Love of swimming pushes Murray Park Center seniors to win gold medalsOct 01, 2022 08:03PM ● By Shaun Delliskave
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Dedicated lap swimmers are not likely to strike you as Michael Phelps material. Instead, they intend to live forever by faithfully repeating the same constant rhythm and speed in their aquatic lane. That all changed when Murray Park Center Aquatics Manager Sena Vick took three of the Park Center’s senior swimmers to compete in the Idaho Senior Games.
Vick, who started as a lifeguard at the Park Center, has gotten to know the pool’s longtime regulars, especially Julie Wallentine, Paul Nicholls and Bud Sadler. When Nicholls suggested in 2020 that the three go beyond their regular fitness routine and try competing in the Southeast Idaho Senior Games in Pocatello, Idaho, the idea intrigued them, especially Wallentine.
“I remember Sena being right there when I said, ‘I wish I would’ve gone.’ She responded, ‘Well, next year you’re going, and I’ll go as your coach.’ That did it; this past year, whenever I got in the water, Sena would work with me on my strokes, and I would practice on a daily basis. Because I was practicing every day, my strokes got better, and I couldn’t have been happier spending time with Sena in the pool,” Wallentine said.
“I was interested in taking Julie because I knew she trusted me and felt comfortable with me taking her up there. Plus, it’s always nice to have support from the pool you swim at. It took me back to my days as a swim coach and watching my swimmer progress in their best events, and I was able to do that again when I was asked to take Julie up to Idaho,” Vick said.
Vick started to coach Nicholls in the 25- and 50-yard breaststroke and freestyle; Sadler in the 25-yard backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, 50-yard breaststroke and freestyle, and 100-yard breaststroke and freestyle. Wallentine competed in the 100-yard breaststroke and 500-yard freestyle.
Wallentine nearly gave up swimming in 2020. As with all things pandemic, the pool was shut down, but she also suffered a devasting injury. After falling, she had three occult fractures and could not walk to the bus stop to get to the Park Center.
“The first time I had paratransit (UTA’s specialized transport service), I went straight back to the gym. At that time, I considered paratransit my ticket to freedom. But after the falls and the struggles with mobility, my orthopedic doctor said that the pool was medically necessary,” Wallentine said.
At the SE Idaho Senior Games, the swimming competition is a three-day event. It is open to swimmers from all 50 states to compete in different age brackets.
“The excitement came out as the competition got closer and the eagerness to participate, especially for Julie,” Vick said.
“I discovered this is the first time I’ve gone anywhere with friends,” Wallentine said. “It was a new facility, a new area, a new pool, a new hotel, new people. Everything was brand new, and I’ve never branched out enough to have had such a successful experience in feeling comfortable enough to go again.”
Triumphantly, their practice paid off. All three came away with gold medals, with Wallentine sweeping her two events and Nicholls and Sadler also coming away with personal bests in their events.
“I’m so proud of myself because I never dreamed I would ever do something like this and to come home with two gold medals was amazing,” Wallentine said.
According to Vick, all three are planning to return to the games next year.
“The most rewarding thing for me was seeing Julie have more confidence in herself—that she can compete against others and that she has the strength and perseverance to compete and do well in her events. The other rewarding thing was being able to cheer on the other swimmers from the surrounding states and seeing that even though you age, it’s just a number; it doesn’t define who you are as a person,” Vick said. “Seeing a 100-year-old lady[LL1] compete and take gold showed me and reminded me that things are possible as long as you put your mind to it.”