Name the activity and O.K. Bryant was up for it.
Running, cycling, walking, lifting weights, it didn’t matter. But when the former University of Alabama swimmer and his wife, Tallulah, re-committed to physical fitness as a big part of their lives, swimming wasn’t included.
Sure, Bryant and his wife spent time snorkeling and having fun in the water during a 13-year period in which they sailed the Caribbean. Still, when he and his wife returned to Columbus to settle down, Bryant remained hesitant to include swimming as part of his regimen.
“I really didn’t want to get back into swimming because I was afraid it would become too important and then I would be a competitive nut and want to swim all of the time,” Bryant said.
Today, Bryant is one of the most active residents of Columbus — and swimming is part of his weekly schedule. Bryant’s cross-training made his return to swimming in December 2009 that much easier. Nearly three years later, Bryant hasn’t transformed into a “swimming nut,” but he remains one of the nation’s most accomplished athletes in his age group.
Last month, Bryant competed in four swimming events at the National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio, a 19-sport, biennial competition for men and women 50 and over. The event is the largest multi-sport event in the world for seniors. Bryant finished sixth in the 200-yard individual medley 3 minutes, 25.69 seconds), eighth in the 200 breaststroke (3:33.39), and 11th in the 50 and 100 breast (42.02 seconds, 1:35.56) in the men’s 65- to 69-year-old age bracket.
“It was a bigger and better than I expected,” Bryant said. “I have never been to the Olympics, but the swimming was of that caliber. There were some people there who were past Olympians. I was really pleased with how I did. Some of the guys there I never would be able to beat them. It was really amazing.”
Bryant’s trip to the National Senior Games was his first. Tallulah Bryant also qualified to compete, but O.K. said his wife opted not to compete. The Bryants also qualified for the 2011 Games in Houston but didn’t go because they were competing in two different age groups that would have forced them to stay too long
In addition to being Bryant’s first time as a participant, he competed against one of his former teammates on the University of Alabama swimming team, Levente Batizy. Bryant said he hadn’t kept in touch with Batizy since college. He said all of his times at the National Senior Games were better than the ones he recorded last year to qualify.
The appearance on the national stage came after Bryant qualified last year at the State Games in Flowood. A regimen of swimming twice a week, cycling once a week, and going to the gym twice a week helped prepare him to go against some of the nation’s top athletes.
Although he didn’t come home with a medal, Bryant likes the balance he and his wife have in their lives. He said he hasn’t committed 100 percent to swimming like some of the competitors he faced at the National Senior Games because he likes to do a little bit of everything and enjoys the freedom of not being tied to a workout schedule.
Bryant still is one of the most active in the community. The week before the National Senior Games, Bryant and his wife attended a non-competitive cycling event in Xenia, Ohio, about three hours from Cleveland. In the habit of cycling 20-40 miles in a day, Bryant cycled 110 miles on one day of the four-day event, which caused him to wonder how all of those miles would affect him at the National Senior Games.
Turns out it didn’t affect his swimming very much because he already had a solid foundation. A graduate of Tuscaloosa, High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Bryant earned a full swimming scholarship to the University of Alabama, where he competed in 1964-65. He opted to quit the team, though, after one season because he wanted to focus on his studies. After graduating from Alabama, he served his country as a pilot in the Air Force in Vietnam. He then spent four years as an instructor at the Columbus Air Force before spending time in Las Vegas and Korea. He and his wife then traveled all over the Caribbean for 13 years before they returned to Columbus in 2001.
Since then, exercise has been a constant in his life. He said the gift of a YMCA membership in December 2009 paved the way for him to get back involved in swimming. Now he is a regular at the downtown YMCA in Columbus. His hope is that one of his sons, Ken Freshwater, who also lives in Columbus, will join him.
“I wish he would come and work out with me,” Bryant said. “We have gotten in a lot better shape since joining the Y. We can do so many different things. No matter where you are in the county, there is one close to you.”
Bryant said he and his wife will continue their year-round training schedule. He doesn’t know how long he will be able to keep it up, but he has seen the benefits and knows all of the activity has helped him stay competitive in the pool.
“I enjoy it,” Bryant said. “When I go to a workout, I don’t drag myself to the pool. I don’t get obsessed with it when I can’t go or I am doing something else. I guess I will keep doing it as long as my health lets me. I saw some people (at the National Senior Games) who are in their late 80s, and they were real good. Some of them were over 90, but they swam at a different time. It is truly amazing. … The more you do it the longer you can do it.”
Bryant already has his sights set on 2015, when the Games will be in Minneapolis, Minn. He isn’t sure if he will win any medals, but it won’t bother him if he doesn’t because there are other benefits from training and competing that mean more to Bryant.
“I did better than I expected,” Bryant said. “It makes me look forward to going to the next one. I am already motivated. I would say I am going to work harder, but we are certainly going to try harder. We will certainly try to go (to the next Games). We had a good time. To see that big of an event is fun. I have never been to that big of an event.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.