After conquering the cold waters and demanding currents of the Strait of Dover, 72-year-old distance swimmer Akiko Nakazawa wants to next test herself against the world's best.
The assistant caregiver is preparing for the World Masters Swimming Championships 2012 in Riccione, Italy, next month.
“I have been doing something I find fun,” she said. “I will just do my best.”
Nakazawa, who lives in Musashino in Tokyo, will compete in the 3,000-meter open water swim for women ages 70 through 74. Her personal best time in the event is 55 minutes and 32 seconds.
Nakazawa became enamored with swimming in her 30s and began practicing to become a swimming instructor.
Although she eventually became an instructor, she became more interested in swimming in the sea than giving lessons in a pool. She has juggled two jobs as an assistant caregiver and instructor for many years, but she stopped giving swimming lessons after her swimming school closed.
When she was in her early 40s, Nakazawa succeeded in a solo crossing of the sea between Shimoda, a coastal city on the Izu Peninsula, and Oshima island while swimming the breaststroke. But she got terrible sunburn and blisters along the way.
The experience, she said, drove home to her the grandeur and the challenges of the sea.
“I used to be a coward before,” she said. “But I have changed since I went out to sea.”
Nakazawa was 45 when she swam the Strait of Dover for the first time in a relay of six swimmers, one of the most challenging endurance tests in the world. The strait is 34 kilometers (21 miles) wide at its narrowest point.
Nakazawa switched to the front crawl from the breaststroke after the event to swim faster. She has also been working to swim in a more elegant fashion.
Nakazawa completed a round trip of the Strait of Dover in 1994 and 2002 in a relay with other swimmers, taking 24 hours each time for the circuit.
After her neighbors encouraged her last year to compete on the world stage, she considered entering the world swimming championships.
She decided to compete after her friend Noriko Watanabe, 42, offered to accompany her to the biennial competition as an interpreter.
The pair will call themselves “Team Nakazawa” for the event.
One of her friends said that Nakazawa inspires them by never hesitating to tackle a new challenge despite her age. She never skips a daily practice.
To get accustomed to the chilly water temperatures in the sea, Nakazawa takes a cold shower even in the winter.
The downside of her relentless challenges, she said, is her damaged teeth as a result of repeatedly clenching them to endure the frigid waters and conditions she finds herself in on her long-distance swims.
“She always looks forward and does not turn back,” her friend said of Nakawaza. “She never shows any fear.”
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