DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Senior Olympic Swimmer Betty Ann "Pua" Barnett set five world records -- in the 50, 100, 200 backstroke, and 200 and 400 yard freestyle -- in last year's Senior Olympics (60 to 64 age class).
Betty Ann Barnett's love of swimming is six decades long and oceans deep
When she was a youngster, Betty Ann Barnett's parents couldn't drag her out of the water. Now 60, she recommends this form of exercise to everyone, young and old.
"Swimming, for me, has always been about the pure joy of being in the water," said Barnett, who started swimming when she was 2. "I love seeing fish, catching waves, being surprised by spinner dolphins, turtles, eagle rays and even sharks."
Barnett began swimming competitively as a third-grader at Punahou School and continued the sport through high school. Since then she has set numerous world records in the FINA Master World Championships in New Zealand and Australia. Working as a flight attendant, she had opportunities to compete in Sydney during layovers, winning her age division in five open ocean races.
"The Australians are ferociously competitive yet all the while friendly and fun," she said. "I've gained several new friends who keep inviting me to do more races."
Now, as a member of the master swimming group, her workouts are set up by University of Hawaii coaches, and her goal is to compete for the first time in the Hawaii Senior Olympics in October and November, beginning with a Fitness Festival at Hawaiian Brian's on Oct. 20.
SWIMMING IS NOT just about competition for Barnett, though, it is a part of her lifestyle. For fun she heads to the Big Island to swim in Kapoho's heated volcanic pools. Some of her favorite swimming holes are in Tahiti.
In addition to the joy she feels while in the water, she appreciates swimming's health benefits.
"My doctor says that I should never have a problem with my heart, most likely due to good circulation," she said.
Health benefits of seniors maintaining an active lifestyle have been documented in numerous studies, according to Mark Zeug, president of the Hawaii Senior Games and chairman of the board for the National Senior Games Association.
"We already know that someone who remains physically active in their senior years can expect to live as much as 10 years longer than the proverbial couch potato, per the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and that they will have a substantially improved quality of life during that extra decade," Zeug said. "Per the CDC, we also know that someone who remains physically active in their senior years will, on average, save approximately $3,500 per year in medical and pharmaceutical expenses."
Barnett had to take it easy after some work-related injuries but managed to find ways to connect with the ocean -- whether entering the water with her hand wrapped in a bag after carpal tunnel surgery or taking walks in the water following shoulder surgery.
She claims that nothing beats a relaxing swim at the end of the day.
"It is a terrific sport for all ages. A swim in the ocean just before sunset is like washing off the day, sorting out my thoughts, while at the same time providing a level of fitness," she said.
"I encourage everyone to start swimming at any age. The ocean salt water is buoyant and supportive. It's free ... right here in our back yard."