Monday, July 13, 2009

An Inspiration!

Since many are living longer, we may as well work towards good health in the process. This morning, found the following article in the PD and am inspired!

Since moving to Santa Rosa in 1994, Dick Lewis, 80, has rarely missed one of his four-times-a-week swims at the Airport Health Club pool. (CHRIS CHUNG / Press Democrat)

Aquaman at 80

Press Democrat Staff Writer
Published: Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 8:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 8:28 p.m.

The training lanes at the Airport Health Club swimming pool operate on the same principle as an interstate freeway: faster swimmers in the far left lanes, slow-moving traffic to the right. Everyone works out regularly with a pace clock, so the instructors have a pretty good idea where to line people up.

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Dick Lewis: 80-Year-Old Swimmer

When Dick Lewis joined the club 15 years ago, he was 65 years old. He was an accomplished master’s swimmer, in good shape, and he was placed in Lane 2, second from the left among six lanes. Now Lewis is 80, an age when many of his contemporaries are happy to be able to walk around the block a couple of times without wincing.

And he’s still swimming in Lane 2.

“He’s very stubborn in the pool,” said Karen Chequer-Pfeiffer, one of the Airport Club’s three master’s swim instructors and Lewis’ prime taskmaster for the past 15 years. “He doesn’t want to demote himself. He’s a tough old bird.”

Lewis doesn’t act or look 80, and the explanation for his longevity is clear, at least to him. Lewis has never smoked — though his parents, sibling, frat brothers and Army buddies all did — and he swims approximately seven miles a week.

“I enjoy the practices, I enjoy the company of the people,” he said. “And I sort of enjoy the challenge. It may be an ego thing. I want to keep up with the people in my lane. And I get sort of exhilarated. If I don’t get the chance to swim — like illness, or I couldn’t swim when I had my back operation, or my knee operation — my wife says, ‘You’re getting grouchy. Go get your gills wet.’”

At Washington High School in San Francisco, Lewis won the 50- and 100-yard races at the city swim championships in 1947. He swam at Cal, too, and played on the Bears’ excellent water polo team from 1947-1951. But after getting discharged from the Army in 1952, Lewis left the water for two decades. Eventually he decided he needed to get back into shape. He couldn’t really run, because a Chinese shell had gouged out part of his leg in the Korean War in October, 1952.

“That’s my souvenir,” Lewis said recently, pointing to the welter of scar tissue on the side of his left knee.

Lewis, a first lieutenant, was rushed to a MASH unit, and wound up spending seven months in stateside hospitals, waiting for the wound to heal from the inside.

It healed, and Lewis got a Purple Heart, but the leg remained a bit misshapen. The high school social-science teacher knew that if he wanted to shed his love handles and gut, he would have to return to the water. He joined the San Mateo Marlin Masters in 1972, a time and place that would prove to be the big bang of masters swimming. Lewis captured five sixth-place finishes at Masters Nationals for the successful Marlins, medaling in the 200 butterfly and the 400 individual medley.

Lewis and his wife, Anne, moved to her hometown of Santa Rosa in 1994, and he almost immediately found the Airport Club. Since then, he has rarely missed one of his four-times-a-week practices, even when the lip of the pool is icy.

Sure, Lewis took off a little time for surgeries (he had his left knee replaced in 2006). But even the stroke he suffered at 58 was treated as a minor setback. He was out of the pool just two weeks for that one.

Along the way, Lewis discovered another niche: open-water swimming. He competed at Lake Berryessa, Lake Sonoma, Spring Lake and Aquatic Park in San Francisco Bay, among other wavy bodies, and won his age group every time. Yes, sometimes he was the only person in his age group, but he sometimes beat everyone in the next-youngest group, too. Pacific Masters Swimming ranked him No.1 in the men’s 75-79 division.

“I’ve been coaching for over 25 years, and I’ve never seen anyone his age who is able to swim as fast as he does,” said Chequer-Pfeiffer, a long-time triathlete.

Lewis stopped entering races a few years ago. He just didn’t care to invest any more time (he prefers to watch his grandchildren play Little League baseball on weekends) or money.

“When I was in San Mateo, I swam a lot in the pool races,” Lewis said.

“I got a couple shoeboxes full of ribbons and medals. I have a coffee mug that says ‘Open Water Champion’ and gives the age group. It was made in China, and it cost me $500 to get it. Why bother?”

So Lewis is content to swim his 3,000 yards a week and compete not against the world, but against his own times and the other swimmers in his lane. And though he is modest about his accomplishments, Lewis remains an inspiration to the youngsters who swim alongside him.

“Both my parents died in their 70s,” Chequer-Pfeiffer said. “I always say to Dick, I want to be like you when I grow up. If I live to 80 and can be that fit and mentally sharp, I’ll be happy.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or

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Over the years my opinions have changed but this will never change: Jesus Christ, Lord, God and Savior, died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay for my sin.