Swim team combines aerobics, fun

Barbara Riedl, left, and Heidi Johnson, center, show off medals from the Winter Games of Texas in swimming. Both recently spoke about the benefits of swimming for older athletes.

Barbara Riedl, left, and Heidi Johnson, center, show off medals from the Winter Games of Texas in swimming. Both recently spoke about the benefits of swimming for older athletes.

A group of Denison swimmers is making a splash in the world of water aerobics and recreational fun. The U.S. Masters Swim Team at Waterloo Pool has about 15 seniors who are regular members, while a small handful also participate on the Denison Dolphins swim team as well.

For older athletes to those that are still competitive, the team allows a group of swimmers of all skill and age levels to continue practicing the sport while getting in some low impact exercise.

“There are a lot of swimmers out there who got their start on the Denison Dolphins swim team,” Denison Aquatic Program Director Dori Smith said.

Part of the appeal of swimming, especially for older athletes is its relative low impact on the body. Due to the nature of the water, Smith said there is little impact placed on the body, while swimming still offers a full-body exercise.

“As we get older … things start to hurt,” Smith said. “Being in the water takes pressure of your joints, bones and different parts of your body. With those previous injures you can exercise and rehabilitate yourself. I have some who start swimming and are able to go back to track or other exercises.”

Despite this low impact on joints and muscles, Smith said swimming comes with the added benefit of naturally offering some resistance throughout the exercise due to the water itself.

Among the swimmers who call Waterloo their home pool is Heidi Johnson, who said she has swam for most of her life. Despite this, she only became competitive in it within the past five years. Earlier this January, Johnson took home two gold medals during her first trip to the 2022 Winter Games of Texas.

“I’ve swam all my life, but it was only about four or five years ago that I started competition,” she said. “The reality is that you have more time when you are retired to work out.”

Johnson, who Smith described as a lap swimmer, said she began to spend more time swimming later in life. Now in her 70s, Johnson swims each day for about an hour in order to maintain a healthy exercise.

Johnson said there are many aspects of swimming that she enjoys ranging from the “swimmer’s high” she gets after a good exercise to the feel of the water over her skin

“Not many people my age want to dive off the block, but for me it is like flying — if only for a second,” she said.

Swimming also has served as a form of weight control, Johnson said. Beyond burning calories, Johnson said she rarely feels hungry after her daily swim.

“When I finish swimming I am never hungry,” she said. “I am thirsty, temporarily tired, but not hungry.”

The exercise also has allowed Johnson to cut back on a medication she needs to take, she said.

Johnson said over the years she has been coached by former Waterloo Pool instructor Barbara Riedl, who also has continued swimming into her 70s. Like Johnson, Riedl also brought home gold from the winter games in the form of three gold medals.

Riedl started swimming when she was younger up until her college years, but fell away from it when she had children. She joined the Denison Dolphins around 2000, she said.

“One thing is that it is a much easier sport on the body,” she said. The main injuries from swimming are shoulder and elbow injuries, but it is much easier on the body than say running.”

Riedl discovered Waterloo on the recommendation of a friend. Eventually, she began to work there teaching everything from swim lessons to life guard classes and water safety.

“Even though it is less impactful, it is still a wonderful cardio exercise that will be your heart going,” she said, adding that the breathing exercises also have their benefits.

“It makes your quality of life better if you are physically stronger,” she added. “As we get older we begin to lose muscle strength, so we need to do some form of physical exercise to maintain our strength. Swimming is a good way to do that.”

This article originally appeared on Herald Democrat: From low impact exercise to gold medalists: Swim team combines aerobics, fun