He learned to swim in a chilly, spring-fed Wisconsin pool as a child of the Depression. Today, he’s still trying to perfect his breaststroke.
At 92, Ole Larson is one of the nation’s oldest competitors in U.S. Masters Swimming.
This weekend, Larson, a resident of Boone, N.C., travels to Charlotte to compete in six individual events at the 40th annual Sunbelt meet at Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center. He holds six U.S. Masters national records, in breaststroke and distance freestyle events.
Larson spoke with the Observer about life, sports and why he trains almost daily.
Q: Have you always been athletic?
A: I’ve been pretty much of a jock all my life. I grew up in the Depression, so you were always looking for things to do. I was in a boxing program in the sixth grade. I played tennis, and I played in the national open for boys sometime in the 1930s.
Q: When did you start swimming?
A: I swam age-group swimming during the summer and at the YMCA. The YMCA pool was really unusual. They used spring water, and they never did heat it. It was during the time when you swam bare and it was in the upper 60s or low 70s.
Q: What makes a good coach?
A: I don’t know, I had to be myself and I worked hard. I was willing to get up at 4 in the morning, and I had a pretty good rapport with the kids. I was pretty calm. I think I learned early that coaches who were on the sideline and thinking about the game were better than the coaches who got all excited.
Q: Why do you enjoy swimming so much?
A: If I’m working on my breaststroke, I can think about what I’m doing and try to get the thing right and get all the parts that have to fit together. It’s just a great relief. I feel comfortable in the water and feel great when I get out. I sleep well, and my health is good.
Q: Has the sport contributed to your longevity?
A: Yeah, of course. I’ve had a couple narrow escapes, and the doctors have told me that swimming is the thing that saved my life.
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