Kite gave us a thrill,but Woody’s our man

Jun 14, 2005 5:45 AM

There was much ado over the weekend in Washington when, after three rounds of the Booz Allen Classic, it appeared that 55-year-old Tom Kite, after shooting a 66 in the third round, might become the oldest golfer to win a PGA tour event.

Big deal!

Tom Kite is a kid.

If sportswriters in Washington, or anywhere else, want to wax eloquent about senior accomplishments, they need only to turn to Woodrow Windfield Bowersock.

He is a competitive swimmer, the world’s best in his age group.

He has been a U.S. Masters Swimming All-American every year in the last decade, was named "Swimmer of the Year" by Swim Magazine in 2003, has 87 winning swims nationally to his credit, and established half a dozen world records in two different age groups

He also is a great, great grandfather, and has six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Woody Bowersock is 92.

This alone is amazing, but Bowersock’s story is far more intriguing than mere swimming records.

As a child, he almost drowned in the shallow water of a Wisconsin lake, and developed a desperate fear of water as a result.

When he was 12, his two older brothers — both competitive swimmers — shamed him into getting back in the water. Determined to show them up, he began serious swimming, and never stopped. He became a lifeguard, went to college, lettered in track in two of the most arduous of all races, the quarter and half miles, and majored in physical education. He earned a master’s degree in counseling and guidance, became a school administrator, and then an elementary school principal.

And he swam. Constantly and competitively.

Until 28 years ago, when at 64, Woody was stopped dead in his tracks by severe arthritis, crippled and confined to a wheelchair. He could not walk or dress himself. He was a total invalid.

One doctor after another told Woody to grin and bear it, to bear the pain, take ibuprofen and try to stay as comfortable as possible.

He switched doctors again, winding up in the care of one named Robyn Dorr. She put Woody on the controversial drug prednisone, and slowly built his dosage until he could get into a hot tub for hydrotherapy. As he improved, Dr. Dorr slowly decreased the dosage, finally reaching a point where Woody was taking none. Nothing. Not even aspirin.

He returned to the pools, piling up senior’s medals until 1991, when he again was sidelined, this time by a heart attack.

His cardiologist game him a far different prognosis than he had received from the doctors who first treated him for arthritis.

"As soon as your heart heals," his cardiologist told him, you’ll be as good as new."

Or better.

In June of 2003, competing for the first time in the 90-94 year-old age group, Woody won six gold medals at the Senior Olympics in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Two months later, he set four new world records and three national records for that group at the Southern Pacific Masters Assn. regional championships in Mission Viejo, California. In September of that year he set three new records at the San Diego Senior Olympics. He broke records held by Germans and Japanese, and at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, in September, 2003, he won every race he swam, collecting nine gold medals.

I learned about Bowersock’s amazing accomplishments from a longtime friend, former Hollywood Park publicist and Los Alamitos general manager Biff Lowry. He’s in a good position to appreciate what Woody Bowersock has done. Lowry is 79 and also one of the nation’s best older swimmers, another collector of gold like Bowersock. He is concerned about turning 80, for fear of moving into a tougher class.

I asked Lowry if Bowersock has slowed down. He said absolutely not, that he still is a charmer out of the water and a killer in it. And he added, almost coincidentally, that Bowersock, who lost his first wife in the mid-1990s, had remarried at 86.

Lead me to the pool, boys. I want some of that water.