Category Archives: Swimming

OTS Swim Camp – Crashing Barriers

Pre Warm-up

It’s day three, our second two-session day when Stefano and Katie join the group. The rest of us are just easing through the pain barrier – still creaking our joints, sinews and muscles. This morning we have Pamela from Italy coaching. She tells Stefano , in Italian, that he’s not getting away with anything. She has a loud commanding voice but she looks too small and young to be a real Italian Mama. There’s a lot of work with fins – freestyle mainly. We do lots on our sides, with one arm out front and the other at 90⁰ sticking up in the air. Then there’s various relaxed movement of this arm – touching hip, shoulder, head, water before changing sides. I note that the side kick is faster than kicking on the front, face down.

Katie

I check with Ben for an explanation. When kicking up and down, there is not as much water above the feet to move about, whereas on the side there is a whole pool full of water to move about. This sounds like another plug for rotation. It’s also good to note the difference with the shallow and faster backstroke kick and with fins on I seem to be speeding along at a rate of nots. The relief at taking off the fins after such a long session is dramatic. My feet no longer have heavy things attached, with the result that I kick more and faster. It’s good to get the point though experience.

Phil and I are joined by Ed for lunch – we stumble upon a German restaurant where the set menu starts with tapas, followed by meat dumplings made with loving care and served in a caper sauce and new potatoes.

Starts

Our evening session is Butterfly with Ally. What a time for Dan to finally join us after travel delays. It’s virtually all kicks and drills and I’m glad as I don’t fancy doing multiple 50m lengths of fly.  After all, I only ever do one length of it in the Individual Medley, regardless of the pool length.

Starts

Ally’s speciality is 50m fly and he confesses that he’s never had to pay too much attention to turns.  Fly turns are fairly similar, if not identical, to breaststroke turns. Some people have never done a backstroke turn – they know who

More wild flowers on the beach

they are – so there are a few trials and errors.

On Thursday morning, Pam takes us though drills again, but we do more swimming. Phil and I have an average set menu involving Hake for lunch (the beer is nice) before setting off for the naturist beach to the East.

Growing though the rock
Wild flowers

The map shows a road through countryside where birds might be seen. The road is, however, marked private and we have to re-trace our steps to walk along the beaches and coastal paths. There aren’t many birds in the mid-afternoon and the land adjoining the coast is all fenced off and marked ‘Private’ in three languages.

Coastal route

After an hour or so walking, we reach Playa ses Roquettes and take turns to guard our stuff while the other goes in for a swim. There aren’t many people here – half a dozen at the most. The water is somewhere between 16-18⁰c and very refreshing.

Playa ses Roquettes

Open water enthusiasts might call it too warm but we don’t stay in for long and have to climb over a mountain of dead sea grass to get in and out. There are more birds on the way back and we follow the shore right around to the harbour area and the new part of town. It’s clear that development has gone East and our hotel and the swimming pool are on the West side of town.

Harbour beer

It’s time for a beer overlooking the harbour. The others had returned to the Western Beach where Christophe created amazing human sculptures with the OTS group. Shared with compliments of  OTS WhatsApp.

Body Art – OTS WhatsApp
Body art OTS WhatsApp

Friday and it’s Pam again and I’m finding her drills excellent. Katie and I are getting great feedback. She reminds me that I’m neglecting my push through – I’ve lapsed into short strokes again. There is such a lot to remember. and at this point on the week I’m taking the occasional 100 metres out to rest.

OTS Body art
O-T-S on the sand

Lunch is a group affair – it’s the only time we have the full team together and this is the last opportunity. We return to the same restaurant – Beach House – where we were on Monday. Slivers of roast pork from between the ribs with smoked mashed potatoes are

Fernando

delicious and beautifully presented.

For the evening session we have most of the pool and Ally sets us off on what he calls a ‘Short warm-up’. This turns out to be 8 x 100’s alternating freestyle and choice (not freestyle) then 8 x 50s – drill 25m swim 25m doing all four strokes. I take a rest on the backstroke as I need it and I’m not quite reconciled with the sun glare and the lane ropes. I explain to Ally that the others need the backstroke work (joke) but he tells me that my backstroke is fine. The rest of the session is dives and turns. This is where it’s useful to have OTS volunteer coaches around to give extra feedback. We finish early so we can do a  group photo before people begin to fly home.

OTS Mallorca

Our last day, Saturday is also a two-session affair, but the morning is overcast and cold. This is the fun session with swim caps as prizes and after the warm-up there are competitions for various skills: The longest push-off glide; longest breaststroke push-off to breakout; greatest distance underwater dolphin kick with fins; backwards front crawl – hilarious and impossible. Then it’s relay time. Ally attempts to form three teams of six, but some people are not competing (too cold, too tired, too hung-over).

Waddah

Rory comes to the rescue and rearranges everything. Simon and Paul are persuaded to join my team. The first relay race is freestyle, which we don’t win. There’s now a discussion about the Medley. Both Paul and I are back-strokers but none of the others can or want to do 50m Fly. In the end Paul does the fly and I the backstroke, leaving the others to do 2 x Breast and 2 x freestyle. We win that one, in spite of hangovers. The last relay is with a pull-boy, passed to the next swimmer and both Ed and I are fairly slow at this. The result is that each team wins one relay each.

Katie

I seriously consider not doing the usual cover-up with sunblock for our last evening session as the sky is completely overcast and it’s cold. Someone warns that I could still get burnt and so relent. It’s Pamela again with lots of great drills, kicking on the side with fins and arms in the air are all good. Pam really does pay attention to details and is still giving individual advice. It’s not too exhausting and we only swim for an hour – a request from the Eurovision fans amongst us who ‘have to get ready’. Actually, my body has had enough – time for a snooze before our last night in town.

Spain is singing – Eurovision

Our social secretaries have sorted out a pub/restaurant not far away who can get BBC television. They’ve negotiated a meal (pizza) and drinks deal with the Indians who run the place. Having declared publicly that the only pizzas worth eating are in Italy or Islington, I think these ones are quite good. The more senior of the group gather early on one table as we’re desperate for beer. The youngsters arrive in dribs and drabs.

Drag at Eurovision

Paul and Stephen C have gone to great lengths with their drag outfits and look amazing. I’m not really a fan of drag, but they both manage to look glamorous so full marks. I’ve only ever watched Eurovision once – I had nothing else to do. It is a gay thing – so our table, critical of the standard of composition, lyrics, production etc mumble quietly to each other. There are a few surprisingly good efforts, but my interest wanes and having shared a bottle of rough red wine with Phil and Nick find a moment to drift off and pack for an early drive to the airport the next morning. I catch up on the rest of the evening via the WhatsApp group playing pool and mingling with the locals.

The after party

It’s been a great week and I’ve managed every session – something I didn’t expect to achieve. Some of the guys are talking about a holiday, but I don’t think so, it’s been hard work. Besides, when you are retired, life doesn’t demarcate between work and holidays in the way it used to. Activities line up on the continuum of experience to make the most of and enjoy whatever comes along.

