Mark Richards swimming in Fort Lauderdale Florida.

What Swimming Means to Me

After spending over 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 another thirty years, I needed to make some changes. Moving south from Appleton, WI, in 2018, I was looking forward to revising my priorities — more time spent outdoors and less working behind a desk. After spending the last few winters in Florida, I knew I wanted to relocate to Fort Lauderdale and focus on swimming with the Swim Fort Lauderdale (SFTL) US Masters team. My short history with them had already led me to some impressive changes, and I wanted more!

Growing up, I was an age group and high school swimmer. Though not a college swimmer, I did swim with an early Masters team in the 1980s. After graduation, pursuing a career and family crowded out swimming. I was fifty-five and recovering from another soft-tissue injury when I started swimming again at the local YMCA pool. In the winter, I trained with SFTL and my skills improved rapidly. Fast forward six years and I realize swimming, though coming to me later in life, has been life-changing.

Swimming has taken me across the country where I’ve made 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 these friendships together.

Swimming has taken me across the country where I’ve made new friends and strengthened bonds with existing friends through new, shared experiences.

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 in space 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’s bright and sunny, which is an incredibly uplifting experience.

Other days it can be cold, windy, and overcast. No matter! The overcast days keep me humble, and remind me how lucky I am to swim when the sun shines! After practice, I emerge rejuvenated. My body has been wonderfully stressed while my mind has had a break to repair itself and make new connections. I can’t count the number of times I’ve entered the pool with a seemingly tough problem on my mind, only to leave practice with a new perspective or possible

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. Over time, improvements are seen, which provide positive feedback, and the confidence to invest me 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.

Living through these Post COVID days, I realize swimming is also a privilege.

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 “good” genes, acquired illness, or disability, they will tell you they are better off because they swim. We are aging gracefully as 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 youthful attributes, and sustain a positive outlook beyond those living a sedentary lifestyle.

Living through these post-COVID days, I realize swimming is also a privilege. Access to adequate facilities and coaching with proper health protocols over the last year isn’t common. Fortunately, my swimming hiatus was brief because of the Swim Fort Lauderdale coaching staff’s ingenuity, and their credibility with City managers. The pandemic has been very stressful. Without swimming, coping through it would have approached unbearable.

I admire my teammates because each 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 life and achieved incredible successes while 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’m very grateful because swimming has improved my life in so many wonderful ways.

Swimming Bio Line
Mark Richards is the retired Chairman and CEO of Appvion, Inc. headquartered in Appleton, WI. Mark
now lives year-round in Fort Lauderdale, FL where he swims with the Swim Fort Lauderdale US Masters

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