MINOT – Life goes on swimmingly for John White.

He’s older than any nine combined children now splashing around in his beloved Taylor Pond, whiling away the final hours of a fleeting summer vacation.

Those wide, piercing eyes don’t see the opposite end of an Olympic-sized pool as clearly or tolerate the chlorine as easily these days.

Pinched nerves and strained muscles don’t allow those sculpted arms and legs to whirl as freely or as intuitively.

Come Mondays, however, White will plunge into Tarbell Pool at Bates College in Lewiston and start kicking water in Father Time’s face. Tuesday, too.

If White’s body agrees, the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday noon hours are booked, also.

White, 91, was crowned a national champion in four different backstroke events in 2006.

He was tops in the 50 and 200 yard and 50 and 200 meter events.

“I got lucky. I outlived the competition,” cracked the retired dairy farmer and real estate salesman.

He’s right, to an extent. Still, scan the list of times underneath the national championship threshold in White’s unthinkable 90-to-94 age bracket, and you’ll discover that the Bates College graduate isn’t that much of a novelty.

Ten different names dot the list.

“A lot of them are former Olympians,” said White, who maintains the same, lean 160 pounds that have filled out his 5-foot, 9-inch frame throughout his adult life. “It’s no pushover. We have a lot of fun doing it.”

Masters swimming is a tight fraternity and a worldwide endeavor, yet White has carved out his reputation without ever straying far from his lifelong home.

White simply dots his calendar with Maine events at Bates or Bowdoin, where the split-second clock has the blessing of FINA, the International Swimming Federation.

“FINA keeps all the metric records for every country in the world. I never go to a national meet. All my times in Maine are electronic times, and they are reported from Maine Masters to New England Masters to U.S. Masters, all the way to FINA over in Switzerland,” White explained. “I don’t ever have to leave the state of Maine, but I can swim against people from Japan, Germany or wherever.”

White’s journey to senior achievement began after his retirement two decades ago, when he grew restless and frustrated by his diminished pep during the interminable Maine winter.

Daily swims became a ritual, and it wasn’t long before White rediscovered the passion for competition that made him an accomplished swimmer in college.

United States Masters Swimming separates the seniors in five-year divisions. Before his 90th birthday, White ranked the nation’s No. 1 and the world’s No. 2 in the 200-meter backstroke, completing the route in under five minutes.

His fastest recorded 2006 time in the 200 meters was 5:25.49, but he still navigates the 50-meter sprint at a spry 1:04.78 clip.

When he crossed from the 85-to-89 division into 90-to-94, of course, White admittedly encountered less competition. As he wryly pointed out, the attrition rate takes a toll on the talent pool.

White is very much alive and unwilling to slow down, but even his journey is rife with new and career-threatening symptoms.

“I had a cataract operation about a year ago and had to stay out of the water for a while,” White said.

“I had a little bleeding in my left eye (this summer) and had to have an injection in the eye, so that’s kept me away.”

The pinched nerve has affected his balance and curtailed White’s backstroke pursuits, limiting him to freestyle, for now.

But who knows? Maybe that’s just the start of his run at a national title in a new discipline.

He is already one of only 10 current national champions to win a title in two different age classes.

“I’m 91,” White said, “and still going.”

Amen to that.


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