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How Do You Break A World Record At 75?

William Blake is a Dallas-area swimmer who was part of a 4x200 relay team that recently broke the world record for his age group. A conversation about what drives someone to compete way into their golden years.

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You had an early start in sports, as an All-America in high school and college. Why did you start swimming again after 40 years? What prompts you to get into the pool 5 times a week, rain or shine?

After I graduated from college, I got married and started a family and had no time for swimming. I did run in the Boston Marathon in 1975 and played some golf, but I did no swimming. After I retired, my wife gave me a membership to Cooper and I started training with the swim group when I was 65. It took a while to get my form and breathing back, but the very next year I won the 50-yard freestyle in the National Senior Games in Hampton Roads, Virginia.

I really started swimming again because my knees gave out and I could not run the 10ks any longer. Since I was retired, I had time to be with the Cooper SWAM Team 4-5 days a week.

Do you see any common background among the people who compete in their 60's and beyond? Would this be true for both men and women?

The common link between people who compete that are in their 60's is the desire to get into shape and live a healthier lifestyle. Going to a Senior Games National event is awesome. There are about 22 venues (softball, track and field, duplicate bridge) and there are over 20,000 participants. The National Games are held every other year and you have to qualify to be able to attend---this is a big deal. A lot of competitors are former high school and college athletes who now have time to train, when they could not quite do that when they were raising families and working full-time.

How different is the experience of competing compared to 40 years ago?

Competing now is the same as 40 years ago but more than ever, the fun is in the camaraderie. I have made many good friends through swimming both USMS (United States Masters Swimming) and Senior Games.

How long do you want to swim competitively?

I will swim competitively until my health fails or I cannot meet the times I want.

What is the secret to your athletic longevity?

Secret to longevity? Try and eat well and take care of your health. Swimming is much easier on your body than long distance running (at least for me). And here's something else: getting the right amount of rest is essential. I rarely swim on weekend except for meets. For national meets, I usually take off a week before competition, or at least swim easy a week prior to competition. If I feel stale from workouts, I go to the gym and do weights (for tone only, not pure strength) and do walking and rowing exercises.

What does your family make of this competition? Of your world record?

My family is very supportive. I keep in touch with everyone, including my brother and sisters. I was raised in an athletic family so just about understands what is involved in training. My two sons were blown away by the world record.

My folks were at all of my swim meets in high school and my Dad visited me in college (300 miles from our home in Michigan to DePauw in Greencastle, Indiana) when I ran cross country and he drove me to the NCAA Cross Country meet in East Lansing, Michigan when the meet was run in 8 inches of snow. I was the only runner from my University and got to run against the best runners in America. A wonderful experience!

Do you think Michael Phelps will swim at 75?

I have no idea, but Rowdy Gaines, the former Olympic swimming champion who now does TV analysis for NBC, is now swimming US Masters Swimming at the age of 53. And he's really good.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.