Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Nelson sets three Masters Records

MaryAnne Nelson has been around for a few years, but you couldn't see that by watching her swim, bike or run.

Nelson, 55, is a fit athlete and a swimmer on the Durango Masters Team.

Two weeks ago, Nelson swam in eight events and two relays at the Colorado Masters State Swimming Championships in Denver. She also set three age-group state records in breast stroke events with times of 40 seconds in the 50-meter, 1:30 in the 100 and 3:20 in the 200. Nelson competes in the 55-59 age bracket.

"I know I'm at the bottom of the age bracket right now and probably some younger whipper-snapper will come around and break those records next year," Nelson said. "But besides setting the state records, I'm pretty pleased that I didn't drown during the backstroke."

The backstroke is not Nelson's favorite event.

Nelson grew up in a small town in Iowa in the '70s. Title 9 and equal opportunities for women in sports weren't around yet, and she didn't have many athletic role models.

"I remember playing some half-court basketball," Nelson said. "Nobody thought that women were capable of playing the full-court game."

Even though there were few organized opportunities for women in sports, Nelson didn't let that stop her. She rode her bicycle, horses and played in all of the neighborhood ball games.

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer signed up for the Boston Marathon. When the authorities realized that a woman was running, race director Jock Semple and tried to force her off the course. In a dramatic moment, Switzer's 235-pound boyfriend, who was running beside her, blocked Semple, and Switzer finished the race.

Nelson remembers the Switzer incident well. "That was pretty courageous and a real eye-opener for a lot of women," Nelson said. "We all thought, 'Yeah, we can do that too.'"

After teaching in eastern Colorado, Nelson moved to Dolores to begin a 30-year teaching stint in Southwest Colorado, where she ran on the country roads.

"Everyone thought I was nuts and pretty eccentric," she said. "They said, 'There goes that crazy girl who lives in that house on the corner.'"

Nelson continued running. She did a marathon in Steamboat Springs, finished the brutal 18-mile Imogene Pass Run four times and ran ultramarathons.

When running injuries started catching up with her, she headed for the swimming pool.

"A lot of people don't do fitness activities because they say they don't have the time, but you need to schedule it, like everything else," Nelson said. "It's so important to stay healthy; fitness is at least one-third of my life, and I know that I'd be lost without it."

Bill Palmer, who has been coaching Olympians and national champion swimmers since the late 50s, is impressed with Nelson's swimming progress.

"Swimming doesn't come natural to MaryAnne, and she really has to work at it," Palmer said. "Plus, she has very little body fat and doesn't get good flotation."

Nelson finished last weekend's Tri-the-Rim Triathlon (500 yard swim, 12 mile bike and 5K run) in one hour, 39 minutes and 35 seconds.

"I enjoy racing but I enjoy training even more," Nelson said. "I've got a great friend, Trudy O'Brien, who I've shared a lane with for three years."