Getting older doesn’t have to mean the end of swimming or triathlon. Keeping our dreams alive as we get older is key to continued performance. Swimming maturity brings experience, dedication and ingenuity. Let’s inspire you with some of the most remarkable achievements from older athletes.
Madonna Buder - The Iron Nun
Catholic Nun Madonna Buder (born July 24, 1930), also known as the “Iron Nun” holds the current world record for the oldest woman to ever finish an Ironman Triathlon. She accomplished this feat at Ironman Canada in 2012 at the age of 82 years old.
She began training at the age of 48 after being told by Father John that it would be good for tweaking, “mind, body and spirit.” It was also recommended to her as a relaxing and calming past time. She completed her first triathlon at age 52 and her first Ironman at age 55. She has completed 325 triathlons of which 45 were Ironman distances.
Thanks to the Iron Nun, the Ironman organization has had to add new age group brackets. In 2005, at the world championships in Kona at age 75, she became the oldest woman to complete the race.
On being asked how she does it, she answered, “I train religiously!”
Diana Nyad - Find a way
In 2013, at age 64, Diana became the first documented swimmer to successfully swim the 180 kilometers from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage. It took her 53 hours to complete the journey. It had been a dream of hers for most of her life, her first attempt was back in 1978 at age 28.
Diana started training again for this tough swim in 2010 at the tender age of 61. Two attempts in 2011 and one in 2012 failed, but she didn’t give up, believing that it was only a matter of time before she achieved her dream. And it was, as she succeeded with her 5th attempt.
Diana, well known in long distance swimming circles, still holds the distance record for non-stop swimming without a wetsuit, from Bimini to Florida. She accomplished this feat in 1979, swimming a distance of 164kms in under 28hrs. Wowzers.
She also broke numerous world records, including the 45-year-old mark for circling Manhattan, 45 kilometers, in 7 hours and 57 minutes.
Nyad’s response to the question of why she had put herself through this very challenging and grueling ordeal, “I wanted to teach myself some life lessons at the age of 60 and one of them was that you don’t give up.”
See her Tedtalk here.
Anthony Ervin - Chasing water
Anthony Lee Ervin (born May 26, 1981) is an American competition swimmer who has won four Olympic medals and two World Championship golds.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics, 16 years after his first Olympic gold medal, he won the 50 freestyle for the second time, at the age of 35, becoming the oldest individual Olympic gold medal winner in swimming history.
Anthony won the 50-meter freestyle gold at the 2000 Olympics. He retired at age 22 in 2003. Remarkably he auctioned off his Gold Medal on eBay to raise money for the survivors of the 2004 tsunami.
Anthony is undoubtably the all-round nice guy and comeback king and has this to say about it all, “The cheers and celebration are not supposed to be about proving myself over others but GIVING MY ALL despite the limits of my humanity.” Wise words indeed.
Dara Torres - Age is just a number
Dara Torres (born April 15, 1967) is the first swimmer to represent the United States in five Olympic Games, and at age 41, the oldest swimmer to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team.
Her appearance at the 2008 Olympic Games was her second comeback. Her first being at the 2000 Games in Sydney, where at 33 years of age, she won five medals. She just seemed to get better with age and broke the 50 meter freestyle American National record numerous times in her successful second comeback. She also held three world records in this event in her swimming career.
At the 2008 Games, Torres won three silver medals — missing gold in the 50 free by 0.01 seconds. She became the oldest swimmer ever to win an Olympic medal. She has won at least one medal at every Olympic Games she has competed in, which makes her only one of a handful of Olympians to do so.
Dara also holds a couple of the best quotes we’ve seen for why age is only a number. “The water doesn’t know how old you are,” and most importantly, “Never put an age limit on your dreams.”
We agree wholeheartedly with that and quite frankly have nothing more to add. When age is just a number, all you have to do is get on out there and have a blast.