Peter Eisenklam dives into the pool at Friendship Village Tempe, the senior community where he lives. He closes his eyes, knowing nine strokes will propel him to the other end.
“It is like a meditation,” said Eisenklam, who’s 78. “My mind is clear. I’m moving along. I don’t have to think about it.”
Eisenklam was 9 when he learned to swim on a family trip to Austria. He was on the swim team at Forest Hills High in New York and earned a scholarship to New York University.
Eisenklam served in the Army for three and half years, attended graduate school, married, had a son and worked for a newspaper in Santa Fe.
In about 1980, he volunteered to coach for Special Olympics.
“Once I was back in the pool, I was there for good,” Eisenklam said.
Since moving to Arizona 28 years ago, he has competed around the world with National Senior Games and U.S. Masters Swimming. He’s found a supportive community through swimming. He also volunteers as an official at meets.
“That’s how I give back,” he said.
Swimming builds lung capacity and strength but isn’t too hard on his body.
“You see people running, biking and participating in triathlons into later years, but they’re all beat up,” he said.
He’s had health problems — pneumonia, stomach cancer, cardiomyopathy. Fifteen years ago, a doctor told him to stop exercising. “That’s not the way it’s going to work,” Eisenklam told the doctor. He got back in the water.
He’s earned medals, but he doesn’t want to talk about those.
“I’m no hero. I’m not a Michael Phelps,” Eisenklam said. “I’m just an ordinary guy who’s doing his thing.”
Plenty of people his age are active. He meets swimmers in their 90s. When he and his wife, Sue, walk their dogs at 6 a.m., people their age are running, playing tennis, biking and working out in the gym.
“If you don’t keep active,” Eisenklam said, “you don’t live.”
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