When it comes to being at one with the water, New Paltz resident Dan Winfield is a natural.
Whether it was at a pond in his hometown of Tuxedo, New York or competing at the collegiate level at Manhattan College, swimming has always been the one constant that resonated in his life. Last month, this active passion led him to compete and medal in the 2014 Federation of International Aquatics (FINA) Masters’ Swimming World Championships in Montreal, Canada at the bright and flourishing age of 69.
As a member of local Shawangunk Masters’ Swim Club, Winfield swims in mass at least five days a week and also participates in state-level aquatic competitions in Cortland, New York. When he learned from his swim club about a world championship being held so close in proximity to his home, he knew that competing in it was very plausible.
“I didn’t have to hop on a plane or encounter a lot of travel expenses, so my wife and I decided to go up,” Winfield said. “I’m used to swimming at the state level here up in Cortland. Every year I do well in that, where they take folks from [age] 50 on up, but going up to Canada was a different ball game. I was in with the big leagues.”
And he was right. According to its website, the FINA World Masters’ Championships is the biggest competition in terms of participation by welcoming adult athletes from all corners of the world to compete. This year’s championship marked the fifteenth year of the competition incorporating its five aquatic disciplines of swimming, diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming.
With the competition hosting nearly 6,000 swimmers from 97 different countries, it was simple for Winfield to feel like a small fish in a big pond. The sheer volume of the competition was overwhelming at times, he said, but representing New Paltz among swim teams from Egypt, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia, to name a few, was quite impressive in itself.
In the championship, Winfield swam in five events over four days. He participated in the 800-yard freestyle first, which he said was rather daunting, and the 200-meter swim as his second, which he didn’t do so particularly well in, either.
After not medaling in his first events, Winfield said he was naturally concerned.
“I wrote to my [masters] coach back here in New York and he said, “‘Stop whining, stop complaining, you’re in the top 20 in the world so that’s nothing to be concerned about.’”
That helped to put things into perspective, he said.
After progressively completing both the 100-meter and 50-meter freestyle after the other events, the 200-meter individual medley was where Winfield struck liquid gold. The individual medley consists of meter swimming in each stroke for 50 yeards apiece.
Winfield began with the butterfly stroke, then progressed with the backstroke, front stroke and concluded with freestyle. After spending four long days of competing every day, Winfield medaled in the 200 Individual Medley event.
“It was just an amazing experience. They had tons of swimmers from all over and the level of competition was very rigorous,” Winfield said. “It’s almost like when you’re in a high school sport playing at the junior varsity level and the coaches want to move you up to varsity. It was just like, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep up.”
According to Winfield, there were competitors at the championship ranging from 25-year-olds to swimmers well into their 90s. By having such a large demographic of competitors, the championship regulated age grouping where swimmers were only judged against those competing within their section. This way the younger swimmers could compete in the same heat of events as the older competitors, but still get measured against those in their own age bracket, Winfield said.
“Someone can be 95 years old and they’re swimming relatively fast with a very efficient stroke and you can just tell that they were athletes for decades,” Winfield said. “The body slows up and you don’t swim as quickly as you remember swimming as you were younger. [The championship] had people swimming and diving well up into their 80s and 90s and it was certainly impressive to watch.”
“I was competing against about 70 people within my age group of 70 to 74-year-olds,” Winfield said. “It’s nice to have a chance to swim against people who are on the same level.”
Heading to another FINA World Masters Championship is surely a possibility for Winfield, who will celebrate his 70th birthday this November.
Though with age a body and mind change, one factor that has not faltered for Winfield is his athleticism. On top of swimming five times a week with his swim club, he also actively attends Ignite, a gym in town, where he says he often runs into SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian, who he commends as another town resident who values staying in great physical shape.
“New Paltz is a great community for athletic endeavors for folks of all ages,” Winfield said. “We have the Shawangunks, just go up there to bike or cross-country ski. It’s just an amazing scenery that we have at our doorstep.”
After medaling at the national swimming championship, Winfield has since recently accomplished another feat of athleticism at a local level: The Survival of the Shawangunk Triathalon. This past Sunday, Sept. 7, he and his wife Marianne completed this eight-stage triathalon consisting of biking 30 miles, running 18 miles and swimming nearly two miles. Winfield, the only male competitor in his age group, completed the race in just over seven hours.
As for his support system that keeps him going for all of his athletic endeavors and beyond, he credits his wife of 46 years.
“My wife is very supportive and keeps me nutritionally well-balanced and keeps all of my training into perspective,” Winfield said. “She makes sure that I don’t overdo it or get stressed out about it. We have four kids and six grandchildren and they’re all pretty athletic and good kids.”
The next FINA World Masters Championship is set to be held in Russia in 2016. Until then, Winfield will be hitting the water weekly and taking life by the mile.