Blog: The Fitness Zone
I often talk about the virtues of the Port Nelson Sea Swims.
The Thursday night events are remarkable for their friendliness and the lack of age barriers.
Swimmers as young as 7 or 8 take part regularly and the oldest swimmer, 78-year-old Kerry Bateman, hasn't missed any of the 16 swims so far this year.
Not only that, the older participants are just as competitive as the younger ones - swimmers don't slow down an awful lot as they age, they just train a little less.
A particularly strong group are the teenage girls. Of the top 10 women this season, six of them are teenagers. These young swimmers are high achievers in the classroom and on the playing field as well.
Ironman NZ celebrates its 30th birthday tomorrow.
A field of 1700 will line up for the 3.8km swim start on the shores of Lake Taupo.
Those that survive the 2-hour cutoff will go in to bike 180km and end their day with a 42.2km marathon run.
Why do they do it?
Each one has their own goal, from age group or elite medal honours to merely crossing the finish line.
A constant refrain of mine is the way swimmers of all ages can compete with very little decline accompanying advancing years.
There's no doubt that it's an advantage to be young, but of the top 10 men in the Port Nelson Sea Swim Series, only half are teenagers. Matthew Hansen is in his 30s, Jody Keefe-Laing his 20s, Simon Kneebone and Jon Linyard in their 40s and Ben Van Dyke in his 60s. Denis Cooper has missed a few swims, so is in 11th place, but he's in his 50s and a regular top-10 finisher.
In the women's series, teenagers also dominate, but the top 10 swimmers include Kerry Mathieson, 46, Jude Vincent, 51, Megan Falloon, 28, and Christina Harris, 50.
The point of the sea swim series really isn't about finding who's best. The greatest satisfaction comes from seeing people who aren't particularly good and are often timid, grow in confidence as they find that the sea's not such a fearful place after all.
Children as young as 7 or 8 may be tentative at first, but they soon grow into the sport.
It's hard to believe I've been writing this column for more than a decade. That certainly shows a lack of imagination.
The plan has always been to herald the unsung heroes of sport and fitness; the ordinary people who achieve amazing feats.
Inevitably, sometimes I fret about what to write about. It's a favourite midnight activity when I can't sleep. Often, I sit down at the keyboard and interview myself - much as I'm doing now.
Although I've given up running and biking, at least for the time being, I'm still keeping in touch and in my spare time doing more swimming.
It's hard to give up, really. On Saturdays we have a 7am training session at Riverside Pool, organised by the Nelson Triathlon Club. It would be easy to sleep in, but if you don't swim, you feel a bit sheepish about turning up for the post-swim breakfast and coffee session - and it's a great chance to catch up with friends.
When I was young, modelling myself on my elders, I imagined a kind of pipe and slippers existence when I got older.
By "older", I meant the age I would be when the new century came around (if I lived that long), by which time I would have been 51.
How things change. When it comes to exercise, the expectations of my father's generation are not those of mine.
Fitness is no longer the domain of the young. My most active years in triathlon started when I turned 55, when I could finally spare the time to train and could find the money to travel (even if it was an extravagance).
I never did very well, but race goals gave me the incentive to continue a vigorous exercise programme, provided many good memories and introduced me to many fine people, who became my friends.
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