The crowd at DesertView Pool went wild when Mary Anne Cooper finished her eighth lap, setting three national records in one swim.
Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blared through the pool area as Cooper slowly ascended from the water. A member of the SaddleBrooke Swim Club wrapped a pink towel around her shoulders as the crowd applauded.
Several moments later she settled onto a bench next to Fred Klein, the next swimmer at this meet in SaddleBrooke, a retirement community north of Catalina.
“I’m going to be swimming with you in spirit today,” Cooper told Klein. “I’m proud of you. Too many people give up.”
But not these two.
Cooper is 101, and Klein turned 100 on April 25, the day before the U.S. Masters Swimming centenarian meet, organized by the SaddleBrooke Swim Club.
Both set records that day.
“Nobody in their age group has ever swum those events,” said Phil Simpson, the 75-year-old SaddleBrooke Swim Club president.
Cooper and Klein fall within the 100-to-104 age group for U.S. Masters Swimming Short Course Yards. The organization is a national nonprofit that encourages adult swimming and facilitates competition.
Because no records existed for the events Cooper and Klein swam, their speeds didn’t actually matter.
Cooper swam the 200-yard backstroke in 12 minutes, 13.77 seconds . During her eight laps, the club recorded times at the 50-yard mark (2:47.49) and the 100-yard mark (5:55.74), giving her records in all three events.
Klein swam the 50-yard backstroke for men in 2:55.93 .
“It’s just like swimming on any other day ... ,” Klein said, dripping, a towel slung across his shoulders. “I have been blessed to stay healthy this long.”
And he owes much of that to swimming.
The club deliberately waited until the day after Klein’s 100th birthday so he would fall within the centenarian age group.
But a few weeks ago, Klein, a member of the swim club, fell and broke his shoulder blade, impeding much of the prep work he and club coach Doug Springer did. The two have worked together for about 10 years.
“He wanted to swim with his arms over his head for the backstroke, but that’s not going to happen,” Springer, 69, said. “That may never happen again.”
Instead, they modified the range of motion so Klein’s arms would not have to reach directly overhead.
Cooper, a winter visitor from British Columbia, has swum the backstroke for most of her life — especially after she developed asthma following the death of her husband in 2003.
She’s not a member of the SaddleBrooke club, but her daughter, Corinna Goodman, is. Although Cooper no longer wishes to compete, she has first-place wins from past meets, along with an All-American designation.
“It’s another world when you’re swimming,” she said. “Everything kind of disappears. ... It’s nice to feel the water around you and see the blue sky.”
More than 50 people cheered poolside as she and Klein sliced through the water.
“People are doing things they never thought they could do,” said Jeff Eighmy, who is 68 and a past president of the club. “It makes us think, ‘I’ve got 30 to 40 years ahead of me.’”
Springer estimated the swim club has about 100 members. Of those, 72 swim for SaddleBrooke’s U.S. Masters Swimming team, which Klein and Cooper have been part of in the past.
In early April, the team won its fourth consecutive state championship at a meet in Phoenix, Simpson said.
“We get such a turnout in the older age groups, that we can dominate those age groups,” Simpson said, noting that even if individual swimmers don’t do well in an event, they rack up points for the team because so many compete. “Other clubs could do the same thing ... but they haven’t organized to the extent we have. Coach is dedicated to this, and it has enabled us to grow the team and be a very strong competitor in the state.”
When Springer began coaching the team about 14 years ago, the swim club had fewer than 10 swimmers. The success comes not from a regime of practice, but from teammates encouraging and challenging one another.
“Fred’s our hero, he really is,” said Ed Snyder, 72. “It’s a supportive atmosphere. It’s great to see him do this. If he can do it, I can do it, hopefully.”
Since 2007, Klein has placed first in almost a dozen races and has four All-American listings on the U.S. Masters Swimming website.
Springer declared the centenarian meet an annual occurrence, though Klein said he might be done.
“He’s slowing down,” Springer admitted, referring to Klein’s injury and the death of his wife several months ago.
Cooper, though, plans to swim as long as she can. Aging has taught her to choose determination over comfort.
“I could swim forever before, but with the asthma, I get kind of tired out,” she said. “You discover also that as you don’t use the muscles, they get a little bit hard to use, so I would say very definitely to use it, don’t lose it.”