 

 

Mallorca – Best Swim Centre

Off to Swim Mallorca

Sur Mallorca Hotel

Colonia Saint Jordie is a sleepy resort near the southern most point of the island of Mallorca. The town clusters around a rocky outcrop jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. Having had a day of travel delays, and a missed flight at Barcelona, I’m anxious to find Phil at Palma Airport. He’s not answering his phone or replying to texts or WhatsApp messages. I know he’s been delayed and I want to sort out a second driver for the hire car. I sit and wait. The two possibilities are that he’s fallen asleep in the airport waiting or that he hasn’t arrived yet. Eventually he turns up – he was in the air on flight mode. Phil’s Sat Nav app delivers us to a very swanky hotel just up the road from the Best Swim Centre. Reception has no record of us and it turns out that we’re in the tower block sitting on the end of the rocky promontory a couple of stars lower down the scale. However, I do have a 190 degree sea view.

Best Centre Elite Swimming Training

It’s a short walk to the Best Centre, our Swim Camp home for the next six days, and the Out to Swim guys plus a couple from Y Swim gather at the hotel reception at 10.40. The pool is fifty metres and we have four lanes supervised by James and Ally. As I quite often swim in the same lane as Fernando and Waddaah, I join them in lane three. James asks if we have any requests and a couple of us mention breaststroke – others want starts and turns. The warm up is 200 Freestyle, 200 backstroke, 100 breaststroke then kicks & pull coming to around 800m.

Our training pool

Ben (OTS coach) tells me I’m too fast for lane three. I now have the option to join lane two where James is doing a breaststroke set – his speciality. There are only four of us in lane two – luxury. One of my objectives is to sort out my breaststroke, which I only use in the Individual Medley. James tells me that I’m not bringing my heels up high enough or close enough to my bum to get the power from a circular kick back. It’s a eureka moment and there are also some very useful tips for the arms.

Applying sun block

We do a range of drills, the most difficult being holding the opposite ankle behind with one hand and then swimming with the free arm and leg. I can’t do it and get the giggles. In between attempts I just do my newly acquired kick to catch up with the others. Coach James has figured out that lane one are speaking in gay idiom – particularly when he’s describing the position of the bottom. He’s quickly educated. Ally, who is doing backstroke with lanes three and four is being oogled. Well, he is young and cute. I can’t imagine this is the first time James has had a gay group. Perhaps last years’ Out to Swim group were more decorous.

More sun-block please

Although the pool is heated, it’s not exactly warm out of the water – some are shivering during the instruction and back-chat periods. I’m glad to have sorted out the Breaststroke so early in the proceedings, though it’s still exhausting to do.

First Lunch out
Lunch time sea view

Fernando has booked a mass lunch at a seaside restaurant a short walk around the coast. It’s a beautiful setting but the wind is chilly and some of us have to go outside and stand in a sunny sheltered spot to warm up. Phil and I take off in the car to investigate Parc Natural de Mondrago, just North West of Santanyi.

The countryside is green at this time of year with flowers all along the road-sides. We pass Almond orchards and fields of wild flowers. It’s not really a park as everywhere seems to be farmed, but it’s lovely and we stop briefly on the coast to look at the sea and the limestone cliffs. There’s no time to linger, as we have to be back for our second two hour session at six. Lanes one and two have Ally for a backstroke set. Lots of drills for rotation leading from the hips and getting the arms in the right position to enter the water and push down.

The Natural Park
Coast

Different coaches have varied advice which might seem to contradict with another coach. The thing is that they are all correct – in a way and it’s only when you get the whole picture that things fall into place.  I recall seeing a U tube video where a coach was warning about the danger of over rotation in backstroke. Ally’s tip that one’s side should not come out of the water makes sense of this. Our problem here is navigating in an out-door pool. It’s no use fixing on a point in the sky and on every second length the sun is blinding. Much hilarity ensues with everyone zigzagging up and down the pool and colliding with lane-ropes.

Aloe and wild-flowers

Mostly the lane ropes win and I have the scars to prove it.

As dinner at the hotel finishes at 9pm, we have to dash back and change into long pants before eating. I’m knackered and go straight to bed instead of going out for a drink with the youngsters, who want to farewell James. He’s going home tomorrow afternoon. Tuesday is one two-hour session and there’s a chance to re-visit the work we did yesterday on breaststroke and then we do push-offs and turns.

Scabeous on brownfield site

We have what is known as half board at the hotel, which means only breakfast and evening meal. Most of the guys do a swap and have lunch at the hotel. My view is that indifferent food is the same whether it’s lunch or dinner, but this gives the lads the opportunity to go out on the town at night. Phil and I find a delightful little Bistro with delicious artistically presented food. But we’re not missing out as the WhatsApp group keeps us graphically updated with everyone else’s activities – mostly.

Salt lakes

They are off to the naturist beach Playa d’es Trenc and no one joins us on a three-hour bird-watching walk. Our journey takes us along the naturist beach, but there is no sign of the lads and we head inland past salt lakes and wet-lands. I’m astonished at the abundance of species here. Some of the highlights are sightings of: an Eagle, Flamingos and a Harrier. There are nightingales – heard but not seen, Hoopoes, Corn Buntings, various warblers and of course Sparrows everywhere. On the water are Shell ducks, Stilts, Avocets and many more. Phil is in heaven with his binoculars and bird identification phone app. He’s texting a mate in France who is also bird-watching. It’s a bit of a competition.

wld flowers

Along the way we see plenty of wild-flowers in full spring bloom. They will all be gone by mid-summer and the resort tourists will miss out. Colonia St Jordi seems not to have grown much over the years. Vacant lots are still to be developed and while the market waits for a boom, ecology has taken over and wild-flowers, birds and feral cats make temporary use of the land.

Off to Swim Prague

Aquacentrum Prague

‘Because I can’ is what I tell people who ask me ‘Why?’ I’m unencumbered these days, responsible and answering only to myself, so why not make the most of it?

I’m off to swim for a while – a Saturday afternoon in Prague for their Rainbow Spring Multi-sport event then to Mallorca for a six-day swim camp with twenty Out to Swim club members. My body is a bit apprehensive – I never quite know which part will complain next – but I know it pretty well by now and it tells me when to stop. It’s just a matter of listening, which I don’t always do.

River Vltava from Charles Bridge

I was last in Prague in 2014, so I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with this beautiful and historic city. On the flight from Stanstead is a huge party of guys going to a stag do. Apparently, it’s the new place to do that – excellent beer and cheap. Sounds like they have a weekend of all inclusive (to save bother) activities including the mandatory strip show. Interesting to observe straight men in a group away from wives and girlfriends – a completely different animal.

Government buildings – Prague Castle

A three-day travel pass purchased at the airport takes me by bus and Metro with speedy efficiency to my hotel. Hotel Alba is modernised in a spartan, Eastern European version of IKEA – except that it is solid.  It’s still light so this is the only opportunity to explore the Prague Castle area – not done on my 2014 visit. The hotel receptionist advises that I need two days to see it all, so I will just have to do a recce for next time.

Busking harpist
Busking Violinist

Prague is a city of classical music so it’s no surprise to come across young musicians busking all the way up the stairs to the Castle. These days I travel on VISA and haven’t even got any local currency, so the buskers are out of luck as are the beggars, who kneel in a praying position with caps outstretched, taking sneaky looks to see if anyone is paying attention.

