Diving into Competitive Swimming During Retirement

Ask Donna Mc Minn, 71, of Oakland Township why she took up competitive swimming during her retirement and she’ll grin and say: “In the pool, no one can see you sweat.”  

Mc Minn swims three miles a week at the Older Persons’ Commission in Rochester and has taken home gold and silver medals from the Michigan Senior Olympics games several times. She has competed in the National Senior Olympics games six times.  

Her longest distance is the 500 swim, and she also competes in the 200 and 100 events. Mc Minn jokes she’s lost her “fast-twitch” muscles to compete in the 50 – a sprint that typically takes less than 30 seconds for the best older swimmers.  

“I’m there to meet people, and I compete against myself,” Mc Minn said of the National Senior Olympics games.  

It’s a sport she’s embraced after retiring 12 years ago from her career as a veterinarian. Previously, Mc Minn’s sport of choice was dressage – a type of English horseback riding in which riders execute a series of patterned movements. But swimming presented a new challenge.  

“You’re not running; there’s no stress on your joints,” Mc Minn said of why she enjoys competitive swimming. “You’re one with the water.”  

Swimming is one of the best workouts for older adults, as it is low impact and presents very little risk of injury. Here are some additional benefits:  

  • Improves heart health  
  • Gentle on joints  
  • Improved bone mineral density, which reduces risk of osteoporosis  
  • Increased flexibility  
  • Improved muscle tone and strength  
  • Stress reliever  
  • Social connections 
Donna Mc Minn swims at the Older Persons' Commission in Rochester.
Donna Mc Minn swims at the Older Persons’ Commission in Rochester.

While Mc Minn often trains by herself in the pool – visiting three times a week to swim a mile each time – she has also found support in a group of fellow women swimmers. They’ve given themselves a name: the “Wild, Wacky, Wonderful Women of the Water.” The group has been instrumental in helping Mc Minn become more acquainted with competitive swimming. The team enlisted the help of a high school competitive swim coach to hone their strokes.  

All of the practice pays off: Mc Minn has repeatedly competed in the “Swim to the Moon” open water race through four lakes in Pinckney in August. Twice, she’s raced the 5K event – an accomplishment that takes two hours but brings her a great sense of pride.  

Mc Minn is currently working on getting her endurance back in the water: she recently underwent rotator cuff surgery and is doing her best to follow the doctor’s orders of being gradual with her activity. She and her husband, Bob Van Camp, enjoy their time exercising at the Older Persons’ Commission.  Mc Minn hits the pool and Van Camp plays table tennis – though it’s easy for them both to get caught up in a lively discussion with their friends in the middle of a workout.  

“The social aspect of both of our activities is very important along with the physical benefits,” Mc Minn said. “Bob often pokes his head into the pool area and finds me chatting at the end of the pool lane with other swimmers. Encouragement is always helpful!” 

Photo credit: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan


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