Sun City resident Nana Whalen is making waves in the pool at 75

features@islandpacket.comAugust 15, 2013 

Swimmer Nana Whalen poses at the Purrysburg Fitness Center in Sun City with the all the swimming medals she's won this year.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

"I was just really on fire," she said. "I took 45 seconds off my best time to get the gold, which is unheard of."

Nana Whalen learned to swim at age 7. Every Saturday she took the city bus by herself into downtown Columbus, Ohio, then walked four blocks to the YMCA just to swim.

Then the polio epidemic hit, and her mother would no longer allow her to swim.

Whalen's love of the water never really left her, though. When she grew up and had a family of her own, she spent a lot of time at the neighborhood pool, watching her three children swim. She and her husband, John, formed a couple of swim teams for the kids in town.

But Whalen said she didn't get much of a chance to actually swim in those days. She was always running the show from the sidelines.

When she and John moved to Sun City Hilton Head in 1997, she finally had time to get back in the pool. And she has been like a fish in water ever since.

The 75-year-old woman said she swam in the Beaufort County Senior Games -- now called the Beaufort Jasper Active Adult Challenge -- in 1997. She has competed every year since, except for in 2011, when her husband died.

Whalen has earned quite a collection of medals over the past several years. In June, she won a gold medal for her age group in the 400 freestyle at the 2013 Pan-American Masters Championship in Sarasota, Fla.

"I was just really on fire," she said. "I took 45 seconds off my best time to get the gold, which is unheard of."

She also earned a bronze medal in the 800 freestyle, sixth place in the 100 butterfly, bronze in two relays and fourth place in two relays.

"I always have great expectations when I go to a big meet," Whalen said. "But this time I knew I was just happy to be there. So the fact that I placed is just beyond belief. And it was a dream come true."

After bringing home medals from the international competitions, Whalen went to Cleveland from July 23 to July 25 to compete in the 2013 National Senior Games. She earned another batch of medals there, including a gold in the 200 backstroke and a silver in the 50 backstroke.

Whalen's fascination with the water isn't restricted to competitions. She also loves teaching others to swim. She teaches classes to adults with physical challenges at Sun City Hilton Head and also teaches private lessons.

"The inspiration for my swimming are my students," she said, adding that if they can do it with all their struggles, so can she.

Whalen said there's nothing more important than exercise. If you can maintain flexibility and balance as you age, she said you can remain active.

"That's what I hope to give those people," she said. "If you don't have physical fitness, life is more difficult."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at


National Senior Games

2013 Pan-American Masters Championship

Beaufort Jasper Active Adult Challenge

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service