Imagine leaping into breaking waves, surrounded by people racing to get to the opposing shore of an open water swim at the age of 67. Mary Nurre says the hardest part, “…is being touched by all the swimming hands, it’s unavoidable. But I have learned when it gets really bad you flip over and do the backstroke- no one touches you when you do the backstroke.”
Mary is currently preparing for a 4 mile event called the Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim July 21st, an open water swimming event between the continents of Europe and Asia held annually in the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul, Turkey. Established in 1989, the event is organized by the Turkish Olympic Committee. Mary is one of only 300 American swimmers competing in the 2,500 total participant race.
“I am so excited,” says Mary. “Everyone jumps off a cruise liner on the Asian side of Istanbul , we swim upstream four miles and will cross to the European side. We will swim across a continental divide. It’s going to be so much fun!”
Mary is not new to this kind of swimming. She has swum the New York City Marathon five times as part of a relay team triathlon. “The swim was one mile in the Hudson River and I loved it, except the fourth year when jellyfish in the water stung the swimmers and one man died from anaphylactic shock. Usually I don’t consider what I do dangerous- that year I realized how many risks are involved with open water swimming, but I still love it.”
Mary’s passion for swimming began as a child. As one of 12 siblings, she quickly realized swimming was an individual sport she could excel in. She was one of the founding members of the Xavier University collegiate swim team.
“This was before Title IX passed requiring men’s and women’s sports to be equally funded. School administrators basically told us we could have one swim suit and nothing else to be on the team,” says Mary. “I remember wearing that same suit with a hand stitched badge on it for three years as it got baggier and baggier because there was no spandex to help it keep its shape back then. I learned doing something you love isn’t always easy, but if you love it enough you will find a way.”
Mary normally works out at The Houstonian Club four times a week, six times recently, swimming in the outdoor pool to train and taking exercise classes. She calls her workouts her health insurance and enjoys a life with no medications, as well as being the only one of her siblings without knee problems or joint pain. She recently read Swimming to Antartica by open water distance swimming great Lynne Cox and says it has motivated her to look for longer, more exotic open water races.
“I love the feeling of the water and the vastness of the ocean. Swimming is a great joy in my life and I know it’s keeping me young. I encourage all women to take it up particularly if joint pain makes other kinds of exercise difficult. I think water is the fountain of youth!”