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by Daniel Paulling

April 28, 2019

Carolyn Battin and Robert Hilton battle trouble with their health to swim at Spring Nationals

When she saw the workout her coach had written in April 2017, Las Vegas Masters member Carolyn Battin joked that he was trying to kill her. He wasn’t, but the practice turned out to be a life-changing experience that’s shaped her swimming training.

The 90-minute practice, which the high school coach did with her swimmers, included a lot of sprints from the blocks with no breaths, challenging swims that raised her heart rate. She remembers getting out of the water afterward, but her memory after that is gone.

A mother of one of her high school swimmers told Battin afterward that Battin asked to be escorted into the locker room. Once there, she opened her swim bag and asked whose clothes they were. Battin was then transported to a hospital, where she regained her memory within 4 ½ hours and asked what she was doing in the emergency room.

“They said, ‘You came in here confused and scrambled. We need to watch you overnight,’” she says. “I said, ‘I need to go to practice in the morning.’”

Battin, 65, was eventually diagnosed with transient global amnesia, a condition that causes memory loss for several hours. It’s more common in people over the age of 50, but afflicts only about 30 in 100,000 people in that age bracket. The cause of transient global amnesia is unknown, but strenuous physical activity has been linked to it, though the likelihood of suffering transient global amnesia after working out hard is very low, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Battin, who had been training vigorously for the 2017 Nationwide U.S. Masters Swimming Spring National Championship in Riverside, Calif., at the time of her incident, took about three weeks before she got back into the water. She didn’t begin training at a high level again until this year, waiting until after she spoke with several doctors regarding her health.

Battin opened the 2019 USMS Spring National Championship in Mesa, Ariz., with a national championship in the 1000 freestyle in the 65-69 age group. She added a second-place finish in the 500 freestyle and finished fifth in the 50 freestyle on Saturday.

She’s dialed back her training because she doesn’t want to experience another episode of transient global amnesia. But Battin never considered giving up her longtime sport.

“I could’ve easily quit swimming, but this is my life,” she says. “I’ve been competing since I was 5. I look at some of the people here in their 90s. I fully expect to be one of them if I stay healthy.”

Making Up for Lost Time

Rochester Area Masters Swimming member Robert Hilton didn’t start swimming until he became interested in triathlons in his late 30s, but he’s making up for lost time.

He swam the 50 freestyle, 50 breaststroke, and 100 butterfly at Spring Nationals on Saturday, doing the third event for the first time in his life. The 50-year-old also set a Niagara LMSC record in the 50-yard butterfly in the 50-54 age group last October.

“At age 50, I still actually set a personal best at age 50 in the 50 fly,” Hilton says. “I’m still figuring out how to do it faster.”

His success comes despite battling a medical condition that leads to significant breathlessness and causes him to adapt sets. For example, if he’s doing 12 x 100s, with four on 1:30, four on 1:25, and four on 1:20, he alternates doing a 100 and a 50 to help his body recover.

Hilton’s becoming a swimmer didn’t seem likely early in his life. He didn’t swim while growing up and failed his swim test while attending Emory University, a test that he had to pass to graduate. Hilton took remedial swimming and passed his swim test.

He didn’t compete in his first meet until age 41, but he’s happy with his decision.

“Masters Swimming is a fantastic organization,” he says. “Two thousand people in their 20s to their 80s [at Spring Nationals]—it’s truly remarkable seeing just the sheer camaraderie, the sheer passion. It’s remarkable seeing the passage of time and the effect on bodies. You see people in the age groups, and they kept themselves in good shape.”

Records Set on Day 3

Jeff Commings, Arizona Masters: men's 45-49 200 backstroke (1:52.23)
Richard Burns, Tamalpais Aquatics Masters: men's 75-79 200 backstroke (2:27.48)
Katarzyna Wilk, Las Vegas Masters: women's 25-29 50 freestyle (22.00)
Daniela Barnea, Stanford Masters: women's 75-59 200 IM (3:14.61)
Jeff Commings, Arizona Masters: men's 45-49 50 breaststroke (25.66)
Carlo Travaini, Mission Viejo Masters: men's 55-59 50 breaststroke (26.32)
Richard Burns, Tamalpais Aquatics Masters: men's 75-79 100 butterfly (1:07.46)
Traci Granger, Los Angeles Peninsula Swimming: women's 60-64 100 butterfly (1:03.59)
Arizona Masters Swim Club Inc: mixed 85+ 200 medley relay (4:17.52)

Note: All records are subject to change pending verification.


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  • National Championships
  • USMS Nationals