Gordon Paul is a world champion swimmer – a title he earned at the World Masters Games in New Zealand just eight months after his right hip was replaced.
Even more impressive, the 64-year-old Fresno father earned his gold medal – along with a silver and bronze – despite having stopped competitive swimming for three decades. He hopes his accomplishment will encourage people to keep doing what they love, no matter their age, and to know that competitive sports isn’t just the domain of students and Olympians.
I feel like I’m now just getting my stride.
Gordon Paul, age 64
“Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the competition and the camaraderie that goes along with competing,” says Paul, who works as a health insurance agent when he’s not in in the pool.
He got back into competitive swimming a decade ago to combat declining health. It worked. He lost weight and gained strength and speed.
Paul is a powerful swimmer and racer, says his coach, Jay Christensen, but his best asset is that he’s an “encourager.”
“He stands with his team,” Christensen says. “He’s a good guy that way.”
During a recent swim practice at Fig Garden Swim & Racquet Club, Christensen jests that Paul is also “one of our elder statesmen, one of the three bald boys at this pool.” Paul doesn’t mind growing older. At age 64, “I’m now just getting my stride.”
At the World Masters Games, Paul took first in the 100-meter freestyle, second in the 50-meter freestyle, and third in the 200-meter individual medley. The international competition featured 25,000 athletes from over 100 countries competing in a range of sports similar to the Olympics. Paul competed in the 65-69 age division because under the rules racers are supposed to enter the division for the age they will advance to in the year of the competition.
“It feels like an accomplishment of a lifetime. Now I know how those athletes feel after they win the World Series or the Stanley Cup,” Paul says with a laugh. “It’s a great feeling.”
One of the most inspiring moments for Paul at the World Masters Games was watching an older racer.
“There was this Japanese swimmer that was competing and he needed a cane just to walk to the starting block, and then he had to be assisted to get on top of the block, and when he dove into that water, it was like a fish – and he had to be in his mid-70s,” Paul recalls. “When he finished the race, he got a standing ovation. It doesn’t really matter how good you are, you know.”
People can still enjoy competing and training into their 60s, 70s and 80s.
Paul started as a competitive swimmer at Roosevelt High School and later, at UC Berkeley, but then set aside competitive swimming at age 24 to focus on career and family.
He normally swims about an hour a day, four to five days a week. He trains hard but is mindful not to overdo it – a mistake he thinks he made before the 2013 World Games in Italy, when he placed 10th and 11th. He says he was working too hard and not resting enough. Competing is more enjoyable now.
Paul is scheduled to have his left hip replaced in August. The thought of striving for another world championship with two new hips feels like no big deal.
“I’m inspired,” Paul says happily. “I can’t wait for the next meet.”