Swimming & Technique

Could you learn to swim at 72?

Did you know that the total number of muscle fibers you have in your body reduce with age?

This saddening wee fact may cause a number of people to believe that acquiring new skills as an adult would be near-impossible.

It’s not.

I’ve got a story to tell of an exceptional woman I met at AUT Millennium. Penny Slack is an Everyday Champion. She may not have a wall decorated with medals or mantle piece heaving with trophies, but Penny is indisputably a champion.

Here’s why….

Active oldies are awesome. The seniors in our communities who get out for a walk or swim every day without fail. They aren’t tethered to their phones and the rush of modernity does little to effect their routine and happiness.

I have a lot of respect for the seniors I’ve witnessed training at AUT Millennium. They’re consistent and habitual, they move about the place with steely concentration and a well-planned session.

While swim training at AUT Millennium, I begun to notice an older woman getting ready for her swim. I didn’t really think twice about it. I swim six days a week after all.

That was until the 1st of August 2015.

The ‘First Splash’ event provided an opportunity to take a look around the new Sir Owen G. Glenn National Aquatic Centre.

That’s when I officially met Penny.

Penny was the older woman I had seen at the pool so often; at 81 years old she was swimming every second day! I have heard of a number of people swimming at this age and even later, but what impressed me about Penny was how long she had been swimming for.

At 72, Penny had her first ever swimming lesson.

That in itself is incredible. As a swim teacher, I know how difficult it can be to learn to swim.

The fear of submerging for the first time, learning to roll and breath, kicking without spaghetti legs. Not only did Penny have to learn right from the beginning, but at 72, her strength and flexibility was likely to be limited.

What really struck me about Penny was her energy. The world vitality really suited her.

She displayed a level of persistence many younger athletes would struggle to match.

Despite having had only a couple of lessons, Penny was determined to master the life-skill of swimming.

She turned to books for help. They explained that the key to swimming was repetition, or time spent in the water. With a positive attitude, and tenacious desire Penny persisted with her swimming alone.

I admire that.

Swimming can be extremely hard at times, not just physically but mentally.

The pool doesn’t change, the line on the bottom doesn’t change, the only way to improve sometimes is to change your attitude.

When my alarm shatters the silence of a beautiful sleep, I often think about how lucky I am to know how to swim. How fortunate I have been to experience travel, competition and challenge through competitive swimming.

Meeting Penny and seeing the love she has for swimming helped remind me why I do this ridiculously hard sport.


PS… Check out this short video on Penny competing at her first ever competition, The 2017 World Masters Games!

Also published on AUT Millennium


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