Neither a stress fracture in her back or treatment for uterine cancer has kept Kate Fisken from the pool. In fact, all those hours swimming helped her avoid back surgery and keep a positive attitude.
The 75-year-old Bethesda resident is in Birmingham, Ala., successfully competed in five swimming races over three days in the 2017 National Senior Games, which ran from June 2 to June 15. The games cover a wide variety of sports and are open to seniors ages 50 and above.
Fisken was in the 75- to 79-year-old division. She placed in eighth place or above in each of her races, despite her bad back and recent surgery.
Her best race was the 200-yard freestyle, where she placed fourth with a time of 3 minutes, 56.410 seconds.
She came in fifth in the 50-yard backstroke, sixth in the 500-yard freestyle, sixth in the 100-yard individual medley and eighth in the 50-yard freestyle.
Fisken started swimming when she was only three years old. “I come from an athletic family. My mother and grandmother are good swimmers,” she said.
During much of her youth, she swam in summer leagues.
But then her hours in the pool stopped as she graduated college and went to India to work in public health with the Peace Corps. She returned home and began a career as a tax accountant, which she still works at today.
It took a bad accident to get her back in the pool. In 1999, she was in a truck, parked on the side of the road along the Blue Ridge Mountains due to the presence of black ice, when her vehicle was hit from behind.
She had unbuckled her seat belt once she and her husband had pulled over, so the thrust of the impact threw her out of the truck. She healed, but five or six years later, while doing yoga, she hurt herself, and her doctor said her pain was from a stress fracture in her back that probably occurred the time of the accident.
Surgery was recommended, but since it would be major surgery, Fisken sought a few other opinions, finally meeting a doctor who suggested she return to the pool as physical therapy.
“In the beginning, I had to deal with the pain,” and had to ice her back before going to work each day, she said.
Swimming became easier, and she began competing in races, including one in the Chesapeake Bay. Swimming there, she said, “is like swimming in a washing machine, the currents, the waves, the swimmers who try to cover your back.”
Since reinjuring her back, she has been in some 100 competitions, enjoying both the physical and mental aspects of swimming.
“It’s sort of a Zen experience when you swim long distances,” she said.
She particularly likes the camaraderie of teammates and the chance to work out any problems when swimming laps.
Last summer, she qualified to compete in the upcoming games in Alabama. She has entered the 50-, 100- and 200-yard freestyle races, as well as the 50-yard backstroke, and the race she is most excited about, the medley, which includes laps in the butterfly, back-, breast- and free-style strokes.
Her husband is with her. “He always goes with me. He always sits in the stands,” and the couple, who have been married for 49 years, always share a virtual fist bump as she prepares to start a race, she said.
It wasn’t that long ago when Fisken couldn’t imagine she’d be doing this.
In February, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. In March, she had a radical hysterectomy.
Fortunately, the doctors didn’t find any cancer outside her uterus so she didn’t need further treatment.
“I feel very blessed. On a score of one to 10, I am a 10. I am very blessed,” she said.
Humana, sponsor of the National Senior Games, agrees. Out of the 10,000 athletes expected to compete, 15, including Fisken, were chosen to receive their Game Changer award.
Besides swimming her laps, she teaches young children how to swim at the Montgomery County’s Bethesda Pool.
She loves to witness their progress. Often, they begin “crying. They don’t want to go in. Then, in six weeks, they are jumping in. They are so pleased that they can go underwater and blow bubbles.”
Perhaps some of them will also be swimming well into their seventh decade.
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