Cathedral

Yes, I’m people watching again and note the out-of-condition younger family men huffing and puffing their way up the steps. Even though I’m still recovering from various Winter-related conditions, my lungs manage the steps easily – the leg muscles, not so well.

At the top is a whole village of palaces, most of which are now galleries and museums. It’s all very grand, but at this time of day everything is closed.

 

Prague view

The view of the city is, however, stunning in the late afternoon sunlight and by now the tourists have thinned out. In one deserted square a Chinese wedding photo shoot is in progress with a lighting guy holding up his silver disc to reflect light on to the faces of the happy couple.

Chinese Wedding Shoot

I head down the other side towards the Charles Bridge, which is still crowded. The portrait artists are still there – probably the same ones I saw in 2014.

Charles Bridge

I find the Charles Bridge Restaurant where the Rainbow Spring registration is happening. ‘No, I don’t need a free travel pass, I bought one at the airport.’ There is a look of consternation from the young man handing out the bags and event invitations.

the Steps down

I might go to the party on Saturday evening but sadly can’t do the picnic on Sunday afternoon as I fly out in the morning. I am dying for a beer, something the Czechs do well. I sit in the downstairs restaurant overlooking water where the pedalloes are being returned. The kitchen is struggling and even though the waiters are running around looking efficient, my Salmon pasta, is only just warm and too small to carb up enough for tomorrow. I have to order a pear in pastry but when it eventually arrives floating in a thin caramel, it is also tepid – not recommended.

My Out to Swim team-mates have spent all day walking around the city and have fallen asleep – so we don’t meet up. I’m remembering coach Nathan’s advice to get a good night’s sleep before a race. The trouble is the hotel mattress is super firm and thin. It’s unable to embrace the sticky-out bits of my body.

The best pool in town

It’s an eleven o’clock warm-up at the ‘Best pool in town.’ This leaves plenty of time to fill up the tank at breakfast. It’s all a bit of a shock to the system that there’s no fruit, but I’ll cope. Once again, the public transport carries me to the Sutka Aquacentrum, high in the suburbs and overlooking the city. I’m recognised by guys who were at the  Amsterdam Valentine’s meet earlier in the year and that’s a nice feeling of camaraderie – one from Frankfurt and an American living in Switzerland.

Out to Swim team – trio

Paul and Rory have been hanging out with two guys from Paris Aquatique – apparently the rest of their team are in the Canary Islands on a Swim Camp preparing for the Gay Games in August. The pool here is amazing. It has a stainless steel adjustable bottom and sides and there are clear Perspex walls at each end to protect officials from being splashed.  The water is nice and cool and the lane ropes have no sharp spikes to lacerate my wrists in backstroke. There is speculation that they won’t calm the water so well. I think it’s marginally more choppy.

Europeans
Netherlanders

There’s a good European turn-out here today, especially from Spain, The Netherlands and Germany. Certainly, there are more than in 2014 so I guess that everyone is getting ready for the Gay Games. I always hate starting of a race meet with 100 metres backstroke. It’s a tough race and I do better starting off with freestyle. The backstroke hurts and is a bit slow. By comparison the 400 freestyle is more comfortable.

Berliner?

The younger guy next to me is level pegging for the first 100 metres, then he takes off and I let him go. To my left I glimpse a guy turning after me so I’m safe. There is no electronic board, so no way to tell how we did in the heat.

After the swim
The Out to Swim Paris Aquatique relay team

Both Paul and I are collecting gold medals. He has competition in his age group so he’s pleased that some of Out to Swim fast swimmers are not here. He has a great meet with all Long Course personal bests. Rory and Paul have formed a relay team with the two Paris Aquatique guys to do the 4 x 50m Medley and Freestyle. This is all great experience for Rory, who has only been swimming for six months and its only the second race meet in his life. We don’t know yet how the relays did but they looked good.

Pink Flamingo and medals

The announcer is a jolly fellow, speaking Czech first, then English – the common language for Europeans. He spots the gaps in the hearts as they line up and calls out the missing swimmers. There’s also a DJ with a great play-list (According to Paul).  The day ends with a fun relay with teams pushing inflatable flamingos up the pool. Back in town, I find a pub restaurant for a beer – outside. It’s all tasty – grilled sirloin and chicken breast in a creamy green peppercorn sauce and bright orange sweet potato chips. There’s nothing green in sight, so I’m looking forward to a Spanish salad.

Swimming for My Life

London Aquatic Centre

I’m involved in Out and Active, a project to encourage over 50’s LGBT people to engage in a sport so that they can lead healthier lives.  I’m the writer on the project, interviewing people from different sports clubs and my long-time friend and fellow swimmer, Vicki Carter is leading the project for Out for Sport

My story, Swimming for My Life, along with the others I’m collecting will be on the website, hopefully inspiring older LGBT’s to get active.

Me and TAMS team mate – Auckland at Mt Roskil meet New Zealand

I was Sixty-one when I joined Out to Swim in 2012. As a teenager in New Zealand, I’d belonged to the local swimming club.  We had a key to the town outdoor pool and trained before school – only in the summer – doing kicking and pull, but mostly just swimming up and down.  Our parents organised a swimming coach to sort out our style and technique and he also taught us butterfly – unheard of in our part of the world.  I won the championship at our small rural high school and so thought myself a pretty good swimmer, going on to compete at University meets where I came last in everything. For the next forty years I’d go swimming maybe once a week, do twenty lengths and then get out.

LAC ready for Out to Swim’s meet GLLAM in 2017

I’d been on a round the world adventure with my partner getting as far as New Zealand. He died there suddenly and when I returned to the UK. My long-time friend, Vicki Carter, who was going to teach my partner to swim properly, suggested I join Out to Swim.  I’ve always believed that joining a group is the best way to meet new people and I knew I needed some way of dealing with my bereavement, so I looked up the website, chose a session and headed for the first of three free introductory swims.

Representing Middlesex in the inter-county challenge – Portsmouth.

Of course, it was the wrong session and after forty years, I was out of condition. I still had some speed, but no stamina and had to take time out every few lengths. Swimming continuously for one hour was not possible so the coach suggested I got to a development session and come back when I was ready. These days people get assessed and sent to the correct session for their fitness and ability.

For me, swimming is the perfect exercise, aerobic and non-weight-bearing.  Running has never suited me and with the beginnings of arthritis, it’s important to keep those joints moving. I’ve lost weight and being back to where I was at the age of twenty, find I’m getting admiring glances again.  What more encouragement do I need?

Millennium Pool Auckland NZ the World Masters

Non-swimmers have a notion of our sport as being solitary and unsociable, saying ‘Don’t you get bored endlessly ploughing up and down the pool?’  There’s a lot to think about.  ‘Are my arms entering the water at the right angle?  How’s my rotation and am I kicking hard enough?’  The list goes on and there are always improvements to make. Counting the number of strokes per length or the number of lengths swum can be calming. I like to think of it as meditation, where the mind is emptied of all peripheral matters and there’s the added benefit of endorphins released by exercise to produce a great feeling of well-being. Swimming is a great stress buster and I kept training whilst moving house, traditionally the most stressful thing you ever do.  Being in a club offers a range of social benefits from weekly after-session drinks, mid-winter plunges for the more eccentric and the Christmas party.  At training, you get to know the regular people in your lane and the order in which everyone swims. Interaction is required, making it a group activity.  So, ‘lonely?’ I don’t think so.

