US nationals, health reasons to keep swimming at Washington State Senior Games

Tom Taylor had zero interest in returning to the pool.

The desire to swim left the moment he graduated from high school.

“I hadn’t swam in 25 years. Then in 1974, I get a call from a complete stranger,” the 83-year-old Federal Way resident said. “I have no idea how he got my number, but he was looking to form a swim club.”

Even though his answer was no, Taylor was asked to take three weeks and think it over.

“Three weeks to the hour he calls again,” Taylor said. “Again, I say no and again he says to take three more weeks to decide. Another three weeks go by, but when he calls this time I said ‘What can I do to get you to stop calling?’ He said come to one of our meetings. So I did. I was hooked after that.”

Taylor, who has swam competitively since that chance phone call, continued his 40-year-long swim by competing in six events at the 18th annual Washington State Senior Games on Sunday at the Briggs Community YMCA.

Twenty-two events in 10 age groups — with swimmers ranging in age from 50 to 96 — were contested with the top four finishers qualifying for the 2015 National Senior Games, which will be held July 3-16 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Everyone is looking to advance to nationals,” event director Mel Smith said. “That’s definitely one of the reasons our numbers are up this year.”

A trip to the National Senior Games was certainly a driving factor for Taylor, who has family in Minnesota, but it pales by comparison to what he’s gotten out of the sport.

“Two different cardiologists told me that if I didn’t take up swimming I would have been at risk for a heart attack,” Taylor said. “It’s low impact and all cardio. My times get slower as I get older, but it’s perfect for me.”

While Taylor was participating in his first Senior Games, husband and wife swimmers Jack and Jill Fritz have made the trek from Marysville the past seven years to compete locally.

“We met on a ski slope, but we went swimming on our first date,” said Jack Fritz, 83. “I grew up on Lake Michigan and her mom was a member of a national record-holding relay team in the 1930s. We both had a swimming background, but didn’t know it when we met on the slopes.”

Both Jack Fritz and the 74-year-old Jill Fritz competed in the maximum six events, qualifying for nationals in all six.

The couple estimate they swim three times a week, averaging 1,600 to 2,000 yards during a 90-minute workout.

“Even when you have aches and pains, and don’t want to do it, you still get in the water,” Jill Fritz said. “You do it long enough, you get to the point that you miss it if you don’t do it.”

Fife’s Tammy Wilson posted winning times in the 100-yard freestyle (1 minute, 6.57 seconds), 50 breaststroke (38.6 seconds), 50 individual medley (2:41.21), 200 freestyle (2:24.84) and 100 breaststroke (1:22.82).

The 56-year-old Wilson won both the 50- and 100-yard breaststroke at the 2013 National Senior Games in record-setting times. She finished the 50 breaststroke in 35.72 and the 100 in 1:19.60, which was six seconds faster than the previous national high mark.

Also qualifying for nationals was 62-year-old Elizabeth Kassen, the 2013 national runner-up in the 200 IM and 500 freestyle (60-64 age group).

Smith briefly stepped away as the event’s director to swim in a pair of events. The 71-year-old, who is also the head swim coach at Olympia High school, swam the 200 freestyle (3:11.34) and 500 free (7:55.67).

“I am so much happier this year. I wasn’t able to get in the water last time,” said Smith, who was sidelined last year and unable to swim following knee surgery. “Last year I had a knee brace on and was walking around with a cane. This year I was able to get in the pool.”

Olympia’s Evelyn Hoffman was the event’s oldest competitor at 96.