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ann McGovernMythbuster: Anne McGovern

Educator and athlete

Date of interview: April 2012

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In a late-afternoon interview in her cozy dining room — where the table was set with a quilted runner she'd made — petite Anne McGovern shared her life-long passion for swimming, the joy she gets from sharing that passion, and her thoughts on what it takes to be a winner, no matter what you do.

mythbusters Senior Games Cleveland

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in 1947, so I'm a Baby Boomer. I was born and raised in Akron, and I lived in the same house from my birth day till my wedding day 21 years.

We lived in inner-city Akron, near what is now St. Vincent-St. Mary, the church and school were we went.

You are one of 11 kids. Where are you in the sibling line-up?

I am number 10, and the youngest of seven girls. There are four boys and the baby, number 11, is my brother Bob, who is competes in swimming, too.

My oldest brother just turned 80 and we go from 62 to 80.

You're a competitive swimmer who will be competing in the Ohio Senior Olympics this summer and the National Senior Games next summer. When did you start swimming? And what got you interested in swimming?

I started swimming competitively at about seven and swam competitively until I was about 10. I didn't go back to that [swimming competitively] until about nine years ago.

Where we swam, they had a 10 and under group, and I swam in that group. Now-a-days, they have eight and under groups.

[Laughs] Mostly we swam at the Jewish Community Center in Akron.

When my brother Charles, the oldest, was a teenager, he saw four boys beating up on one.He didn't ask any questions and he didn't know any of the boys, but he went up and helped the one being beaten up.

It turned out that they were beating up on him solely because he was Jewish. His family was so grateful that they bought our family a membership to the Jewish Community Center in Akron. So we – this Irish Catholic family – all learned to swim at the Jewish Community Center.

Swimming isn't traditionally a women's sport, so what got you interested in swimming?

My father was an avid swimmer. He got all of us interested in swimming very young. He used to tell us that he competed against Johnny Weissmuller, but he always failed to mention who won.

When did you enter your first competitive swimming meet as a senior? And how did you find out about it?

That was the Tri-County Senior Games in Akron, in 2003. I was 55 then.

My sister Mary she's number six and we always tease her about being the "middle" child had done the race walk the previous year and she told us siblings about it and that she'd had a lot of fun. So, in 2003, I entered the swimming competition. The next year, both Bob and I entered the swimming competition.

How did you do in that first meet?

[Laughs] I did very, very well. I entered six races and won them all.

As I mentioned already, you'll be participating in the Ohio Senior Olympics in July and the National Senior Games next summer both of which will be held here in Cleveland. What are you doing right now to get in shape for the Ohio games and to prepare for the national games where the competition will be much stiffer?

I swim three or four days a week for at least an hour-and-a-half.

I've usually done well in the breast stroke events, but I'm training for a new event that I've never done before the 200-yard back stroke. And, because I've usually come close to a ribbon in the butterfly, but haven't gotten one yet, so I'm really trying to improve my butterfly stroke, too.

Working out in a pool is important, but what about working with weights or other training activities?

I do some circuit training, on weight machines, mostly to strengthen my legs. The swimming works out my arms, but my legs aren't as strong as they could be, so I'm working on them.

During workouts I do leg presses. Then I do a hip machine to work out my hip abductors and adductors which is especially good for my breast stroke. And I'm also doing abdominal exercises, which are good for my butterfly stroke.

A few weeks before the competition I'll taper off on my workouts. I have to be careful about maintaining my weight then, so I cut back on calories...but right before a meet I do "load" with carbs for energy.

A lot of people think competing in sports and games and meets is "all about winning." What do you think? In other words, why are you involved in competitive sports and committed to competing in both the Ohio and the National Senior Games?

I do like to win, and I am competitive. We have a joke in my family that we competed over the toast. But it's not just the winning. It's what it means. It gives me a lot of self-esteem. And it empowers me.

When I was a young girl, I wanted to compete in sports, but everything was just for boys. When I got to college, there was a boys' swim team, but no girls' team. My father was a century ahead of his time and tried to get me to try out for the boys team. I was a better swimmer than several people on the team and my brother was on the team and would have been there for me and supported me, but I just couldn't do it. I was too shy.

