Rosemary Sexton, 65 Kingsport, Tennessee
For Rosemary Sexton, returning home to Kingsport, Tennessee with two swimming medals from the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana “was right up there with my wildest expectations considering the level of competition.” She had only started training a few years ago, but her efforts resulted with a bronze medal in the 200 meter individual medley, and a silver medal in the 100 meter butterfly in the women’s 65-69 division.
The main reason she credits for her success? She swims with Piranhas.
The Kingsport Piranhas is a swim team program composed of pre-teens and teens. Four to five times a week, Rosemary joins them after work for 90 minute workouts. “I saw an ad in the paper, called the coach and asked if there was an age limit to join,” she recalls. “He told me no one had ever asked before, but I could give it a try. I’m sure he thought I would go away.”
She didn’t, and it’s been a positive experience for everyone. “At first, I was an anomaly, but now it doesn’t seem unusual that Miss Rosemary is in the pool,” she observes. “It’s humbling because I always finish dead last. But put me in a pool with people my age and I’m pretty decent now. It’s training with the Piranhas that has me holding my own in Senior Games.”
Prior to age 31, Rosemary says she had never done anything athletic, had a junk food diet and was smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day. “I literally had an epiphany and realized something had to change.” Knowing she would gain weight after quitting smoking, she struggled to keep jogging and started doing 5Ks as motivation. “Competition gave me a reason to do it – I need that carrot hanging in front of me to be motivated to keep training.”
From there she tried distance running, completed a marathon, and was then introduced to the triathlon by a friend. In her 40s, she discovered race walking. “I had a natural ability for it and won some National medals,” she says. “The minute I turned 50, I qualified and competed in the National Senior Games in Hampton Roads.” However, ten years into the sport she tore the metatarsal arch on her left foot. That’s when Rosemary thought about getting back in the pool and found the Piranhas. “I just don’t stop. I find something else to do.”
There is now a masters swimming group in town, but although Rosemary enjoys the camaraderie of senior competition, she prefers the intensity of working out with youngsters. “They push me. The workouts are challenging,” she notes. “It’s also the greatest thing to be friends with these kids while I’m honing my swim skills. I’m not an authority figure. I’m not their teacher, I’m not their coach, I’m not their mother. I’m just somebody they swim with, so we have this very unique relationship.”
In 2014, Rosemary found she had a 99% blockage in her right coronary artery, but it did not stop her. “I am now the proud owner of two stainless steel stents, but I was back in the pool after one week. I’m certain it would have killed me if I hadn’t been in the condition I am in. Swimming literally saved my life.”