Her film centered on Suzanne Heim-Bowen and her unusual journey among swimmers who were less than half her age at Diablo Valley College. The film – largely centered in a pool – explores the universal themes of hard work and discipline and opportunities in the second half of life.
The protagonist, Heim-Bowen, rose to the heights on masters swimming and was ultimately inducted in the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Open Water Swimmer. “What a life cycle it has been,” she explains. “I quit swimming in high school, then did boys water polo, and ran cross-country so my approach to swimming was a little different. I did open water first and then pool swimming so I was a little backwards. [I didn’t do any] national championships or Olympic Trials – I am a true product of masters swimming.”
She explains how to emerged to have a documentary film about her.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When did you first do open water? How old were you?
Suzanne Heim-Bowen: I was afraid of the ocean so did not get into the ocean until I was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo [University] where everyone else was getting in. My first race was with Veronica Mann who was the wife of Thompsan Mann, first man to break 1:00 in 100 meter backstroke, at the Dolphin Club.
That was my first race, about one mile in Aquatic Park. Then off to the races it was: La Jolla was my second race. I had a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge at the opposite wall when I woke up in the morning that I would look at it as that was my goal at the time–to swim underneath it.
I was about 19 years old. From there, I used to do dumb things like meet a bunch of guys in Southern California at the various piers: Hermosa, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, etc. and about 3 or 4 of us would just go out and swim. We did not have an escort, no nothing. We did wear orange caps though. But if we ever got into trouble…
Then in San Luis I used to jump off the pier while people were eating dinner and give them a fright and off I would go with my paddler, slightly illegal and again stupid and dangerous. Then we would hitchhike back, me in my swimsuit and my buddy with his board. My parents never knew thank goodness, all the while we had started the women’s swim team at Cal Poly [University] and I was a backstroker, but trained in the pool for speed for open water.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Why did you quit swimming to play boy’s water polo?
I quit swimming in 1973 right after Rick Demont had his medal taken away. I was pretty bummed about that whole fiasco and saw how hard he worked and really didn’t want to work that hard quite frankly and wanted to do other stuff, not always the right stuff. I was a freshman in high school and I took a rock climbing class from the boys water polo coach and he could see I was heading in the wrong direction and encouraged me to play polo. And I also ran cross county, worked, graduated from high school early to get out and get going on my goal of becoming a special education teacher. High school was not my thing.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When did you start masters swimming (pool or open water)?
Suzanne Heim-Bowen: I played pretty hard in high school and I missed the fitness aspect of swimming. I joined the Dolphin Club in November 1978 when I was 20 and participated in the open water swims and then trained with Tamalpais Aquatic Masters beginning when I was 18-19 years old to keep in shape for open water swimming.
At that time, masters swimming did not recognize 19-year-olds, but Pacific Masters was progressive and allowed me to swim in meets and then eventually U.S. Masters Swimming recognized 18-year-olds. I think one of my first events with USMS was the hour swim in 1978 or so. I graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and returned to Marin to work on my masters and then my open water swim career was off and running in the 1980’s from solo marathon swims to channel swimming to the USA National Team racing 25 km swims to shorter races. A lot of the marathon swims were in the San Francisco Bay. People would tell me I could not do this or that swim, but we had a great team that worked well together so I knew our swims would be successful.
The 1990’s was more about pool swimming and shorter open water races and then I would become bored with swimming and then did the original Escape from Alcatraz in 1994 with the Dolphin Club and then a Half Ironman. I almost qualified for Hawaii, thank goodness that did not happen. In 2000 and 2001, I set the age group course record for the public Escape from Alcatraz – back to my cross country running days.
Then in the 2000’s, I did pool swimming, a lot with masters having one of my best meets ever at age 45 and then another pretty good meet in 2008 at the age of 50. In 2007, I was inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame. In 2009, I finished my college swimming career at a junior college and got third in the state in the mile (i.e., the Fifty Year Old Freshman) and then things blew up.
I became the primary caretaker for my mother who had battled breast cancer, but colon cancer was taking hold. Dad was trying to hold his own, but he had health issues. In 2011 he took a fall and 2 weeks later died and then Mom died six weeks later in April 2011. So there was a lot of business to take care of and emotional issues as well (shock!) and it sucks.
I got back into the pool for a pool meet. Mom and I used to go to pool meets together beginning in 1992. I was not a fan of pool meets, but it was our thing together and actually fun being with her, all fond memories, in 2012 and it was a disaster. I just missed Mom and the atmosphere was not the same. It was all sad and I was swimming slow.
Then last year 2013, I started to get my open water itch going again and went back to what I love doing in the first place, open water. So I did a 5 km at Del Valle, the Waikiki Roughwater Swim and the Bermuda Round The Sound, destination swimming and two of those swims have fin divisions so my husband participates. So this year our destination was going to be Strait of Gibraltar, but I entered Manhattan Island Marathon Swim on a lark and then became obsessed with the application process. I was never really thinking I would make it in. Well, now Manhattan Island is a go and the Strait of Gibraltar is later and then the Waikiki Roughwater Swim and Bermuda, coming full circle. I have not done a long swim since channel days in 1985….so I thought this should be character building.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Does swimming help with menopause in any way, medical or emotional?
Suzanne Heim-Bowen: Menopause sucks. I wish there was more information on this topic. It is a part of life and I am more than willing to talk about it.
Unfortunately, it hit me during a very emotional and stressful time of life so I am sure my symptoms were exacerbated. Here is my experience: I had hot flashes every 2 hours, drenching ones at age 51. I was a nut case. I was put on birth control and did that for two years.
It did affect my swimming, but my flashes were under control and I could sleep. But I had weight gain and swim times and recovery were in the tank. Then the doctors wanted me off the birth control and am on a low dose of hormone patch. It is supposed to be one patch twice a week and now I am weaning myself off of that with half a patch once a week with acupuncture. I am a big believer in acupuncture; it just works slowly.
I am doing very traditional Chinese medicine; acupuncture also worked for a back injury I sustained in 2005 after trying tons of medications and physical therapy.
Swimming is the best stress relief and I make myself swim. If that means blowing off workout and going into the lap swim lanes, then that is the best medicine for me. I also have a very stressful job [she is a school psychologist at a juvenile detention facility]. I recognize that I need the time to myself.
So yes, swimming is a lifestyle and those endorphins help to keep the SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) going in the right direction. However, it is the sleep deprivation that is really key to recovering physically and emotionally. I would love to see more research on this topic. I will say, that my swimming is improving.
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