The life aquatic

ANOTHER LAP: Bill Devonshire makes his way through the early morning water at the Lido.
ANOTHER LAP: Bill Devonshire makes his way through the early morning water at the Lido.

Bill Devonshire still enjoys making a splash. Every weekday morning at 6am sharp, the 77-year-old turns up at the Lido, and "echo-sounding" the words of Palmerston North poet Tim Upperton: "In a lane as straight as a child's rule, I swim another lap of the pool".

In fact, Bill swims 1.6 kilometres, which is 64 lengths of the Lido's 25-metre John Boldt indoor pool.

"I'm built for endurance, not for speed," Bill admits. "When I was younger I used to swim 2km, you know, at my own pace."

The septuagenarian has been a regular at the Lido for the past 40 years, but the pool wasn't always open all year round. In earlier years, it closed during the winter months, with Labour Weekend marking the beginning of the swim season, but 40 years is a remarkable achievement.

Bill has always swum. In a folder where he files his "snip bits" and mementos, Bill still keeps swimming and life-saving certificates he achieved at his Pahiatua primary school. And for the record, as a lad he clocked the old mile - 1760 yards (1609 metres) - the distance he still ploughs through every weekday morning before most people eat breakfast.

"I do all strokes, bar butterfly, but quite a bit of backstroke. I follow the lines on the roof," he grins.

Swimming is a habit he has just kept up.

"I look at the young bucks powering up and down the lanes and wonder how many of them will keep up with their swimming."

He hopes they will.

"It's such good exercise."

In the 1986-87 Lido season, Bill swam 300 kilometres, and he has documentation to prove it.

During the Lido's 2009 month-long Go For Gold promotion, he managed 107.65 kilometres - easily surpassing the "gold standard", which was 65 kilometres.

He applauds the Lido swim team and Sport Manawatu's efforts and initiatives to encourage people of all ages to be physically active.

"I was always keen on fitness, and was pretty active as a youngster. As well as swimming, I also played rugby, cricket, tennis and badminton."

He and wife, Zelma, have five children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, but so far only two of his progeny seem interested in the water.

When not making like a fish (incidentally, his star sign is Aquarius), Bill cycles.

After retiring from a long and distinguished career in the dairy industry aged 59, he bought a bike and took to the road. Bill still has that same bike and reckons he's clocked up more than 82,000kms on it.

"I love cycling. I just love it. We have such lovely amenities here," Bill enthuses.

"People really don't appreciate what we've got. You can't beat being outside on a bike."

Among his favourite rides are the riverside cycle tracks.

Bill bikes about 16kms a day Monday to Friday, and 40kms on Saturdays and Sundays. Even three accidents in recent years resulting in hospitalisation haven't deterred him. He's been hit by cars twice, and came off his cycle during last winter's snowfall.

"My family want me to get an exercise bike," the self-confessed fitness freak said, "But I'm going to keep right on cycling."

And, of course, swimming.

* The lines "In a lane as straight as a child's rule, I swim another lap of the pool" is from The drill's bright bit, its tip, its jewel, a villanelle by Tim Upperton.

* April 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the Lido's John Boldt indoor pool.

Manawatu Standard