Richard Abrahams: Swimming into the Hall of Fame at 67

By Jon Finkel

Richard Abrahams was an NCAA All-American swimmer in 1966 for Northwestern University. Nearly five decades later, he is still setting records in the pool. Abrahams has set 37 FINA Masters World Records and won 10 gold medals in three World Masters Championships since 1986.

This summer, he was honored by being inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame. In this interview, Richard shares with Life Extension® a few diet, supplement, and training tips that have helped him extend his athletic prime into his late 60s!

Congratulations on your selection to the Masters Swimming Hall of Fame. Was this something you set out to accomplish back when you started swimming competitively?

I started swimming competitively at a relatively late age; 15. For the first year or so I was not very good and did it solely for the friendships and having fun. After an extended layoff after college I began masters swimming for the same reasons that originally motivated me. I loved competing and winning was part of the fun, but thoughts of the Hall of Fame never entered my mind.

You were a Big Ten Champion at Northwestern and an NCAA All-American in 1966. Did you have your sights on the Olympics at the time?

I would have loved to be an Olympian but really wasn’t all that serious in my training at the time and my best event was not part of the Olympic program. I did compete at the 1964 Olympic Trials but was not very close to making the team. I sometimes wonder if I had made the team if I still would have kept my motivation to excel today. I have no regrets.

Over forty years after your NCAA honors, you have relatively the same body now, as a 67-year-old, that you had as a 22-year-old. How have you managed to stay in excellent shape?

Well, I have to give some credit to genetics, as my family tends to have a lean body type. But I also train very hard; considerably harder than I did in college, and I don’t take extended breaks as I did then. I also am much more focused on my diet, which I never gave one thought to in my twenties. You sure save a lot of money on clothes when you can still fit into sport coats and pants you wore in the 1960s.

How has your training evolved over the last 40 years?

This is an area I focus on pretty closely. I’ve done some graduate work in exercise physiology and still stay abreast of the latest research and trends. There is so much information out there these days. Some of it is good, but much is misleading. I think I’m able to distinguish between the two and I’m willing to incorporate the best of the new stuff into my training. I also believe in having one or two training partners who share your outlook. It’s great for motivation.

Aside from swimming, what other activities do you do to stay fit?

My main “dryland” activity that enhances my swimming is resistance or weight training. My philosophy has also evolved quite a bit over the years for this activity. Bottom line, I try to incorporate exercises that are athletic and incorporate balance, rhythm and explosiveness. I’m training my nervous system as much as my muscles. When time permits, I also try to fit in yoga, cycling, hiking and rowing.

Have you followed a specific diet throughout your life that has led to your tremendous run of success?

Again, this is an area that constantly evolves. In my mid to late twenties I was addicted to Coca-Cola and cigarettes and gave no thought to healthy nutrition. Today we know so much more. Again though, there is much good and bad advice out there.

For the last 15 years or so I’ve tried to eat much more healthfully. I’ve made lots of changes and now eat more lean protein, veggies, fruits, nuts and whole grains. I do have the same breakfast every day: low fat plain yogurt with a little honey, some berries and walnuts, along with a cup of black coffee and a glass of orange juice. I think if you eat well the majority of the time you can splurge occasionally. Anyone want to get me the “bacon of the month club” for Christmas?

What healthy foods do you eat on a regular basis?

Foods I love and eat several times a week (if not every day) are walnuts, almonds, low-fat yogurt, skim milk, apples, bananas, berries, salmon, chicken, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, red leaf lettuce, brown rice or quinoa and avocados. I must admit to having about 2 oz. of dark chocolate and a handful of almonds along with a glass of skim milk every night after dinner.

Do you take any vitamins, minerals, supplements? If so, which ones and why?

I take a multivitamin, baby aspirin, fish oil, glucosamine and CoQ10 every day. When I’m training very hard I’m subject to muscle cramps and will take some extra magnesium which seems to help. I also take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory if I’m feeling particularly achy from minor shoulder arthritis or soreness from a tough workout.

What does ‘healthy living’ mean to you?

It’s as much about attitude as lifestyle. I really believe in maintaining excellent posture and putting energy into simple tasks such as walking. I love going to masters swim meets and seeing 80-year-olds who carry themselves with a bit of a strut instead of shuffling along.

I know much of this has to do with strength but a lot is also attitude. I’ve had to overcome several serious injuries and have my share of health issues. I believe I deal with them best with a positive outlook.

There is so much good information available to help us achieve the best possible health to maintain our vigor and joy for life. We all need to take some personal responsibility and strive to do what we can to live healthfully.

How long do you plan to compete and what records do you have your eyes on now?

Another thing I love about masters swimming is the way the different age groups (every 5 years) keep you motivated to do your best regardless of age. I have literally heard 59-year-old women saying they could not wait until they turned 60 so they could compete in a new age group!

So to answer the question; for as long as I possibly can and yes, I already have my sights set on breaking numerous current records in the 70+ age group.

A few questions for you …

What motivates you? Do you have specific fitness goals like Richard has? How has your diet helped or hampered your success at achieving your goals?


myoswimwear said...

Well done Richard. Swimming into the hall of fame is a great achievement and you should be really proud of what you have done. Thanks for the post and the run down of how you achieved your entry into the hall of fame.

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