No, they’re not members of the U.S. Olympic swim team. They’re members of the Sun City Summerlin Swim Club. But don’t take that lightly, because some of them have competed against the swimming elite, gaining fame and their share of medals.
And just in case you think life can’t begin at 60, 70, 80, or even 90, while strongly competing in the back- or breaststroke or freestyle swimming, then think again. That’s because the Sun City swimmers just might comprise the largest and most talented team to compete in the Nevada Senior Games next month.
They swim at the indoor pool at the Desert Vista Community Center, 10360 Sun City Blvd., every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
"We swim for health and fun," club president Dick Edmister said.
Swimming for health is why I joined the club. After double back surgery several months ago, my doctor urged me to spend at least half an hour in the pool, five days a week. "You’ll find that it’s the best form of exercise," he said. There are those like me who swim and exercise in the Desert Vista pool for health and fun.
Then there are others in the 43-member club whose competitive backgrounds read like a who’s who in the world of swimming.
There’s Darlene Rogers, who two months ago competed in the U.S. Masters Swimming events at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., home of the U.S. Olympic team. Rogers, the club’s instructor, is available "to help anyone, from beginners to competitive swimmers."
She is also the club’s coach, and she’ll be leading a team into the Nevada Senior Games swimming events, scheduled for Oct. 6 and 7 at the Desert Breeze Aquatic Facility, 8275 Spring Mountain Road.
"In past years we’ve had as many as 15 participants in the games," said Rogers. "We’re probably the largest of the senior swim clubs in Las Vegas."
In the last two years, Sun City club members have won almost 40 medals in the Nevada Senior Games.
One of the club’s most talented members is Freddy Leipziger, 84, who has won numerous medals over the years in international competition. But Leipziger is recuperating from shoulder surgery and won’t be competing in the senior games this year.
"I haven’t swam since a year ago," he said. "But I’m undergoing therapy, and I hope to be back in the pool soon."
Leipziger, who grew up in Brazil, earned a four-year swimming scholarship to the University of Miami in 1954, after swimming competitively while a member of the U.S. Army for three years.
He proudly explained how he went back to Brazil four years ago and won five events in a national tournament.
"Six years ago, I had the third-best time in the 50-meter butterfly, and I came in seventh in the 50-meter breaststroke in a U.S. Masters tournament at Stanford University, where 6,000 swimmers from all over the world competed," he recalled.
Stan Bjonerud and his wife, Dorothy, have been members of the club since they moved to Sun City 15 years ago. Both have competed in the Nevada Senior Games in the past.
"We each have gold and silver medals that we won in the games," said Stan, a past club president.
"Dorothy and I have been swimmers all our lives. In fact, we met as a result of our strong involvement in swimming," he said, explaining how swimming eventually brought them to the altar. "At the time, we lived in the same apartment complex in San Francisco, and we both swam regularly."
Walt Butler, a member of the club for 17 years, has won numerous medals competing in tournaments in Nevada and Utah.
"I’d prefer that you write about Jim Pearce," Butler said modestly, referring to one of the club’s founders. "Pearce will be 99 this month, and he’s still swimming, although he moved to North Carolina a few years ago to be near his son. He was a close friend of Jesse Owens, the black runner who won all those medals in the 1936 Olympics."
Ironically, Pearce, who was one of the greatest swimmers of his time, wasn’t allowed to participate in those Olympics "because of the color of his skin," Butler explained.
Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. His newest novel, "All For Nothing," is now available. Contact him at email@example.com.