By Ben Orcutt -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County resident Tim Frees represents what the Virginia Senior Games are all about.
Frees, 66, finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of 2:06.4 and third in the 50-meter backstroke with a time of 53.56 at the games for people ages 50 and older held May 9 at Tuckahoe YMCA in Henrico County. The bronze medal he received says, "Virginia Senior Games" at the top and "Where Athletes Are Forever Young" on the bottom.
"When you're younger, life seems to go on indefinitely," Frees said during a recent practice session at the Dominion Fitness Center pool in Front Royal, where he is a member. "Philosophically, after 64, 65, I'm at the bottom third of my life or bottom quarter. So now I want to do the things I had fun doing when I was younger, and I know I only have the physical ability to do it for another 20, maybe 30 years if I'm lucky. I want to do those things now and also, it helps keep me in better shape for a more productive, happier life later."
The former general manager of Jack Evans Chevrolet & Cadillac, Frees has more time to devote to competitive swimming, which he was first introduced to as a youngster in the suburbs of Chicago, where for two years he attended the same high school as noted actor Harrison Ford.
"I fooled around in the water as a youth, but I never really learned how to swim," Frees said. "I could barely do two lengths of the pool. I tried out for the swim team and you have to do two lengths. Well, whatever reason, they felt sorry for me, they let me join. But then eventually they weed out a few, and I got weeded out eventually. But I went back for the second year and then I qualified to stay with the team my second year. I stayed with the team my third year, stayed with the team my fourth year. I was never an outstanding speed swimmer, but I was learning and developing."
Since that time, Frees has continued to swim.
"In general, it's something I've done my entire life," he said. "There's certain times in my life I've been able to do it more than others. But it's something I've always tried to stay with and when I do have the time, like I do now, I try to practice and do lengths."
Frees and his wife, Linda, 64, have two grown children and three grandchildren, with another grandchild on the way. Frees said he taught his children how to swim when they were young, and now his grandchildren are also learning to swim.
After being away from competitive swimming for about 50 years, Frees said he decided to give it a try again after reading an article about the Virginia Senior Games in an AARP magazine.
"So I checked the website, and then I started looking at the times, and I said, 'You know, I think I can do that,'" Frees said.
Frees was hoping to be around the 2-minute mark in the 100-meter backstroke and break 1 minute in the 50-meter backstroke. He reached his goal in the 50-meter event and, by finishing third, qualifies for the 2011 National Senior Games in Houston in the 65-69 age group.
"When I got serious on it was back in October because I was swimming here [at Dominion Fitness Center] and because I was taking classes at JMU, I paid a little money to use their pool, which is Olympic-size," Frees said.
More than competing, Frees sees swimming as a lifetime endeavor, and is passionate about promoting the sport.
"I'm all for the skateboard park," he said. "I think that's a great thing, but I really think Warren County and many of the areas around here are missing the boat not having adequate facilities for not only just competitive swimming, but for [it] in general. You cannot learn how to swim properly in three months in the summer. That's what I did before high school.
"You need to have it where you can truly do lengths and do exercises. It's very healthy for you. If you have arthritis or, like I have, degenerative arthritis in my back, all these things help you."
Frees is proud of a Superman T-shirt that his children got him in Switzerland. He says swimming is a lot like he imagines flying would be.
"When you're swimming, you're like a fish," Frees said. "I can stay underwater for a certain period of time, but it's a feeling of freedom I guess is a good way to express it. I'm in control of my movements. It's graceful. It's a neat feeling because it's as close as one can get to probably flying. As a kid growing up, when you read Superman comics or [watch a] television series or whatever, you said, "Boy, that'd be neat to do that.' And it would be. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a way to do it yet. But swimming is as close as you get to it, and that's what's neat about it."
Also an avid skier, Frees said he can't make up his mind which sport he'd rather die doing, skiing or swimming.
"I have a tough call," he said. "Would I rather die in my ski boots or swimming? I think to make things less unpleasant for people, I'd better be in ski boots rather than in the water. They may not want to go swimming in the water."
Frees plans on going to Houston next year to represent Virginia in the National Senior Games.
"Right now my intent is yes," he said. "I was pretty impressed with the group of people there [at the Virginia Senior Games]. They seemed to have a mutual appreciation for the sport."
Heading into last weekend's competition, Frees said his goal was not necessarily to place, but to enjoy himself and learn from the experience.
"That's one thing I'm learning," he said. "The more you learn, the more you need to learn, then the more you need to learn."