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Competitive Swimmer Took Plunge at 55 : Aging: New Jersey woman immersed herself in sport; she now competes and often wins. 'It's not winning that keeps me going,' she says. 'It's just a neat thing to do.'


VINELAND, N.J. — Ruth Aaron fondly recalls her first swimming lesson, about 10 years ago--at age 55.

"A local club was having a clinic for kids over 12. I told him I was over 12 and he said OK," she said.

Since then, Aaron has taken on swimming full time and now competes. She often wins or places in regional and national races in the butterfly, freestyle, backstroke and breast stroke.

Although success has fueled her interest in the sport, Aaron admits that at first she had a completely different motivation.

"I had severe spring allergies. The only real comfort I got was when I swam, so I paddled around the pool a lot. Then someone suggested I start swimming competitively. It sort of mushroomed from there."

Before she took up swimming, Aaron said she was only slightly active, taking a bike ride or a dip in the pool at the YMCA every once in a while.

When she started swimming regularly 10 years ago, Aaron said, her two grown daughters shrugged and said, "Oh, mom's swimming."

"But when I told them I was going to compete, they looked at me quizzically," she said.

Her husband has found the transformation interesting.

"He's fascinated with what's happened to me, though he's not interested in swimming," she said.

As far as competition goes, she said, "I do very well until I get into a big pond like the nationals."

On the national level, the competition often includes former Olympic swimmers, she said.

Aaron swims mostly on a local circuit that includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.

Though she doesn't consider it her best event, Swimming Magazine ranks her among the top 10 swimmers in the country in the masters 200-meter butterfly--a stroke she learned two years ago.

"My long-course freestyle is my best stroke," she said. "The backstroke is the most challenging for me. I've had trouble getting any speed on it. I still try to improve. That's the fun part about it."

Though it's a thrill to compete, she said, "It's not winning that keeps me going. It's just a neat thing to do."

As her form and speed have improved, Aaron said, her life has improved as well.

"I look better, I feel better. I've built up my lungs. When I started, I could hardly make it to the other end of the pool, but I kept going because it helped my allergies."

For Aaron, swimming is the ideal exercise.

"Nothing hurts and I hate to sweat, so it's perfect," she said.

Aaron said she believes she is setting an example for others her age to become more active.

"I find that usually people my age do what I used to do--just paddle around. But watching me, they realize they could do more, that they have the strength to do what I do."

A homemaker all her life, Aaron said her hobby has become more like a new occupation; she reports to the pool at the YMCA about 11:15 every morning.

"It's my job," she said happily.

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