Ponds Forge Swimming Centre – Sheffield.

I persisted with the club and was hugely inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic games of 2012. The real breakthrough came for me when I raced at the UK Masters Nationals at Sheffield that year. It was nerve wracking, the first time on those high blocks, but once the starting pistol went off, it all came flooding back.  I was hooked on Masters’ competitive swimming at sixty-one.  Age group competing was new to me and one of my memories is of two elderly swimmers bearing heart surgery scars, discussing their operations – inspirational. Entering a competition makes you part of the team and it’s also a great opportunity to get to know other members from other lanes.

London Aquatic Centre asleep.

In an era when longevity rubs up against quality of life, the older we get, the more important it is to keep moving and balanced. Early in 2014, a man who had recently moved into the 100 – 104 age group was going for the world 100 metre backstroke record.  I was in heat two and we had to wait until he’d finished, and he got his record. I have no particular ambition to get to a hundred but I do want to be fit and active until the end.

It is also important for me to belong to a gay or gay friendly club because I feel more comfortable and relaxed.  ‘Coming out’ is unnecessary as we have a shared vocabulary and culture. What is unusual for a gay organisation is the complete lack of age or ability discrimination.  Young gay men in particular can be very ageist, so I was initially bemused to be smiled at and greeted by much younger guys and found myself suddenly valued to take a relay team into a higher aggregate age group to increases the odds of winning medals.  There are not so many older swimmers and even fewer women so we get more points for racing. Not everyone is ready to or wants to race. Some members are non-competitive and just like to keep fit.

My Bronze Medal at the UK Nationals in 2017

I’ve been to LGBT meets all over Europe and the rest of the world, a chance to travel, see new places and make international friends. I also win medals and in 2017 I achieved my ambition to get a bronze medal at the Nationals. I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been in my life, both physically and emotionally and that’s worth more to me than my drawer of medals.  Swimming has now become a great passion with the added benefit of new team-mates and friends.

To read inspirational stories by other older athletes go to Out & Active and scroll down the page.

 

 

Two more days of swimming in Miami

Sunday

Me and Daniel Wu

The mornings are quiet here. The clean up crews have been out and everything is looking pristine. I’ve arranged to ride out with Donna and Anna this morning and walk the seven blocks to where their car is parked. As I go a young black guy asks where I got the Out Games T-shirt. He’s a Baskekball player, one of the casualties of the cancellations.  I explain that the guys at the swimming pool were giving them away free. I also learn that the Basketball teams have managed to organise themselves into a tournament. Human resourcefulness is great isn’t it?

At the pool, competition is underway, and I’m in time for my 100m backstroke. This time I have three others to beat and so feel a bit more legitimate. It’s great to meet up with familiar faces from IGLA last year in Edmonton and even some from The Out Games in Antwerp four years ago. There’s a contingent from Australia (Wet Ones & Glamourheads) who I recognise from Proud To Play in Auckland in 2016 and in 2015 they also came to Wellington for the annual TAMS/Different Strokes challenge. Somehow I’m feeling part of a global community. Marcel, who briefly trained with TAMS in

Donna and Anna din the same race.

Auckland is here doing all the hard events. Donna and Anna get to swim in the same heat and have to be cheered on for Out to Swim. They drop me at the nearby metro station as, I’ve discovered that there is a public transport system here and I’m keen to check it out.  There’s no one around but up on the platform, I can see a few passengers waiting. As I’m looking for a place to buy tickets, a security guard comes over and asks what sort of ticket I want. ‘Just a single into the city’.  He swipes his card and lets me in. I’m a bit surprised and briefly wonder if I have to swipe out at the other end. I’ve just missed a train, but the wait for another is not long and the journey takes only ten minutes. There is a problem at the City Centre end as I do have to swipe out and end up following a family with a push chair through one of those wide gates. The wait for a 120 but to Miami Beach is long but only costs $2.25. There’s no change given so fortunately I have the right money to drop into the slots. After another salad for lunch and a snooze, it’s time to try the

Festive Bling

beach, which looked lovely on Friday. Even in the late afternoon, it’s packed, mostly with African Americans sun bathing and standing in the sea. I’ve come out with the bare minimum and leave a small pile on the white sand; Jandals, tee shirt, mini towel, hotel room key and hat.  The water is warm and choppy – it’s shallow and I have to go beyond the waders to swim. Palm Beach on Waiheke Island at 22 degrees C, still gets my vote. There is, however, no need to dry off in this heat; it’s just strange wearing a bathing

South Beach after the festival

costume/togs on a beach.  It’s back to the hotel to shower before setting out on foot to check out The Gaythering, a gay hotel/bar here. It’s a long trudge in the late afternoon heat, so the air conditioned bar is a relief. I’m startled to find it full of Australians in their distinctive green sports shirts. I sidle around to the other side of the bar, put my dollar down and order a beer. There are a few locals next to me, but on one is talking, so I move to on of the older Australians who turns out to be the referee for the Field Hockey team. They are also casualties of the cancellation but along with the Netherlanders (2 teams) and the British, have organised their own competition with the help of a local sports ground. He’s from Sydney and quickly introduces me to a much younger guy, Tim, who turns out to be his partner and a swimmer. I suggest he joins Wet Ones the Sydney swimming club. Tim seems semi interested in that. So here is another example of teams organising themselves, with the help of the City of Miami. Who needs the World Out Games?  When I try to pay my bar bill, this turns out to be on the house as it is a reception for the Hockey guys – time to leave and make my way South.  A free

Trollybus

trolley bus appears and is going my way. A quick google of Miami Beach trolley busses reveals the route. Conflicted between checking facebook likes and comments and looking at the suburban scene, I miss my stop and end up on 6th Street and have to walk back to 10th. A Tagliatelli Carbonara leaves me feeling heavy and I wake at 2 am to silence – it’s Sunday night – and now I can’t sleep.

 

Monday

It’s still a holiday so traffic should be OK.  I’ve arranged to share an Uber with Tristan and another guy from Wet Ones, Sydney. It’s my big day with three races, starting with the 800m freestyle The Carbonara lingers until after the warm up but it’s OK. We all have to arrange our own flip board operators to count up or down the lengths. At this pool it’s 32 lengths so there’s enough to think about without counting them. One of the Australians is doing the first heat and is able to turn around to pool one and count for me.  I then have to count for Tristan, who likes to be counted down from 32. All goes well until we get to 9 and I can’t work out how to get a blank slate. I miss 9 and offer 17 with my hand over the 1 until I work it out. Luckily I’ve not miscounted. An hour later I’m doing the 200 Back and have to report that the new jammers made the race very comfortable. Perhaps I could have gone faster, but the guy with no times in the next lane shakes my hand – I’ve still no idea who won.

