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by Suzanne Robbins-Bonitz

November 28, 2005

From smoking to swimming

"In 1975 I quit smoking. It was a long time, life-time habit of which I am ashamed to admit I enjoyed to the fullest! I attended the University of North Carolina where EVERYONE smoked. The reps of the tobacco companies brought free cigarettes to campus and we always had a great supply. We smoked in our dorms, walking across campus, in our classrooms and continuously.

I went on a trip to Europe in 1975 and was inside a small station wagon for one week with four of us smoking constantly and after a really wretched bronchial cold I decided to not hurt myself any more. I quit smoking on December 5 that year and never had another puff! I started swimming laps the following summer in the local country club pool, then in the fall I swam at the Y. It's been my life ever since.

At first I didn't think I was competitive, but it didn't take long for my true nature to surface and I went to my first meet in Bartlesville that fall. The next meet was in Norman and I was hooked.

My first top ten time came in 1977 in the 50 back. At that time I wasn't even attending national championships. I went to my first national meet in May 1980 in Ft. Lauderdale. I first attended my 25th reunion in Chapel Hill, NC and then flew to Florida for the meet. The meet director was June Krauser who is the grande dame of swimming. During that meet Mount Saint Helens erupted and there was street fighting in the Miami Cuban district complete with armored personnel carriers and armed troops. This past May (2005) I attended my 50th reunion in Chapel Hill and again attended Short Course Nationals in Ft Lauderdale! I visited with June and had a picture taken with her. She's still a great swimmer although greatly diminished in height. (I've also shrunk almost two inches from those days!) I enjoyed seeing all my friends from the past, but the highlight was seeing Fritz Lehman win the 100 back handily. I have an abiding interest in Fritz since he grew up with my son, Chris. I used to time them in the AAU, Y, and High School meets in Oklahoma!

I have attended all the meets available in the State of Oklahoma and surrounding states. I went to Montreal for the FINA World Games and to Maui for the Pan Pacifics. In all I have attended 15 long course nationals, 22 short course nationals, and two international meets and have loved every minute of it. I have 16 personal national championships plus two for relays in my North Carolina Association.

I sometimes wonder if I go to swim or to see all the great people I have met over the years. It's not really a wonderment ... it's more than half the reason I enjoy Masters swimming. I especially enjoy the dinners with the NCMS group and rooming with Sally Newell.

In the 70-74 age group, I'm just now beginning to outlive my competition, but in a couple of years, two very talented backstrokers will put me way back in the ranks. That's what it's all about! I hope I will live long enough to pass them again when I turn 75!"

Suzanne Robbins-Bonitz lives in Wilmington, NC. While she became a relay All-American in 2001, she achieved individual All-American status this year (2005) in the 50-SCY backstroke in the 70-74 age group.