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Just keep swimming: Kingsport woman wins medals at national games

September 14th, 2015 7:23 am by Matthew Lane

Just keep swimming: Kingsport woman wins medals at national games

Rosemary Sexton competed in six events at the National Senior Games and brought home a bronze medal in the 200-meter individual medley and a silver medal in the 100-meter butterfly. Contributed photo

KINGSPORT — Rosemary Sexton was a smoker and a couch potato up until her 30s. At some point she “woke up” and began jogging to get into shape and lose weight. Eventually, she ran a marathon and then went with triathlon training.

An injury sidelined her running and she switched to racewalking, competed at three national championships and brought home two medals. However, about six years ago a left foot injury ended her race-walking days.

From there, Rosemary traded in her sneakers for a bathing suit.

“I needed to do something,” Sexton said of her foot injury. “I saw a little blurb in the paper about stroke school. I called the coach and asked if I could come. It was me and two boys who did the two-week school.”

About two weeks after stroke school ended, Sexton called the coach and asked if there was an age limit for the team, the Piranhas. Turns out, nobody had asked that question before. The coach told Sexton if she would come to practice, pay her dues and compete, then she could be on the team.

Today, at age 65, she swims with the Piranhas, in the 15 and older age group. Actually, she’s the only one in that age group.

“I compete in the 15 and older group and I’m always dead last, but it’s so much fun,” Sexton said. “I did it to stay in shape, and swimming was fun. I didn’t realize I would make friends with these kids. It’s the most unusual relationship because I’m not an authority figure, I’m not their mom or coach or teacher. I’m just an adult they can trust and talk to.”

Sexton goes straight to the Dobyns-Bennett High School pool after work at least four days a week, training with her teammates for 90 minutes a day. The coach does not give her any special treatment when it comes to practice, and normally she’s at the back of the lane.

Yet, practicing with preteens every week for six years has paid off when it comes to competing against women her own age at the National Senior Games.

This past summer, Sexton competed in six events at the NSG and brought home a bronze medal in the 200-meter individual medley and a silver medal in the 100-meter butterfly. Sexton said she swam with a 100-year-old woman, who was delightful, and noted it is not that unusual to see people in their 100s at the national games.

“Having medaled in two events was right up there with my wildest expectations considering the level of competition at the nationals,” Sexton said.

The National Senior Games is a 19-sport, biennial competition for men and women age 50 and over and is the largest multisport event in the world for seniors. The games were first held in 1987, with the most recent event held in Minneapolis July 3-16, bringing in more than 12,000 athletes from across the country.

The roster of sports on the schedule includes the typical Olympic fare, such as track and field, swimming, archery, volleyball and the triathlon. Other events during the two-week competition may be a little more surprising: bowling, horseshoes, pickleball, racewalk, shuffleboard and softball.

Sexton previously competed at three national games as a race-walker, winning two bronze medals, and competed in the Huntsman World Senior Games in 2010 winning three medals. Next week, Sexton said she plans to compete in the district qualifier in Johnson City, and if she wins a medal, it’s on to Brentwood for the next tournament.

As for the next national games, scheduled to take place in Birmingham in 2017, the event is already on her calendar.

And barring any injury, Sexton said she plans to just keep swimming.

“It depends on what your body can do, but I just want to see people be persistent. The important thing is to find something,” Sexton said. “Find something you love and stick with it. When something is taken away because of an injury, people just don’t do anything. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of doing something. I just don’t stop. I find something else to do.”

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