The Golden Girls from OUt to Swim

Later, I find out I have won and can now rest up for a while and watch Daniel do his Medley and support Anna and Donna in their 100m Freestyle. The guy with not times is in the next lane again for the 100m freestyle and I have a feeling that he’s going to be faster, and he is, leaving me in second place. I warm down, change and walk down to Coconut Grove for a decent lunch. Rob Wintermute texts and joins me. We both agree that this might be the end of the Out Games, although apparently the board are talking about Rio in four years time. ‘Rio?’ I say, ’that’s madness. They only just got through the Olympics.’

The London Orcas are playing their final against Boston in the recreational league of Water Polo. Boston is very good and the Orcas end up with Silver. Now it’s a bit of a wait for the Pink Flamingo. This is an opportunity for teams to put in a devised piece of entertainment around and in the pool. While we wait, I chat to Mark who does Gay Rodeo and was at Edmonton. He was planning to come to the World Masters in Auckland, but did his knee in at the Rodeo. At 54, I tell him, it’s time he retired from that.

The 6 Pink Flamingo acts are presented by an outrageous, but elegant drag queen and range from embarrassing to slick. Paris Aquatique win first prize and the whole proceedings

 

Scottish Rites Temple

I get a lift to the dinner with Mark. We lose our way there and are still early at the Scottish Rites Temple. We walk along the riverside with some of the old guys from the competition.  This is the 30th anniversary if IGLA and there are photographs flashing up on the screen while we have our starters. It’s downstairs for a sit down main course of Paella and speeches.  Some of the original guys from the very first IGLA meet are there and those that attended the first four make up a tidy group. It’s very moving to think that this organisation has spread from California to global in that time. There aren’t that many from Europe this year, but there’s no excuse next year with IGLA supporting the Gay Games in Paris.

Ocean Drive, South Beach

IGLA and Nadadores take over from The World Out Games

Barricades on Ocean Drive

Eating is essential to get though races, so calculating that breakfast doesn’t start until 7am and the competition commences at 9pm, I need to warm up around 8.30 in order to sus out the competition pool. Roads around the hotel are blocked off for the Hip Hop festival/Memorial weekend, so getting an Uber seems difficult as this hotel is cut off. In the end, after a hastily eaten breakfast, I organise a private taxi for 7.30 via the hotel and I’m taken down to the end of the block by one of the staff and wait for a big black 4×4 to glide up and collect me. Of course it’s expensive but I get to the Ransome Everglades School by 8 am, in time to check in and check out the pool. This is a very posh school in the Coconut Grove area to the south of Miami City, boasting a 50 metre competition standard, outdoor pool. A bridge divides it in two and they’re racing in both. There’s also a 25 m warm up/down pool to one end.

Ransom Everglades School pool

This meet is being run by the Local Miami LGBT club Nadadores in conjunction with International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics, so everyone here knows what they are doing in spite of the collapse of the Out Games. It’s hot here even at 8am so I apply sun block like everyone else and take to the chilled water to warm up. It’s a little too soon after breakfast and some of it comes up while I’m swimming. I have to swallow, which is not quite as bad as it sounds, rather than mess up the pool. I suddenly run into Daniel Paul from Out to Swim London. He’s racing as well as playing water polo for London Orcas. Instant recognition – we’re finding our team here as we go.

           It’s time to get into my new Arena carbon fibre compression jammers. Tristan from Wet Ones Sydney is also getting into his pair. It takes around 5 minutes – another time factor to consider. He’s a bit further on than me but suddenly, just as he’s got them on, they split along the crutch line – not really a good look so he has to change back into his regular jammers. I take extra care and slowly encourage the fabric up my thighs, squeezing my bum into the back and bringing the top band up to my waist – whew. It really is like coaxing a tight stocking upwards. All is well and I have time to try them out in the warm-up pool before my race. They feel good and the water rolls off the surface. There are eight guys here in my age-group, but unusually, I’m the only one doing the 50 backstroke. That’s no reason to slack off especially at this is my only race today. I win the heat and shave off a fraction from my seed time.  I’ve been keeping in contact with Daniel Wu from Team Auckland. He’s flying in from Houston this morning and there is some doubt if he will be on time for the 50 back. He texts via Messenger that he’s on his way form the airport and in the end arrives in time to both warm up and race, so all is well, as TAMS coach, Cynthia, has asked me to ‘look after him’.

Out to Swim Mixed Relay team

Suddenly I make contact with Donna Pinto and Anna Moody from Out to Swim London and we have the possibility to form a relay team. I call up Rob, but he’s speaking at the Human Rights conference today and in the end Daniel Paul doesn’t have to go off and play Water Polo just yet, so we have a mixed freestyle relay team in the 160 age group. Hurrah! Actually we are the only team in that group, but Anna and Donna are thrilled to win their first international awards, and we’ve done a respectable time. We’re all resigned to not receiving medals as rumour has it that WOG didn’t even order them. Credit to Anna for organising us and doing the paper work – we feel like a team here.  They are also

Donna on her marks

staying at Miami Beach, so I get a ride back with them in their rental car. Donna says that there is a whole league of Lesbian Baseball players here in Miami and they didn’t even know about the Out Games. How can that happen? You would have thought that accessing local sports groups would be a first organisational step for all the sports.

 

Hip Hop Crowds

Back on South Beach, the barricades are up and people are everywhere. It is startling to see women walking around the town in skimpy bikinis, buttocks on full display and breasts almost as visible. The guys are all topless but there are no speedos here – the fashion is for the baggy beach shorts. Men and women sport tattoos – some done without much though to design. The US army has displays all along the beach park- commentaries are blaring out, but few are engaged, the crowds are all on the beach or parading down Ocean Drive. For Memorial Weekend there are also very noisy jet fighters frightening the life out of everyone.  I’ve had pulled pork in a soft white baguette from the ‘food truck’ at the pool – a tasteless experience, so a mango ice-cream from the gelato shop to take up the lift up to my room is required.  It goes well with coffee followed by a snooze.  Carbing up for tomorrow with a New York Steak for dinner and a glass of Malbec is a good idea and I sleep well.

Unexpected Miami

Breakwater Hotel on Ocean Drive

The traffic around South Beach Miami is in grid-lock around midnight, so my taxi has great difficulty reaching the Breakwater Hotel on the sea-front. The area is a vibrant party with people everywhere on the streets. My room is in a block accessed across a courtyard with live music and party-goers – through a corridor and into an ice cream parlour, where a lift takes me to the third floor.

Miami Beach before the festival crowds

It’s been a long Thursday – thirteen hours from Auckland to Houston then a six hour wait before flying on to Miami. Wifi at the airport fails to connect me to Uber and there’s nowhere to find a US sim card. It’s still only just Thursday as I hit the shower with the intention of going downstairs for a night-cap. I’m too knackered for that and, breaking all my rules regarding hotel mini bars, I open the half-bottle of Cabernet Sauvingon on offer. It’s just what I need,

Miami Police in elegant accomodation

because there’s a hip hop festival going on outside. I fall asleep synchronising my heart beat with the music coming through the windows – briefly waking at 4.30 to note silence. Awaking somewhat refreshed and after an average, but global type, hotel breakfast of scrambled eggs and chicken sausages, I decide to explore.  Just across the road is the Art Deco Information Centre, where a helpful woman hands me the usual brochure, pointing out locations of the Jewish Museum and the Watsonian.

