Charlotte Sanddal, 100, Helena, Montana
When she first jumped into a pool to learn to swim at the age of 72, Charlotte Sanddal was only thinking about finding a way to stay healthy and active. Then when she began competing in the Montana Senior Olympics in 1994, she earned her first medal and was hooked for life with the community she found.
The retired clinical social worker and World War II veteran has been attacking the lanes ever since. Now at 100, she has amassed several national and world age group records from more than 400 career races, and people are taking notice as she enters the rarified air of a centenarian athlete.
Earlier this year Charlotte swam well as the oldest pool competitor at the 2022 National Senior Games presented by Humana, but because her birthday fell after the actual competition date none of her swims qualified for 100+ records. Last month she rectified that at the Huntsman World Senior Games, which has submitted six of her swim event times for pending FINA world record certification- in the 200, 400 and 800 meter Freestyle, 100 and 200 meter breaststroke and the 100 meter Individual Medley.
But setting records and winning medals, while motivational, were never the biggest factors for her. “It’s a byproduct of doing the right things,” she says. “I’ve gotten records so now I have them. There’s no point in me making it a big thing. You don’t have to pretend you’re someone else. Look at what you’re able to do and enjoy and not just think about breaking somebody’s record.”
Charlotte has always preached choosing an activity that provides enjoyment, and not to worry about competition and results. “If I can do it other people can do it too,” she states. “I’m here not for me, but to let others know to get off their you-know-what and have some fun. If you don’t enjoy it there’s not a point in doing it.”
Noticing that Charlotte had painted her toenails in rainbow colors for her races, we know she is practicing what she preaches about making it fun. To keep herself moving she also loves travel, playing bridge, kayaking, and has been a longtime volunteer at the Montana Historical Society.
The Wall Street Journal has taken notice, recently publishing an informative and revealing profile you can read here. Growing Bolder included her in a recent feature about smashing stereotypes where she explains how central swimming is to her well-being. “I’ve outlived all my ancestors and I owe it to swimming. Swimming gets me up in the morning. I do my stretches and my exercise, and then I get to the pool. That’s what’s good about swimming. You never have to quit. you can keep going and you meet people from all over. It’s a good way to spend your time and it keep me out of the bars.”
Charlotte also notes that her regular swimming workouts helped her overcome a broken hip sustained in a bike accident when she was 88. Instead of spiraling downward, the rebound gave her more confidence to keep pushing.
As she plans her big 2023 meets for the FINA World Masters Championships in Japan and the 2023 National Senior Games in Pittsburgh, she reflects how glad she is that she had the courage to ignore conventional thoughts about aging. “I grew up in a time when you believed everything slowed down when you are 50 and you behaved yourself and looked proper and prim. That doesn’t work anymore.”