After spending more than three decades working in business and raising a family, I was a little more than overdue addressing my lifestyle. If I was ever going to make it more than 30 years, I needed to make some changes.

Looking forward to revising my priorities (more time spent outdoors and less working behind a desk), I moved from Appleton, Wisconsin to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2018. After spending a few winters in Florida, I knew I wanted to live there and swim for Swim Fort Lauderdale. My short history with them had already led me to some impressive changes and I wanted more.

I swam age group and in high school and although I didn’t swim in college, I did swim with a Masters program in the 1980s. But pursuing a career and family crowded out swimming after graduation.

I was 55 and recovering from a soft tissue injury when I started swimming again at a local Y. In winter I trained with Swim Fort Lauderdale, and my skill improved rapidly. Six years later I realize, swimming, something I haven’t come back to until late in life, has been life changing.

Swimming has taken me across the country where I have met new friends and strengthened bonds with existing friends through new shared experiences. Swimming formed the solid foundation on which these friendships have been built.

There’s something about struggling through a tough set, pushing each other to go faster or sustaining yourself through the set that builds connections with people. As time passes, friendships develop, other common interests are uncovered, personal stories are exchanged, and trust and mutual respect are developed. Through it all, swimming is the tie that binds all these friendships together.

Swimming is my mental escape. The moment I enter the pool, the world goes silent. I engage in a coordinated effort to power through the water using touch, sight, and muscular contractions to efficiently move forward.

There are no distractions to interfere. My mind is focused on where my body is positioned and how best to expend energy to work effectively through the next set. Those of us fortunate enough to train outdoors each day, have the added benefit of the weather to further stimulate our senses.

Some days it is bright and sunny which is an incredibly uplifting experience. Yes there are days when it’s cold, windy and overcast, in Fort Lauderdale. But it doesn’t matter! Those days keep me humble and remind me how lucky I am to swim when the sun shines.

After every practice, I emerge rejuvenated. My body has been wonderfully stressed and my mind has had a break to repair itself and make new connections. I can’t count the number of times I’ve entered with a seemingly tough problem on my mind, only leave practice with a new perspective or possible position.

Someone once said, 80% of success in life is just showing up. Well, that applies in swimming too. Swimming builds my confidence. Showing up to practice each day and actively working on my strokes leads to increased proficiency.

Proficiency facilitates capacity which leads to speed. Overtime improvements are seen, which provide positive feedback and the confidence to invest myself further. I call this my growth cycle and it feels great.

Naturally this confidence carries over into my ability to take on other challenges I encounter in daily life. Swimming when combined with a healthy diet, has strengthened my body and enabled my active lifestyle. Swimming is my fountain of youth.

I look at my teammates, and no matter what cards they’ve been dealt with respect to genes, acquired illness, or disability, they’ll tell you, they are better off because they swim. We are aging gracefully because swimming builds muscle mass and core strength.

Swimming stresses my body and stimulates it to adapt, repair and grow. Swimming enables me to stay active, retain useful attributes and sustain a positive outlook beyond those living a sedentary lifestyle. Living through these pandemic days, I realize swimming is also a privilege. Access to adequate facilities and coaching with proper health protocols over the past 20 months isn’t common.

Fortunately, my swimming hiatus was brief because of the Swim Fort Lauderdale coaching staff’s ingenuity and credibility with the city. The pandemic has been very stressful. Without swimming, coping through it would have approached unbearable.

I admire my teammates because each of them is unique and has an incredible story, with swimming typically playing a large part. My teammates make me a better person. They give me perspective. Some teammates have been swimming their entire lives and achieved incredible successes and others like me, came to it later and enjoy the spirit, camaraderie and thrill of being part of a competitive team.

These diverse stories enrich my life. They expose me to perspectives I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for swimming. I am grateful because swimming has improved my life in so many wonderful ways.

Mark R Richards

Swim Fort Lauderdale

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