The trim woman waits at the ocean's edge, eager to join about 135 others in the one-mile Santa Monica Breakwater Ocean Swim. Dressed in a colorful one-piece bathing suit and flashy yellow swim cap, she blends into the exercise-toned crowd. It seems hardly possible that Kotoko Kawamura Kroesen is, at 73, the oldest swimmer here.
"In Japan, at my age, most people would think I am crazy to be in swimming competitions," the Santa Monica woman says. "My Japanese friends are much more elegant and demure than I am. These women are studying flower arranging, tea ceremonies, sewing and calligraphy, but not swimming."
But, she adds, "Swimming keeps me healthy. Every part of my body is affected, and I feel wonderful afterward."
After she retired in 1986, Kroesen joined Southern California Aquatic Masters swim team, training to swim properly by swimming efficiently and avoiding injuries. And she began to enter competitions.
Winning isn't the goal. "I like to swim the breaststroke so I can keep my head above the water and enjoy the nature all around me," she says. "But this style of swimming is very slow and not the best choice for competition.
"I feel like I used to be a fish because swimming is so natural for me. When I swim I am so free. I just don't think of anything except swimming. Although sometimes while swimming a mile I'll sing songs or count the strokes in Japanese, ichi, ni, san--or, in English, one, two, three. This is how I get into the rhythm of swimming."
As for Japanese tradition: "My family admires me for the things I do, but I don't tell my family in Japan everything, as they are very traditional. They say I am sugoi, meaning awesome. But it has other meanings also: too awful or too sharp. Hopefully, they refer to me as sugoi, meaning awesome."