By Carol Brzozowski
City & Shore PRIME
South Florida has an abundance of opportunities for swimming, from the Atlantic Ocean to backyard pools, municipal complexes and fitness facilities.
“Swimming is great because it is a full-body workout,” says Barbara Protzman, 66. “It is non-weight bearing and so much easier on your joints than running. It is great for your cardiovascular system. It can be done for your entire life. It is also great for stress relief. Swimming is considered the best anti-depressant among all sports.”
Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Protzman loved tennis, field hockey, volleyball, gymnastics and ballet. Her favorite form of exercise, though, was swimming.
She spent summers with her brothers swimming in a pool. She participated in a summer swim league, swam on a team for Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, worked as a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons while in high school and college.
“I love the water and staying fit,” Protzman says.
At age 23, she joined U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS), an organized swimming program for adults that offers opportunities for fitness and/or competition as well as lessons and coaching. She’s still with it, 43 years later.
“The social aspects are as important to me as the physical fitness aspects,” Protzman says.
USMS supports swimmers of all ages and abilities from 18 to more than 100 years old, including former Olympians, Special Olympians, Paralympians and non-athletes. Many people have learned to swim after turning 50, she adds.
A retired IT specialist, Protzman chose to live in Coral Springs in large part because of its Aquatic Complex, which attracts swimmers from novice to professional athlete. She’s also a member of its USMS team, and regularly achieves USMS Top Ten rankings in individual and relay events. At age 60, she made her first-ever world top 10 ranking in the 400-individual medley.
She proudly notes she’s been on five relays that broke national records. On multiple relays she’s earned #1 USMS and world rankings. Her involvement in swim meets and USMS leadership have taken her throughout North America.
She’s also faced occasional challenges, such as an emergency appendectomy in October 2019 that kept her on dry land for a few weeks, followed by the pandemic-related shutdown of aquatic facilities for two months. Undeterred, she kept swimming in her neighbor’s small pool, tethered to a pillar with swimming cords.
“One of my Maryland teammates swam the 100 butterfly on her 95th birthday at the YMCA Masters National Championship,” she says. “We will not be swimming as fast as we did in our youth, but we can slow down the aging process by staying active.”