Now I could kick myself. It was the early '60s, and I could have pushed it, and I wish that I had. And I still thank my father for that encouragement and incentive.

Now the competition is thrilling and fun and so inspiring. I had a swimming student tell me at the age of 67 that she'd also never had the chance to compete as a girl and that she wanted to compete before she turned 70. So I said, "What are you waiting for? If you goal is to compete, you can do that today."

She started competing, and now we go to meets together.

You have been a certified water safety instructor since you were 17. And you've been teaching swimming and water safety since 1975. And you've been coaching diving since the early 1990s. As a teacher/coach you've helped dozens of students become elite and competitive swimmers. For you, what's the best thing hands-down about teaching and coaching?

When I see improvement, it thrills me. When someone is better today than they were yesterday at their particular sport, I shout, I clap, I jump up and down. It doesn't matter what they accomplished, what matters is that they got better.

Once I saw one of my students crying and I asked him what was wrong. He said, "I can't do it," and I said, "Swimmers say I can't do it, yet." Today, all my swimmers say that. And when they do it, everyone cheers.

What's the worst thing?

You get wet. You change your suit. [Laughs] Some days are three wet swimsuit days. And drying the hair. That is all just drudgery.

But there's really nothing "worst" about the teaching part unless the heater breaks in the pool.

Occasionally, though, I'll get a student that I wonder why they are there. They don't listen sometimes totally ignoring what I'm telling them. They are stuck in their ways. They don't change, and they don't want to change. They don't progress.

Do you ever think at least with the students that aren't making progress that maybe they aren't there because they want to be?

Yes. And I've always told my students "Don't do it for me. Do it for you."

You work at Akron General Hospital's Wellness Center. You volunteer and have for decades with the Red Cross. You're a deacon in your church and sing and play in the choir, too. You bike, and hike and quilt. And you're “nana” to four grandkids and two “bonus” grandkids. Where does all the energy come from?

It comes from staying active and having a good spirit, a good inner core. I have all the support I could ever need, with my church and my family. They keep me up and grounded. The energy just comes.

You are devoted to your church. What role does it play in your life?

I'd never had what I've heard called a “church family” until I joined Northminster Presbyterian. We truly are a church family. We call. We care. We are a small congregation, only about 400 members, and we all know each other by name.

Before, my experience with church was that it was always a Sunday “thing.”

You're definitely aging successfully. But that means different thing to different people. What's your definition of successful aging?

Wow! A good question.

Still being here, that's the first thing. And still being able to do the things I love to do.

[Laughs] I like it when people ask me how old I am, because that means they are wondering how I'm staying so fit and active.

What do you do to stay mentally active?

I'm an avid reader. I have stacks of books on my night table, in my drawers, in my closet. Sometimes I'm reading three books at a time and I really like the audio books for the car.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I just started reading The Hunger Games series. My son, who's a sixth grade teacher, bought a set for his classroom and a set for me. It's very well written and it's enthralling. It really grabs you and brings you in.

Right before that, was reading Elizabeth and Phillip: The Untold Story Of The Queen Of England And Her Prince. When I was on the last few pages, my granddaughter, Amanda, told me she knew that I knew the answer and asked me why Queen Elizabeth's husband is a prince and not a king. [Laughs] And I did know, but only because I'd just read about it.

I love historical fiction, too. And I can't put a book down once I've started it. I just can't do it.

I'm a quilter, too, and that's pretty creative and it keeps me mentally alert. [Laughs] I just had to tear out eight squares yesterday and rearrange them. When I told my brother Bob, he said "As you sew, so shall you rip."

It's not just the sewing I like, though, I like going to the store and picking out the fabrics and the matching and coordinating colors, too.

What did I not ask that I should have?

I'm surprised that you didn't ask me about my birth defect. I was born with a clef palate and my struggle with that. My first surgery was within three days of my birth. I had a total of 7 surgeries. One was over Christmas break, when I was in kindergarten. That Christmas I got a very expensive doll that I'm sure my parents couldn't afford.

It made me very strong and very resilient. I grew up thinking that I could do anything. And I'm sure that it's why I took to swimming. I could keep my face in the water.

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