This past year, Patty Kirk had a stroke of genius. More than one stroke, really. She was going to swim a mile before her 65th birthday. Easy right? Not exactly.
“When I first got in, I had trouble going 50 yards,” she says. A principal for 20 years in the Issaquah School District, Patty was looking for a new challenge.
“I belonged to the Club for 30 years and never swam,” she says. Starting with the Jimmy Warren classes in the ’80s, Patty participated heavily in racquetball, tennis and spinning over the years.
“I did spinning for years with the same early morning group until I retired in 2002,” she says. Several years ago, a bad disc in her back deterred her from jarring activities, but she continued to hike, walk and golf with her husband, Larry Galloway.
With the determination that made her an accomplished school principal, Patty took to the pool. She started in an outdoor pool at a YMCA in Phoenix, Ariz., where she and Larry now spend winters.
“The first few times in the pool, I had doubts whether I would actually meet my goal,” she says. Despite her grueling introduction, Patty stuck with it, picking up tips as she went along. After starting in January, she was hoping to swim a mile, all freestyle, by her birthday in June.
“I did it by April,” she says. “It took me an hour, but I did it.”
When Patty returned from Arizona, she enrolled in the Masters Program at the Bellevue Club. Although she had swam a mile, she says she still had a lot of room for improvement.
“Karen (Dugan) was definitely the one that improved my stroke,” she says. “Karen became my new ‘BFF’ (Best Friends Forever).
“As a principal, I’ve evaluated hundreds of teachers, and Karen just lives and breathes it. Teaching just flows from her,” she says.
Nowadays, Patty regularly swims more than a mile and a half throughout the week with the Masters Program when she’s not in Arizona, and it definitely shows in her healthy smile and toned arms.
“Michelle Obama has nothing on these arms,” she says. Her husband has been supportive of her low-impact fitness regiment.
“Larry says my new fragrance is chlorine,” she says.
The second oldest of five brothers and sisters, Patty grew up in a monastic winery in Napa Valley, Calif., long before the tourism boom.
“My father worked for the Christian Brothers wineries. We grew up in near monastery, playing hide and seek in the vineyard,” she says. “When the brothers weren’t around, we could swim in the pool there. I’ve always liked the water.”
Arriving in Washington in the mid-’70s to earn her master’s from Whitworth University in Spokane, Patty moved to Issaquah after receiving a teaching job in the district. She raised two children and has five grandchildren, the oldest of whom, a fourth-grader, swims competitively.
“I think I went a little faster freestyle than my oldest grandson when we raced this past summer, but this year he’ll definitely pass me up,” she says.
Patty is quick to point out that all ability levels are welcome in the Masters Program.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to read this and think they couldn’t do what I did. I started out at a beginner level,” she says. “Karen says, ‘If you don’t know how to swim, just get in the pool.’” Patty also wants to reassure other women that swimming doesn’t have to mean green hair.
“I talked to my hair stylist and now I use a clarifying shampoo and deep conditioner after swimming. The hair for women is a big thing,” she says.
When Patty’s not in the pool, she’s hiking, playing bridge, reading, volunteering with seniors or golfing, which has seen a big improvement since her mile challenge.
“I’ve added 20 to 30 yards on my drives at least,” she says.
Swim a Mile in Someone Else’s Pool
Interested in making your own fitness goals? Try BC Masters Swim for free for your first month through June 2010. Call 425.688.3127 for more details.