ITHACA, NY -- Ahhh... retirement... Relax, kick back... Or how about grab a kick board instead, and intensify your training?
Terry Hoppenrath retired a few months ago after a long and satisfying career in physical therapy, and she is boarding a Texas-bound plane in a few days. Her trip will involve water, but if you're guessing a beach chair on the Gulf Coast, you don't know Terri. The 65 year-old will be — in the words of her coach, Jim Avery — “competing at the prestigious USMS [U.S. Masters Swimming] national short course swimming championships in San Antonio from April 28-May 1 , swimming against numerous world, national and former Olympic record holders and gold medalists.”
While Hoppenrath took a considerable amount of time off from competitive swimming, she is by no measure a rookie. The 1975 Ithaca High graduate was, in Avery's words, “Part of a breakthrough group of four girls who were good enough to swim on the boys’ team,” and after her high school career, she competed for Rutgers.
Of the trip to Texas, Terri said, “This is my third trip to the Nationals since I turned 60 — I started at 62 — but I hadn't competed since I was 35.” She added, “A lot of people are coming back — the fact that it's an outdoor pool might make some people feel safer. There will be 67 women in my age group, and my goal is to finish in the top five.” Calling such a robust number of competitors “a testament to swimming as a lifetime sport,” she pointed out that the oldest swimmer is over 100 years old.
Jim Avery has an impressive swimming resume of his own (high school and college All-American, swimming at Indian River Community College and Auburn University), and he is pleased to be a part of Hoppenrath's training team.
“I am consulting with other coaches,” Jim offered, “like Ithacan Kim Bracken — who has coached collegians and Olympians — and David Marsh, my roommate at Auburn, who also has Olympic coaching experience. We are blending their knowledge with new techniques and training devices (like the GMX7, an aquatic resistance device developed by Avery's Auburn teammate, David McCagg), and I'm training five other people. It has motivated me to get back in the pool, try to break some of the rust away and compete in the Masters Nationals.”
Terri conveyed that she likes the way her career dovetails into her swimming, saying, “As a physical therapist it was important for me to stay in shape, and be a good role model.” She is enjoying the collaboration and the ramped up competition, saying “It's nice to have a sport that I can do for the pure enjoyment, but I have been kicking it up a notch competitively. While the workouts are very difficult, I do love getting into the pool every day.” As if reminding herself to stay balanced, she added, “That said, I have told Jim that if I'm not having fun, I'm done.”
At this writing, I am only a few hours out from being informed that Richie Moran — a legend to the world at large and a very close friend to me — has passed after two and a half years fighting the grueling effects of dialysis. Most people had no idea what he was going through, as he held his head high and just kept being Richie.
I will write about Richie extensively in the days (and years) to come, but right now I'm just mourning the loss of a cherished friend. A few days before his passing, I was blessed to be invited to Easter dinner with Richie and his family, and we went around the room, sharing with Richie what we all wanted him to know.
I told him that when the time came for him to finally write his autobiography, I was well aware that he had the connections and the resources to engage the services of anyone he chose to be his co-author. The fact that he chose me was — and will always be — one of the great honors of my life. We really dug deep. Richie's honesty and vulnerability made for a powerful and compelling look into his amazing life, and I will be forever grateful.
I loved that man, and I will miss him so much.