancer.
“I was pretty optimistic about the whole thing,” Bray says. “You just do it. You just go ahead.”
Bray underwent treatment, but his plan to set USMS records when he moved into the 55-59 age group was shot. He kept training and returned to collect seven All-Americans last year.
Although Bray missed by eight seconds the USMS record he was pursuing, he opened the 2019 USMS Spring National Championship at the Kino Aquatic Center in Mesa, Ariz., with a national championship in the 1000 freestyle in the 60-64 age group with a time of 10:50.06.
“I thought I felt good, but, boy, around 6 or 700, I just lost my legs,” says Bray, a 60-year-old unattached member in the Southern Pacific LMSC. “My training has been a little off for the last several months, and I’ve gotten sciatica problems. I haven’t been doing any kicking or anything like that.”
Just one unofficial record was set Thursday. Oregon Masters’s Dan Kirkland went a 20:16.24 in the 1650 freestyle, breaking a record set in 2001 by 13 seconds.
Bray still holds five USMS records, the most recent of which came in February, when he went a 17:48.66 in the 1650 freestyle. He broke the previous record by 11 seconds, a record that had been set in 2010 by 50 seconds.
Although Bray did breaststroke and individual medley while swimming for the Mission Viejo Nadadores youth team and at the University of Florida, he says trouble with his groin muscle keeps him from focusing on those events. Because he’s been training like a distance swimmer, doing 30,000 to 40,000 yards a week, he’s been specializing in distance freestyle events.
Bray is also doing the 500 freestyle at Spring Nationals, and his time from last year, when he went a 5:06.90 as a 59-year-old, would break the current record by five seconds. He’s also focused on trying to break the 400-meter freestyle (LCM) record this summer, a mark that he missed by just 0.04 seconds last year.
All of his success has come thanks to a friend who persuaded him to start competing again.
“I said, ‘Yeah, OK, I’ll go for it,’” Bray says.
Going Out Fast
Menlo Masters’s Ann Kay started her final U.S. Masters Swimming national championship well.
She went a 39:54.69 in the 1650 freestyle on Thursday at Spring Nationals. Her swim made her a national champion and would be the top submitted time this season in the 85-89 age group.
“It didn’t feel so bad,” the 85-year-old says. “I didn’t get as tired as I thought I would.
“When you have people at your lane who are cheering for you, it really does help. It doesn’t help if they say, ‘Go, go, go,’ because you’re already going as fast as you can. But when they say, ‘Keep it up,’ or something like that, or just a cheer, it’s really encourages you to keep going.”
Despite her excellent performance, Kay says she doesn’t plan to compete in more USMS national championships, though she wants to continue participating in local meets. She’s been a Masters swimmer since the early 1970s and has been to multiple national championships, so the experience isn’t anything new for Kay, who has more than 590 USMS individual Top 10 times.
Her lengthy swimming career includes one of her favorite swims from the mid-1970s, when she raced Dawn Fraser, a four-time gold medalist and three-time Olympian for Australia. Kay says Fraser beat her in a 50-meter freestyle (LCM) by half a pool length.
Kay is looking forward to finishing Spring Nationals with a few shorter races than the 1650. She’s scheduled to swim the 50, 100, and 200 backstroke and 50 and 100 freestyle events.
“I’m sure glad the first event is over,” she says.