Rich Abrabams, 66 years old, is an anomaly, a retirement-age athletic super-star with abs a 16 year old would envy.
But is Rich really an anomaly of health and fitness? Sure, he's at the top end of the scale, but his level of health is achievable for anyone with the discipline to swim and train hard consistently. (I'm certain Rich would tell you the same thing.)
It's been known for thousands of years that water is healing and swimming is the best activity for physical fitness. It's low-impact, taking the weight off of your joints, and it works all systems. Period. You don't need to know much more. Just swim!
Rich swims. That's his fountain of youth; physically, emotionally, spiritually. When you meet Rich, you feel his power. He's full of energy and life.
I was lucky enough to meet Rich by accident, and it's a story I share often and enthusiastically. During the 2008 Olympic Trials, I dropped in on a masters swim practice, a solid 3,500 yard workout. In the next lane was this guy, a fast guy, one I couldn't shake. I could dophlin kick off each wall and get a nice margin on him, but he always managed to catch me at the other end of the pool. This guy looked older, but I couldn't place his age, 40, maybe, I thought, prematurely gray.
At the end of practice, I wanted to do a 25 yard fly. I do that from time to time as a check, a measure of my own age and mortality. I feel I should always be around 10 seconds flat. If I can't clock a 10 flat, I need to practice more.
As I stepped up onto the blocks, the guy, that guy who I couldn't shake in practice asked, "Mind if I race next to you?"
"Sure," I said, seeing upclose that he was ripped, in absolutely phenomenal shape, but closer to 50, not 40 years old. I can take this guy, I thought. No mercy. Hammer time!
Some perspective. I swim 25 flys because my sprint fly is faster than freestyle. While the guy was swimming free, if I wanted to race to win, I would choose fly anyway.
We raced. I dolphin kicked long, past the 15 yard mark, cheating because I saw that I wasn't leaving this guy behind. He was right there, off my shoulder. I popped up about 18 yards in, and sure enough he passed me, touching in about 9.6. I was sub 10 seconds, barely...but the loser.
Getting out I shook his hand and thanked him for the race. He must've seen my disappointment (and slight depression). Very sincerely and compassionately, he said, "It's okay, I'm a masters national champion."
The guy, I later found out, was Rich Abrahams, a swimming legend, truly one of the greatest swimmers in history. That's a real distinction we, in the swimming community, must make in this age of the masters swimmer.
Rich has achieved more than many Oympians, on balance, career-wise: 37 FINA Masters World Records, 10 gold medals from Masters World Championships.
Rich is a true super-star, and a great ambassador for the sport...and, one day, when I growup, I hope to be just like him.
Congratulations Rich for recently being inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame. You deserve it and every accolade that comes you way.