Making waves: 50-plus Dymphna is now a Masters' Champion swimmer

For about 20 years, this swimmer didn’t venture into a pool, but after her children were raised, she went back and is now making big waves, says Margaret Jennings

Dymphna Morris returned to swimming to drop weight but she has gone on to win numerous medals. Picture: Dave Meehan

“TO be honest, if you told me at age 16 I would be swimming competitively at 56, I would have just laughed at you; it would have been just comical to think I would go back and be able to swim like I am doing,” says Dublin woman Dymphna Morris.

Having swum competitively internationally and been an Irish record holder, as a teenager, she “hardly put a toe in a pool” for two decades, as she was busy rearing her two children and working fulltime.

“Then at 36 I went back because I had had a child and was very overweight. And I swam for a few years but didn’t compete much — the children were young and I stopped again in my early 40s,” says
Dymphna. “And then about 10 years ago I had a hysterectomy and after that I put on a huge amount of weight; I was feeling awful and was very unfit so I decided I’d go back to swimming and it kind of just took off from there.”

Now she is a multi-medal holder. Last month she was in Hungary at the World Masters’ Championships where she won silver in the 3km Open Water event in Lake Balaton and then 4th, 2x5th, 6th and 7th in the pool in Budapest.

As a 55th birthday gift to herself last year she became the current European Masters’ Record holder for the 1,500m freestyle when she swam it in 19 minutes 43 seconds.

Not only that, but she is now swimming a mere four seconds off per 100m of what she did in her teens. “It’s amazing what you can get an old body to do. I’m astonished really!” she says. While Dymphna is a ‘poster girl’ for the benefits of swimming as we age, reaching her standard doesn’t come without total focus and application.

First of all she includes strength training — using free weights and her body weight — at the gym, in her routine, a recommendation that the World Health Organisation suggests should be added to all exercise regimens for healthy ageing.

She does three hours of that three times a week. In her case, it was to improve her strength for swimming, but the added pay-off was that her arthritis became less debilitating. “I have quite bad arthritis in both my knees and this time three years ago I wasn’t able to walk down stairs or hills and I started in this gym for the swimming, but the effects from working the muscles in
my legs means I don’t have any problems anywhere. It’s all been reversed. I don’t stop the gym work because I’m terrified I will lose my mobility again and even when I don’t go to the gym I work out at home.”

However, that’s not all she does in between competitions. How is this for a routine? She swims from 6am to 8am on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (and for an another hour in the evening on Friday), before going to work as an ICT
co-ordinator in Kings Hospital secondary school in Palmerstown, Co Dublin.

“I get up at ten past five in the morning and go to bed at 9pm. All year ’round – a bit mad really, isn’t it?” she says.

And does her husband Conor Galvin, who she’s been married to for 33 years, just turn over for another 40 winks as his wife creeps out? “Yes! He’s very supportive.”

Neither herself nor Conor has ever drunk alcohol but Dymphna’s focus also extends to what she eats: she cooks all her own meals and freezes them in advance. “It’s massive organisation. For example Sunday night it takes me an hour to get ready; I have my swimming bag, gym bag and schoolbag and I bring my prepared breakfast and lunch.”

She stopped eating bread and sugar when she was losing weight — she dropped 65lbs. “I like my food to be recognisable and from within the country. And organic. Swimming keeps me sane. I couldn’t be without it; it took away all the weight and I haven’t put it back on. You would not believe the amount of energy I got after I started swimming. From feeling tired a lot I have bundles of energy.”

And that won’t stop as she progresses in age. “I’m ever hopeful I will still be swimming at 90 or 95. I love going to these competitions and seeing people in their 90s and some of them can hardly walk; they go up the pool on a zimmer frame. Then they get into the water and they’re like new people – it’s just extraordinary to watch it. They can’t walk but they can swim.”

  • Swim Ireland runs a number of programmes to encourage us all to ‘Get Swimming’. For further details contact Carol Finlay at 086-838 346 or email participation@swimireland.ie


More in this Section

A lack of sleep can accelerate ageing among older adults

Why a good breakfast is a must for your kids

Here's four of the most common eye health conditions

Blues to soul: An interview with Mary Coughlan


Lifestyle

A helicopter put a piano on the 150-foot roof of Blarney Castle and other stories from the Cork Jazz Festival archives

Jazz Memories: Famous faces share their favourite moments

Live music review: The Horrors - Icy genius in a thrillingly intimate setting

Choosing a sheltered spot for Maples is vital

More From The Irish Examiner