‘Is that related to the one in Washington?’ I ask.

‘No, that’s the Smithsonian.’

‘Of course it is.’

‘That’s OK, everyone confuses them.’

‘What’s in it?’

‘Art and design.’

I’m hooked and make a beeline as it’s literally two blocks along 10th Street. It’s too early – time to walk and look at Art Deco architecture. There’s much more that I’d imagined and I get the feeling that this might be the true Art Deco Capital of the world – sorry Napier (NZ).  I check my balance at the Bank of America  ATM – my usual procedure – just to let my bank know where I am. Passing a phone shop is an opportunity to get a US sim card.  This takes longer than usual as the guy is only experienced with iphones, but we get there. The Watsonian is an excellent and well curated collection over two exhibition floors.

Male nude

A gigantic metal sculpture of a nude muscle man in Deco style dominates the ground floor lobby by the lift. The sixth floor is dedicated to Dutch design and art from the late 1800’s to the 1940’s. There are propaganda posters covering the range of political views, architecture, furniture and interior design.  Of particular note are examples of Nazi art and graphics. I spot a chap giving a young man a personal tour and eaves-drop on some of his comments. Some of the art and graphic representations are examples of how the European colonisers depicted native peoples in idealised ways which the subjects would not recognise, or identify with. The collection continues in the same vein on the 5th floor with studies for wall murals with overt political messages. Here is proof that the struggle of the left is recognised and recorded in this ever right-leaning country. Further down the building, a library (collected by the founder) occupies an entire floor.

Dutch Communist poster
Panel from the smoking room of a luxury liner
Romantic misappropriation of First Nation Amreicans

It’s coffee time and I’ve spotted the French bakery, recommended by the woman from the Information Centre. Yes they can do a late, but it’s too cold, weak and full of froth – a great disappointment. I’m missing New Zealand Coffee and in particular my favourites on

London Underground and the spire from the NY Woolworths buidling make it here

Waiheke Island. Lunch at the gay Palace Bar – ‘because every Queen needs a palace’ – is seared fresh tuna on a salad – just right and proving that you can eat healthy food in America. Time for a snooze before setting out to do my Out Games registration – there’s been an update email directing us to The

Unusual perspective by young artist. Self portrait with wife and son.

Lowes Hotel seven blocks away. There has been no signage around the streets, advertising this world event and only when I get to the hotel lobby do I see a sign by the escalator. At the top I find Rob Wintermute from Out To Swim London, enjoying his complimentary bap after registering for the Human Rights Conference (he’s a human rights lawyer) which is a part of the games. He’s also doing athletics as well as swimming. He tells me that there are two women here from OTS so there might be a chance of a mixed relay team. We exchange US phone numbers. I head to the check in area where guys are milling around looking confused. Suddenly Ivan, the Games CEO, who came all the way to

Study of war lords for community mural

Auckland months ago to drum up support, comes out of a door. He doesn’t remember meeting me at a drinks reception Team Auckland organised, but he has a hassled look on his face. Apparently, swimming is registering at the Marriot Hotel a few blocks away so I set off with an Australian Swimmer, only to find that the Marriot hotel we need is miles away in Coconut Grove, near the swimming pool. We both decide not to bother as registration packs are always available at the pool on the day. I go back to the hotel and find an announcement on facebook that all WOG sporting events have been cancelled except Aquatics, Soccer and Country Dancing. No wonder Ivan was looking sick.

The first stacking chairs to retain elegance.
Self portrait (selfie) with Art Deco dressing table

OK, time to attend to the jet lag which is catching up on me. The consequence of this is that I don’t sleep well later. Admittedly the music is very loud tonight and the streets are heaving with African Americans doing ‘The Cake Walk’ – having a great time and looking everything from outrageous to fabulous. Too many things are running through my mind – my return to London and what has to be done. I’m busy planning ahead.

Corner Deco

World Masters Games Part III

Day Five Tuesday

Elizabeth, Coach & Team Captain

It’s a day for hard races. Elizabeth and I are doing the 200m backstroke. Cynthia and other TAMS swimmers make it in time to see Elizabeth come in on time to win a bronze medal. We are all ecstatic. I have to rush off to warm up for my race, which goes very well – all turns are perfect today and I’m placed 6th. Debs also has a hard day with 200Fly (2nd) and 400IM (3rd). The TAMS women are doing well.

We’ve struck up a friendship with a bunch of Canadians sitting next to us.  They are from Vancouver Island and are all in the older age groups – like us.  The Wellington team have taken to sitting behind us, so when we are not racing, there’s plenty to cheer for.

Elizabeth and Canadians
Our bronze medlalist

Day Six Wednesday

Team Captain tying to look cool.

It’s an early start as it’s the 100m freestyle, which just about everyone in the world has entered. I get to warm up in the competition pool and wait for Elizabeth in heat 20. She’s bought one of those Arena compression swim suits and recons she swims faster – well .03 secs actually, but once again a lovely race and placed 13th. I have to go across to the warm-up pool just to re-warm-up and then to marshaling. I’m in lane 4 and on seed time am supposed to be the fastest in the heat. Sitting next to me in the marshaling rows is a 44 year-old Australian with Downs Syndrome. He says he’s a para swimmer and I tell him I know that. He’s small and wiry looking and I recon he’s fast and I can tell he’s competitive. We chat about the Australian Para team that has come over. Out in the pool I get a chance to look at the guy in lane 5 – a short stocky Canadian a bit younger than me – could be a threat.  I start off doing bilateral breathing so I can keep an eye on both guys. The Australian is keeping up but the Canadian is pulling slightly ahead. I work harder on the way back down the pool and concentrate on catching the Canadian but he’s getting faster as well and out of reach.  It’s made me come in under time and the Para Australian is only a length behind me. I sneak into the training pool to warm down – normally reserved for Para swimmers and the 70+. The Australian is warming down next to me watched by a woman who I mistake for his coach – she’s his mother. Apparently he’s just swum a personal best. ‘You must be very proud,’ I say. She says, ‘Yes he’s a great swimmer.’

Debs & Ross

It’s back to the pool for Ross and Ron to swim their 100m races. Ross takes off 4 seconds and Ron, .04. There’s more slashing of times in the 50m Breaststroke: Ron – 2, David – .50 and Ed – 2 seconds. Unfortunately Ed gets disqualified again – for not having his feet on the same horizontal plane. We are sitting watching the first heat of the Women’s 100m butterfly – not something that I could ever contemplate. There are three in the pool the 95 yea-old American and others in their 80’s from Japan and Canada. Wow, it’s amazing that these women can swim this race. The women in their 80’s complete their race while the American reaches the end of the first length. She stops, holding on to the rung of the starting block. There’s concern, but a lane judge is watching her without panic. She’s having a rest, for about two minutes, before setting off back down the pool.  The cheering is tremendous and she gets out of the pool unaided and raises her arms in triumph to the spectator gallery. Ross is in action now in his 100m butterfly heat, slashing a massive 22 seconds off his time to come 7th.  We are also treated to some breathtaking swimming from the younger guys and ex Olympians in this event. They make it look so easy, and I know that it’s not.

