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September 4, 2013

Nyad: Maturity helped in record swim

KEY WEST, Fla. — The clocks Diana Nyad uses to time her training swims show that she’s a slower swimmer than she used to be. That’s only natural: At age 64, she acknowledges she is no longer the “thoroughbred stallion” she was “back in the day.”

And yet, the endurance athlete says she felt stronger than ever when she completed her successful effort to become the first person to swim 110 miles from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage.

“Now I’m more like a Clydesdale: I’m a little thicker and stronger — literally stronger, I can lift more weights,” Nyad told The Associated Press in a one-on-one interview Tuesday, a day after she finished her 53-hour, record-setting swim.

“I feel like I could walk through a brick wall. ... I think I’m truly dead center in the prime of my life at 64.”

Nyad isn’t alone among aging athletes who are dominating their sports.

Earlier this year, 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins became the oldest boxer to win a major title, scoring a 12-round unanimous decision over Tavoris Cloud to claim the IBF light heavyweight championship.

Older athletes tend to find more success in endurance events than power events such as sprinting and other sports that rely on “fast- twitch” muscle fibers, which are more difficult to preserve later in life, noted Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, a physiologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“This ultra, super-length swimming is brutal regardless,” he said, adding that another reason athletes are able to endure is because they often train smarter and have a mental concentration that is well honed over decades.”

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