Marathon Men

By Lonnae O'neal Parker
Sunday, August 17, 2008

THE OLD MAN STOPS MOVING AND REACHES OUT TO GRAB THE EDGE OF THE POOL. He throws back his head to suck down a breath. His body sinks into the aquamarine water, but his eyes, which have their own blue depths, are alert as he watches the others swim laps around him. "I don't have much stamina," John Tatum says, panting. "These [laps] take a lot out of me." In the next lane, Lauretta Jenkins swims up to him. "I was telling my husband there's an 88-year-old guy I might try to get into the 200." John Tatum is actually 89.

"No, my events are the 50 and the 100," he says.

"Push yourself," Jenkins, 69, says.

"I've done 200 already," Tatum says.

"Without stopping?" Jenkins asks.

John says nothing.

"Let's go, you and I," Jenkins urges.

John takes a deep breath, then nods. The two push off from the wall and start swimming, side-by-side, down the 25-yard lane. Down they swim, and back. Jenkins pulls out front, her fluid strokes slicing through the water. John follows, but after two laps, his stroke grows choppy. His arms get heavy. He fights with the water.

Jenkins touches the wall at 100 yards and keeps swimming. John touches the wall at 100 yards and stops. He just doesn't have it today. His teammate swims the last leg of her 200 then joins him. "You have to pace yourself," she says. "Kick hard off the wall, coast in the middle, let your legs float so there's less drag in the water."

"It's easier for you; you're a girl," John says, practicing his kicks.

"Let's do another 200," says Jenkins.

"Let's do 100," John counters.

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