David Purser had not swam competitively in nearly five decades, when he made the decision he wanted to get back in the pool.
In fact, Purser’s last swimming competition came as an East Mecklenburg senior when he was 18 years old for Coach Jim Oddo who went onto to become a legendary football coach at Charlotte Catholic.
But, when the 68-year old, South Charlotte native finally dove back into his first competition, it was like old times.
I never really meant to stop swimming, but life just happened from going to fight in Vietnam to starting my own flooring business to having a family.
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Purser’s first swim meet since 1966 came at the Sunbelt Swim Meeton Jan. 21-22 at the Mecklenburg County Aquatic Center in uptown Charlotte, when he swam in five individual events and three relays, competing in the 65-69 age group.
Purser took first-place in the 100 individual medley and both the 200 freestyle and medley relays, while also collecting a 2nd-place finish in the 50 butterfly. He is a Mecklenburg Swim Association swimmer.
The meet wasn’t without some nervous moments as Purser forgot to wear his goggles in first event, the 50 backstroke, and false started in the 100 freestyle.
But when Purser found out he won the 100 individual medley in his first meet in five decades, the joy of winning rushed back.
“I couldn’t believe I won the 100 individual medley because it was my first meet back against some good swimmers,” said Purser, who also won the 100 IM at the Frank Clark Invitational in Greensboroon Feb. 26, finishing second in the 50 freestyle. “Winning that event took me back to when I won my first race when I was 9 years old at the Johnston YMCA. It’s crazy to think it had been 60 years since I started swimming.”
Purser started his swimming career at age 9 at the Johnston YMCA in Charlotte under the tutelage of legendary, Charlotte area swim coach Franke Bell.
Bell, who is now in International Swim Coaches’ Hall of Fame, was also Pursers’ motivation to get back in the pool.
“When I found out Franke (Bell) was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, I knew I was going to the ceremony with a bunch of swimmers, so I wanted to say I was swimming, again,” Purser said. “So, I decided to start swimming laps about three times a week at the Jewish Community Center. …
“I never really meant to stop swimming, but life just happened from going to fight in Vietnam to starting my own flooring business to having a family. But now, it’s great to be back in the pool.”
Purser, who served in the military as an Army Ranger, says he was also motivated to swim for Coach Patty Waldron.
Waldron, who coached for SwimMAC Carolinas for 30-plus years and is Charlotte Latin’s boys’ and girls’ swim coach, also started with coach Bell. Waldron now coaches the masters’ program for the Mecklenburg Swim Association.
While Purser admits he “is a competitive person,” he says it’s not all about winning, instead about enjoying the sport.
Purser says his training partner, Bill Hughes, 70, is a major help because they push each other in their three, morning practice sessions each week.
Purser also has a passion for his work, where he is semi-retired, but still takes on a few jobs per year for his Purser Wood Floors. In March, Purser and his older brother, Michael, are restoring the floors in Henry Ford’s Detroit home.
While life has taken Purser in many directions, he admits rediscovering his passion for swimming has inspired him. His story is also inspiring others.
“I’m so excited that a guy who is 68 years young, wants to get back in the pool and compete,” coach Waldron said. “A lot of times life takes you away from swimming and then life brings you back. It’s very inspiring to see that David decided to swim, again, after these years.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.