TAMS Swimmers

Our final event for the day is the Men’s 4 x 50 metres medley relay and I’m starting us off with backstroke. It’s a mad dash up the pool and I’ve no idea how we are doing. By the time I get out of the pool, Ed has done his breaststroke length – he was nervous about getting disqualified again. Ross is steaming up the pool with butterfly making up time and Ron does likewise with freestyle bringing us under our seed time by two seconds to 9th place in the 240 age group.

Day 7 Thursday

Coach and Jenny

It’s the last day in the pool and the car park is full to overflowing. I find a place right at the bottom on stony ground between a curb and the perimeter fence. David is all ready for his 200 breaststroke when I arrive. Although he doesn’t quite equal his seed time, he has the longest underwater starts and push-offs in the heat – fantastic. Now it’s the 50 metres freestyle, a long session of ‘Splash & Dash’ as they call it. Once again, the world and his wife (but not I) have entered. Jenny comes 5th with 35.85s, Ron cuts a second off for 9th place and Ross on a mission, mindful that he’s swimming 100 times this on Sunday in the 5K ocean swim, does 27.55s to come 9th. The competition in this event is fierce and spectacular with 32 heats of women and 40 heats of men.  The confusion and noise only increases

Men’s 200m F/s Relay team

for the 4 x 50m freestyle relays.  Our men’s team in the 200 years group is somewhat disadvantaged by being only 6 years short of the 240 year group. Nevertheless, we are not last. I start out with 36:28 followed by Ron at 35:89. David increases the pace with 33:03 with Ross to finish with 27:77 –  we are 11th.

We are not going to squad tonight; instead the team meet for a celebratory dinner and join up with the rest of Team Auckland Masters Swimmers for a drink at the World Masters Games Hub on Queens Wharf. It’s been a blast and I’ve planted the seed of an idea to go to Japan in four years time for the next World Masters.

World Masters Games – Part 2

Day 3 Sunday

Kevin after his 400m Freestyle

Ed and I drive out to the pool early to support Kevin in his 400m Freestyle race. We have the banner to display and make our presence felt. It also acts as a signpost for team members to find us.  The Indian guy who took so long in the 800m on Friday is swimming so I warn Kevin that he has a while to wait. The Indian swaps from breaststroke to backstroke half way though and takes twenty-two minutes to complete. Kevin swims a great strategic race – he’s in lane 4 in the middle of the pool and comes second in his heat shaving 20 seconds off his time. The 400 is a punishing race, difficult to judge. We’d been lucky to catch Rebecca Perrott steam elegantly to victory earlier and now we cheer on Martin from Different Strokes Wellington. There’s also a para swimmer with one leg in the same heat. He turns out to be from the LGBT Sydney team – Wet Ones. I have time to warm-up before Elizabeth’s 100m Backstroke. Although she’s a little slower than she wanted she looks great in the water. As I’m waiting in the marshaling tent, there’s an Australian para swimmer with cerebral palsy lining up for his heat. These guys all get a tremendous reception from

TAMS on Sunday

swimmers and spectators. I always find 100 backstroke a hard race to judge – not going out too fast on the first length – it’s so easy to get carried away with the start, then not having anything left for the finish. I request a starting bar (a relatively new experience for me) which is lowered to just under the water-line. It is beveled into the wall and has a rough anti-slip surface. The feet are planted on it to start, getting them high and in the right position. I’m also trying out the new straight-arm starting position which I picked up at the Waitakere Club’s Backstroke and Breaststroke clinic recently. The theory is that you start high up and there’s not so far to travel before entering the pool for that underwater dolphin kick. All goes well and I make my time and am now officially 6th in the world – Haha. Just as well Mike Bodger from Whakatane isn’t here or I’d be 7th. Kevin is doing the same race in the same lane in the following heat. I turn around and promise to warm up the lane for him. He shaves 5 seconds off his time and is now 4th in the world. He’s really having a great meet.  The guy with cerebral palsy is now racing in his age-group but has his own category. It’s a huge effort for him to swim two lengths of the pool and he gets a massive round of applause at the end.

Jenny on news of her medal

Our big chance for a medal is Jenny in the 50m Butterfly. A Russian woman has put in the same time and two others are in close contention. We are all in a state of great excitement and anticipation as Jenny needs to swim 2 seconds faster than she did yesterday in the medley relay. We are all shouting and waving the banner. Coach Cynthia has come in to watch from the gallery with other TAMS members. Jen gets a good start, spending the longest time underwater to come up level with the field. The Russian fades away to her left but there’s a fight to her right for first and second. Jenny hangs in there for third place. When she gets out of the pool, she has no idea and is blown away when she realises that she’s got a bronze.

Jenny & Mike

It’s also great that we’ve been able to smuggle her partner Mike poolside to see it all and get a wet hug. Earlier we’ve seen a 95 year-old American sharing a heat with a couple of women in their 80’s doing 50 fly. It’s amazing.  Ed, Ron and Ross are also doing 50 Fly and come in under time. Ron shaves a massive two seconds off his time to come fourth in the world. It’s now a rush to get showered and changed as I want to catch Jenny’s medal ceremony. I just miss it, but get the photographic evidence.

Jenny wins Bronze
Ross and Kuoni after Butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 4 Monday

Elizabeth and Debs

I’m not swimming today, so the old body can have a rest. I’m here to support and check that the team is all in the right place at the right time, especially for the relays.  Elizabeth is all ready for the 200m freestyle when I arrive. She’s such an elegant swimmer and looks so relaxed in the water. She’s also an ocean swimmer and regularly does 2.4K in a wetsuit, so I suggest that she might like to try an 800m or 1500m some time in the pool. Kevin is also doing the 200m and once again judges his race well. Ron’s had an encounter with a dodgy smoothy and has to drop out of the 200. It’s been another great day for the para swimmers and ex Olympians.  We get to see Moss Burmester, Trent Bray and Anthony Moss in action – fantastic times for guys in middle age.

Elizabeth Ross Martin (DSW) and Ed

Our relay today is the mixed freestyle 4 X 50 for the 240 age group. Our team actually adds up to 265 – over by 25 years. Kevin, Jenny, Elizabeth and Ron cut a fantastic six seconds off our entered time to come 11th.

The World Masters Games – Auckland 2017 Part I

Team Auckland at the Cloud after accreditation.

Sounds impressive doesn’t it?  Begun in 1985, The World Masters Games happens every four years and you have to be over thirty to compete. In the case of swimming you can be 25. This year, in Auckland there are 27,000 competitors, twenty nine sports and 100 countries involved.  You might wonder what happens to ex Olympians and the answer is that when they are old enough or retire from coaching,  they become master. We’re rubbing shoulders with runner Peter Snell, doing table tennis, and Rebecca Perrott, still swimming, winning medals and breaking records in her age group.

I’m the team captain for Team Auckland Masters Swimmers, one of two LGBT clubs in New Zealand and I’ve persuaded seven others to enter the games.

