Robert Strand is a late bloomer. The 62-year-old real estate and financial manager from Pasadena didn't start swimming seriously until age 44, when he began competing at the masters level. He has now set 45 world records and 75 national records.
In December, at a Southern Pacific Masters Assn. championship event in Long Beach, he broke the world record for men ages 60 to 64 in the 100-meter breast stroke and the 50-meter breast stroke. In May, he competed in the U.S. Masters Swimming Nationals in Austin, Texas, where he won five national championships and set a new masters national record in the 100-yard individual medley.
You are still setting records at 62. How are you staying ahead of the competition?
The most encouraging thing is I set records as a 61-year-old, and then broke them as a 62-year-old, but I definitely have been slowing down a little as I've gotten older. I was swimming about as fast as I ever did in my life up until about age 52, and then from about age 55 on, it's become tougher.
You swam as a youth, but then stopped for many years. What happened?
I was an age-group national champion and swam from age 6 to 18, but my college swimming career was interrupted by family problems and illness.
Years later, I just happened to go to a local YMCA with a buddy of mine and wanted to lift some weights, and there was a pool there. I swam a couple of times and one of the lifeguards came up to me and said, "You know, I think you'd be better-suited if you checked out this masters group that swims at nighttime at this other pool."
So I started masters swimming in 1990 and won my first national championship about seven months later. It was kind of a surprise for me.
What drew you to the pool?
I started swimming again just for mental therapy and the pool was a great place to be. Then when I swam in my first actual meet as an adult, it was amazing to be back in a swim meet. And then I discovered how serious the masters athletes are in general, and how serious the swimmers are. It's unbelievable the times that are being turned in -- the Olympic age for swimmers is getting older and older. I'm sure [in this year's Olympics] we'll have at least a few over 30, which was unheard of 20 years ago. Dara Torres is 41, and she had a baby, and she's probably going to make the Olympic team.
What do you do to train?
I usually do four pretty heavy workouts a week in the pool. I discovered that instead of an aerobic workout, which would be grinding out 4,000 or 5,000 meters, I'm better off doing a much faster workout -- what they call "anaerobic" work. This is really a race-pace type workout, where you're doing maybe 10 [50-yard swims], swimming as hard as you can, on a set time on the clock. Also, I lift weights a couple of days a week. I use about four different upper-body machines and try to lift to failure. I'll do maybe three or four sets on a machine and with each set I'll increase the weight. I try to go to absolute failure on that fourth set of that particular machine. I'm in and out of the weight room in 20 minutes.
As for diet, I eat whatever I want. I'm a meat eater; I eat cheese; I love baked potatoes; I drink wine. Some take it too seriously.
Do you ever think, 'Gee, I wish I'd stuck to it back all those many years ago in college'?
It's never too late. I'm 62, and mentally about 15. Some people enjoy working out but they don't like to compete. I like working out, but I love to compete, so my battle is always to put the effort into the training.