There are ways of growing old. Stanton Craigie has seen them all. He's seen 70-year-olds excused from lifetime professions to become idle melancholics. The thought of his life drifting in that direction sends his temperature into the 100s.
"My outlook on life has always been that I was gonna work forever," said Craigie, 73, in his Northeast Washington home. "I figure I'll live to 100 or die in the effort."
The effort is competitive swimming, which Craigie is immersed in in league with the D.C. Recreation Association. In 1977, Craigie set six records in the 70-74 age group bracket (three in the butterfly and three in individual medleys). In May, he placed in four events in the masters national meet in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Craigie still has the perfect swimmer's body. He is 6 feet 1, weight 140 pounds of lean, crew-cutted hair style to offer minmal resistance under water.
Craigie is in a mild slump this year.
"I caught the flu in January and it really took away from my strength." he said. "I had to miss four or five meets. This year I just haven't been as mentally competitive as in the past."
Senior swimmers like Craigie have a reversed outlook on the aging process. Craigie is looking ahead to his 75th birthday as a 17-year-old looks forward to becoming "legal".
"When I hit 75, I go into the next age-group bracket, 75-79," Craigie said. "When I was 70, I placed in the top 10 times in all 17 events (varying distances of the medley, breast-stroke, backstroke, freestyle and butterfly). That's nationally.So when I hit 75. I hope to break more records in that category and hopefully place in the top 10 in all those events again. In 1977, I was never lower than the fifth fastest time in the country."
Craigie vacillates between beaming at his success and playing it down.
"I have boxes of trophies and ribbons," he said, pointing to a veritable storehouse in his basement. "But trophies and junk like that don't mean much anymore. Being in the top 10 times is the important thing."
Sure enough, Craigie has only one plaque displayed in his living room. "That was for some meet in Yorktown, Pa. I just put it up there because my wife had some crazy picture on that hook that was incongurous with the best of the paintings on the wall."
Craigie started competitive swimming at Cornell in the '20s.
"I went out for the track team," he said. "I was running the quarter-mile and the coaches told me I was doing all right. Then one day someone stole my spike shoes. Well, I said to myself, "I'm going to try swimming, there's nothing to be stolen there."
Through subsequent years as a teacher and a government employe, Craigie didn't swim competitively. In 1976, he was retired from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. "I wanted to keep on working but that's the way it goes," Craigie said."I thought I might have a job with the Group Health Association but it didn't pan out. I'd still be quite willing to work."
The D.C. Recreation Association is where Craigie has since channeled his energies. He's drawing up a new constitution for the association and hoping to win the national masters team championship this summer in North Carolina.
Craigie is meticulous in handling team records and times. At the start of every year he organizes a personal chart outlining meets in which he'll compete and what races he'll enter. Usually he enters about 20 meets a year and about five events per meet.
"A couple of years ago," Craigie said, "Entered eight events in one meet just so I could win some doggone tank shirt."
During fall training, Craigie swims about 1,600 yards a day. His best stroke is butterfly, which is also the most strenuous so he has little problem keeping fit.
"I'm very competitive within myself," he said. "I can get gold medals or blue ribbons anytime, but improving my times is what matters.
"The primary purpose of all this is physical fitness and a sense of well-being. There's a lot of pride and achievement. You can't play sports like basketball and football forever. But you can always swim.
"Why, I know people swimming competitively at 80 years old! 80!"
Stanton Craigie, 73, is incredulous.