Day one – Friday

The venue – sir Owen Glen Pool

I’m staying with team-mate Ed in Freeman’s Bay/ Ponsonby, so it’s only a fifteen minute drive over the bridge and up the motorway to the two year-old Sir Own Glen National Aquatics centre, adjacent to the AUT Millennium pool which has been taken over for warm-ups. I’m the only one from TAMS doing the 800 metres freestyle and this is the only event scheduled for toady.

The Pool

There are 12 women’s heats and 13 for the men. It’s a bit nerve-wracking sussing out how everything works and as I’ve arrived too early, I sit and watch the women race. I manage to catch Rebecca Perrott’s heat. She’s perfect. The Canadian in the next lane starts fast and Rebecca is a comfortable third at the first turn. She gets faster and several lengths later has left the Canadian in the proverbial dust. It’s fantastic to watch.

Before my first race 800M

I’m trying to time my warm-up with checking in for my heat. Marshalling is in a heated tent out the front of the pool and the woman in charge says come back at 2:00pm.  I’ve probably done too much of a warm-up as I’m now a bit hungry. Reporting in for heat five, I find that heat two is still running. New Zealand Masters stalwarts, Fritz Bohn (85) – who always does backstroke and Sydney Salek (87) are swimming in this heat, so I know it’s going to take a long time. As I wait, I’m sitting next to a Kiwi chap in my age group. There’s a recognition of age between swimmers as there are no secrets. Our ages are all printed on the heat sheets.  We chat – he’s from South Auckland and is worried that the delay will inconvenience his wife.

‘This is what keeps us alive,’ I say.

He agrees. ‘I’ve had a bye-pass – got the scar down my front.’

I tell him about my first UK Nationals – seeing all the old people parading their bypass scars. He’s also worried that he’s spending too much time swimming and not being with his wife.

‘Tell her she’s lucky to have you alive,’ I advise.

TAMS having a riotous time before the ceremony

It becomes clear the at the 82 year-old Indian chap in lane one is going to take even longer. He’s reckoned on thirty-nine minutes but he’s doing a very slow breast stroke with almost no kick and eventually finishes after 59 minutes. By the time we get to my heat, the benefits of the warm-up are wearing off and I’m running low on fuel. It’s a tough race and I quickly realise that the guy in the next lane is faster than the time he’s entered. I had hoped to shadow him but he speeds ahead after the second length. Still my time is about right for me all things considered.  It’s just as well that I’ve brought a bag of fruit and nuts so I wash them down with water on the long drive back through heavy Friday afternoon traffic.

Eden Park

There’s no time to stop and rest at Ed’s place as we have to make our way by bus, train and foot to Eden Park – the iconic New Zealand rugby stadium, for the Official opening of the games. Amazingly, the trains are well organised; stilt walkers greet us and volunteers with signs point us in the direction of our designated entrance. It’s huge buzz as we carry the TAMS banner through the streets of Mount Eden, gathering team mates as we go. There’s time to grab a Thai Green Chilli and rice for dinner and find a central place to sit with the other swimmers from around the world. Our friends from the Waitakare team are sitting nearby looking great in their new black and green club uniforms. Further down there is a group of colourfully attired Lithuanians. Earlier I spotted and Iranian team of some sort (no travel ban here) plus Russians, Poles and loads of Canadians.  The New Zealand Maori Quartet are in fine voice to warm us up and the show is compared by Ex netball player and now sports commentator, Jenny-May Coffin.  There’s lots of smoke being wafted over the rugby pitch and each seat has a white wrist band attached, containing batteries and electronics, which we have to put

Opening ceremony – lazers

on for later in the show. It’s made in China.  There’s a fantastic Maori welcome from Te Waka Huia and a magical cloud effect from the smoke is created with lasers, representing Aotearoa – the land of the long white cloud. It’s all a bit dark and gloomy, a bit like primordial forest and the Maori warriors doing their stuff get rather lost.  When our wrist bands light up in sequence it all gets exciting.  Then of course there are the inevitable welcome speeches from the games President, the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Auckland and the chief sponsor – a real estate agent.

Our wrist lights

Then there’s more music as we, sport by sport come down to the Rugby pitch and parade around in semi darkness. Swimming is to follow Golf but when we get down on the field, there is no sign of the Swimming banner, so we end up following Golf.  This of course is a clever way to get us all out of the stadium in an orderly fashion where there are move volunteers holding up gigantic arrows pointing the way to buses and trains.  It’s mercifully shorter than the

Maori warriors

Olympic ceremony and we’re grateful to Auckland Transport for putting on extra trains into town. Great hilarity ensues in the crowded carriage, led by a large Australian bloke, looking for his mate Trevor who was supposed to be somewhere else on the train. In the end he got of alone at the same stop as us, so we will never know if Trevor was real or imaginary.

Day Two Saturday

Debs does backstroke in the 200 IM
Ross and Me after the 200 IM

It’s another tough race today; the 200 metre Individual Medley for Me and team-mate Ross. My warm-up timing is better today but I’m in an ‘age-group’ heat. They put the top fastest in each age-group in a heat so as I’m in lane 9 this means that I am in the top ten of the 65-69 year-olds, I’m also the slowest. We’re sitting in the heated marshaling tent when it becomes apparent that three guys have not turned up. Two of them (from Russia) are the fastest seeds and there’s also no one in lane 8 next to me. I’ll be automatically promoted to 7th in the world so I decide to concentrate on style and just getting through the race. For me 50m butterfly is exhausting – it’s only the fact that I have to get to the other end that keeps me going – so there’s no point rushing it. The second length, backstroke should be my best, but I always spend it recovering from the butterfly. I’m none to keen on breaststroke but am getting better, so it’s not until the last lap of freestyle that I really get going. I’m pleased – only a few seconds away from my predicted time.

Me – the banner holder

Now, as Team Captain, I’m there to wave the banner, cheer and encourage everyone else. Ross is pleased with his 200IM time and we go across the road together to warm-down. It’s good to get rid of the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles. Debs Hanley has her Masters registration with us but lives in Masterton. She’s also doing the 200 IM. She has a very stylish and sedate butterfly stroke.  Elizabeth is next up with 100m Breaststroke and is close to her seed time. Ed is also doing 100m breaststroke and is very nervous. He has a little wobble on the starting blocks between ‘take your marks’ and the gun. He then dives at a funny angle and looses his goggles, proceeding to swim the race with them around his neck. We later find out that he’s been disqualified – presumably for his wobble on the block. It’s a shame but he later dines out on this story to all his friends.

Mixed Medley Relay team

Now we only have the Mixed Medley relay to go and anxiously await Jenny’s arrival. The team’s combined age is 238 years – only two years away from the next age group – so we are at a bit of a disadvantage even with young Ross making up time on the last lap with a fast freestyle. We are not last though – 20th out of 22 in the 200 years age-group and swimming four seconds faster that predicted. Ed also redeemed himself swimming the breaststroke section with no wobble or loss of goggles.

In the evening we host a happy hour at Shanghai Lil’s in Karangahape Road for any LGBT athletes in the games.