Ken Kantrowitz, age 70, is one of those fortunate individuals who discover a passion that embraces him for life: he loves swimming in pools, has been competing on and off for 55 years, and still practices eagerly many many days each week. Inspired by this web site to describe his love affair, he has written a detailed narrative that shows his determination and what it took to make the most of his talents. Especially interesting is that after college and daily swimming, Ken gained 60 pounds due to the lack of intense exercise. Then at age 48, he returned to the pool and the regular exuberant workouts he loves, and much of the weight dissolved in the water. Most years he swims 5-10,000 yards (3-6 miles) a week and 300 to 350,000 yards a year. His best year was 504,000 yards (306 miles).

Ken's specialty was the butterfly—1996

Ken's specialty was the butterfly—1996

by Ken Kantrowitz

When I was six years old, in 1946, my dad took me to a swimming pool and saw that I received lessons to learn how to swim. My teacher, according to my dad, was Jack Morris (more about him later.) Today I would call what I learned to do “swimming doggie-paddle.” It was one step beyond learning to float. I could keep my head above the water level, move my arms and legs and very slowly get from one spot in the pool to another. During the next few summers I went to summer camp and had some more exposure to what a person could do in the water. I was very comfortable in this element and usually had to be bribed to get out of the pool or lake. Little did I know in those days in elementary school that my prime passion at the age of 70, in 2010, would be working out in a swimming pool three or four times a week for an hour and a half each session, and swimming competitively.

In 1954, in the ninth grade, when I was fourteen years old, I wanted to play for a high school varsity team. I was, and still am, a spectator and participation sports nut. Through grade school and junior high, I played softball, baseball, touch football, and basketball. These sports and several others were played on the street in pick-up games, at the Pittsburgh Oakland “Y” on Saturdays and during the summer school vacation, and in a league or two, whenever. Getting into a swimming pool, a lake or an ocean was an afterthought most of the time when the opportunity arose or if we wanted to cool down after doing other exercising land activities or sports. In most sports, I was decent or better than average, but I didn’t feel that I was good enough to make the starting high school varsity in any particular sport.

Ken (far left) and friends—

Ken (far left) and friends—4/94

I knew how to swim I thought— but not really! “Doggie-paddle” wasn’t VARSITY SWIMMING. So in ninth grade, I tried out for the Varsity Swimming team. Coach Claude Sofield, who was a junior and senior high school physical education instructor, coached the Taylor Allderdice High School Varsity Swimming Team in Pittsburgh. Al Wiggins, who swam for Allderdice and the Oakland “Y,” was one of the premier swimmers in high school and in the state and the country. Al set the state record for Pennsylvania in the 100-yard backstroke and eventually was an All-American at National Champion Ohio State and later a top medalist in the Olympics. It was an understatement to say that he was my HERO. Read the rest of this entry »

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