When admiring swimmers gracefully glide through water, it is not unusual for people to say things like “he is a natural-born swimmer.” Their form, endurance and skill seem to be innate. But Masters swimmer Mark Spratt’s plunge into the pool started far from that. Growing up in the Midwest, Mark was expected to play baseball, something he loathed and was admittedly poor at. So, at the age of 10, he told his mother he didn’t want to play baseball that summer and conned her into thinking he would rather swim instead. She took him at his word and before you could say “dive in” Mark was signed up for the local swim team.
Mark swam through high school but was disappointed in his performance. He gave up the sport in college with no expectation of ever resumingcompeting. Once he started his accounting career, Mark found the pressures of work kept him from devoting time and energy to swimming. It took him 17 years to return to swimming regularly aided by joining a Masters swimming team. So now, in addition to his responsibilities counting and controlling expenses at his job for a prison training program, he is counting his laps!
Since 1991 he has competed in open water swims, beginning with shorter races and then adding on longer races over the years. He has successfully completed 43 marathon swims of 10 K or longer and 56 shorter races (1 mile to 5K) since 2012. While being a controller keeps his mind sharp, swimming adds a lot of depth to that sharp mind. Contributing to an admirable level of fitness, it has also opened the world to him. He has travelled the globe to swim meets in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and throughout the United States, In his swim travels Mark has made friends from all different countries and backgrounds.
You do not have to be a marathon swimmer like Mark to benefit from swimming. According to the CDC swimming is the fourth most popular activity in the U.S. and a great way to get regular aerobic physical activity. A study published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education reports that “swimming might provide a healthful alternative to traditional modes of exercise for improving Cardiorespiratory Fitness for the general population, as well as for patients suffering from chronic diseases,” and that that “swimming appears to have health benefits similar to those of running and generally was more beneficial than walking or a sedentary lifestyle.”
Currently Mark is training for his next great challenge, the English Channel. He has previously completed two of the other three “Triple Crown” swims — the Manhattan circumnavigation (also known MIMS or 20 Bridges) and the Catalina Channel. Mark is scheduled to attempt to swim the English Channel in just a few months. While at this point in time there is no certainty that English Channel swims will be allowed to proceed this year, Mark’s training must go on as if he will be standing on a beach in Dover, England in September, 2020 prepared to swim to France. It will be one week after his 65th birthday.
Swimmers are often thought to be a unique breed, with many beginning at an early age and continuing through their older years. While not every swimmer is as dedicated as Mark is, and many do it for the fun and comradery. Studies have demonstrated that swimming has positive effects on the health of people over 50, including improved vascular function.
How, you may ask, does he have time to train, work a full-time job and participate in other activities? We sat down with Mark to ask him a few questions about his passion and his drive so that we can share his inspirations with our readers.
How do you keep motivated?
I have a great group of training partners and swimming friends. They help keep me engaged and motivated. In addition, I belong to a tremendous Masters team, the Indy Aquatic Masters, which also offers adult learn to swim classes, as do many U.S. Masters Swimming teams. The team is an integral part of maintaining my motivation.
One of my tricks to stay motivated is always have an event to train for and look forward to. At the end of each season I set out my schedule of swims for the coming year. I hate doing long swims in a pool, so I try to race at least one marathon distance swim a month during the summer. Not only do I get my training in, but I get to look forward to visiting with friends.
I’ve have had a lot of people help me along the way in my marathon swimming career and in return I have mentored several swimmers. Seeing these folks achieve their goals help me keep motivated in my own swimming. I hope to return to coaching swimming after I retire from my work career.
How do you manage to work and train? There are only 24 hours in a day.
I have a complex and demanding job that usually leaves me spent by the end of the day. My natural inclination is to go home and vegetate. One of my training partners and I hold each other accountable to show up to train. We use texting to “force” each other into committing to showing up after work. Guilt is a great motivator for me.
You must have your favorite swims. What are they?
My favorite place to race is the Hudson River in New York, particularly the Spuyten Duyvil race that ends at a restaurant/bar where I can relax with friends.
My favorite event is the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge in Arizona. S.C.A.R. is a series of 4 races over 4 days comprised of 41 miles of swimming. S.C.A.R. features breathtaking swims through mountain canyons and accomplished swimmers from around the world. I always leave S.C.A.R. with fond memories and friends for life. S.C.A.R. was supposed to a “one and done” but I have done 5 of them to date. It has been cancelled this year, but I will be there in 2021.
Which swims are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of my first channel swim, the 17.5 mile Ederle Swim between the tip of Manhattan and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. It is an historic swim and involves swimming under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. My inexperience made the swim so much more challenging, but I still managed to record the 5th fastest time in the 100+ years history of this route. I was 58 years old at the time.
We don’t always succeed at what we set out to do. Have you had any setbacks and if so, can you share your advice?
One of my personal mottos is “Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures.” In 2014 I had to withdraw halfway through my swim around Manhattan due to illness. It was the right decision at the time but mentally it was an embarrassing failure. Over time I worked through my disappointment and learned what I needed to do better in my next attempt. In 2015 I attempted again to swim around Manhattan, and I faced 35 mph headwinds during the last 3 hours of my swim. I really do not think I would have been successful that day if I had not learned a few hard lessons from my 2014 failure.
What is your secret guilty pleasure?
At this point in my life I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures. I am famous for my 5 Guys hamburgers and my extensive collections of sneakers and swimming suits. My friends look forward to seeing what suit I wear for my races. For my big races I have taken to custom designing my suits.
Any closing bits of advice you have? Or anything else you’d like to share?
One of the most common questions I get is “Isn’t swimming the best exercise?” I always answer by saying “The best exercise is the one you will do.” To quote my mom “What do you want to do?”
© 2020 Silver Disobedience Inc.