Conyers resident Mary-Mead Mead, shown here in her backyard lap pool, displays medals she earned while competing in the U.S. Summer Long Course Nationals in Auburn, Ala., in August.
Thirty years ago, south Rockdale resident Mary-Mead Mead remembers that she was a "39-year-old out-of-shape mom" who was chided by her children to get exercise by joining them in their interest in swimming.
"They thought I was in bad shape, so I went to their (swim) meets and they went to my meets when they could," said Mead, a retired educator who spent two years as an assistant principal at Heritage High School.
Since that time, Mead has developed into a skilled competitive swimmer, entering local, national and international meets -- including events in Canada and Australia -- and bringing home a wheelbarrow's worth of medals.
At the recently completed U.S. Summer Long Course Nationals in Auburn, Ala., Mead was among the Georgia Nationals team's top scorers, with two third-place medals, two fourth-place medals, one fifth-place medal, one seventh-place medal and one eighth-place medal. Swimming the breaststroke, she competed in the 70- to 74-year-old age group, set three new state records and swam in four relay events.
The 99-member Georgia team won the meet by tallying a gaudy 2,795.50 points, well ahead of second-place Kentucky (528 points), third-place Illinois (520) and fourth-place North Carolina (514).
"I've had 23 top-10 finish times at Nationals," said Mead, who is also affiliated with the Atlanta-based Georgia Killer Whales swim team. "I was surprised because I didn't know I had that many. A lot (of the Killer Whales) compete in the Senior Games, which might have two meets a month. I concentrate more on Masters events, because the competition is stiffer."
Specializing in the breaststroke and in long-distance freestyle races, Mead set a state record at her first competition back in October 1981 and is a practitioner of the 5K (3.1 miles) freestyle event.
"My best time in the 5K is one hour, 50 minutes, and I did that in an international meet in Montreal in 1994," said Mead, whose license plate reads "SWIM 5K." "Swimming for that long is a testament to endurance and practice."
Married for nearly 48 years to Stuart Mead, Mead said she's more interested in racing against the clock than against other swimmers, so she was more than pleased with her performance in Auburn.
"I was very happy with my times," said Mead, a North Carolina native who has lived in Georgia for the past 13 years. "Times are what count. They show whether you've been working out properly or not -- and I don't like to go to a meet to be embarrassed."
It's unlikely that Mead will ever be accused of easing up on her workout routine, which can last up to 90 minutes at least four days a week. In addition to working out at Johnson Park in Conyers and the Dynamo swim complex in Chamblee, Mead has the benefit of a 20-yard-long, 8-feet-wide lap pool in her back yard.
"We figured since we couldn't grow grass back there, we'd do something," she said. "I've got several friends who also come around to work out here."
With October's Dixie Zone Challenge in Charlotte, N.C., next on her swim card, Mead is also looking forward to the 2012 Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., in April and the World Master Games, set for 2013 in Turin, Italy.
"I've already given my husband fair warning about that one," joked Mead about the Italian meet.Mead said she's found a great many positives in an active pool life.
"Swimming is extremely healthy," she said. "It's the best cardiovascular exercise you can get. When our kids were growing up, our life revolved around swim meets and church. I used to say swimming was a good way to keep your kids clean, in more ways than one. It also teaches them about setting and achieving goals and I've found that swimmers are more organized and efficient people because they have to plan things down to the minute to get in their workouts."
She added that she encourages everybody -- not just those at an advanced age -- to get into the swim of things.
"I'd rather wear out than rust out," she said. "Granted, there's a chance that I'll get wet enough to start rusting, but I doubt it. You stay active and you stay much healthier. Physical activity is just so important."