LAKE CITY — It’s been another banner summer for former Army captain and retired General Motors engineer Joel Lockwood, a longtime resident of Lake Township with bride DixieLee.
Lockwood turned 85 on June 20 and turned that milestone event in his life into an opportunity to compete for gold medals as a swimmer in a new age bracket in the National Senior Olympic Games held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Lockwood, competing for the first time in the 85-89 division, did remarkably well, earning four gold medals and two silver medals in freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke events.
Oh, and he set four national records along the way.
“It was a great thrill,‘ said the smiling Lockwood, who still stands ramrod-straight and looks like he must be around the same weight he was back in his Army days in the 1950s.
“I’m not sure how many swimmers there were in New Mexico but there must have been 800 or so altogether and they had 12 in my age bracket. I was hoping to do pretty good in my new division and it worked out that way. It was just a great experience all the way around. I thoroughly enjoyed being there and taking part in it.‘
The Senior Games featured about 20 sports in all and around 15,000 senior athletes ranging from age 50 to some who were 100 or more. There was one female swimmer who was 100 years of age, Lockwood recalled, and the oldest male swimmer was 94. Lockwood still has nine years to reach that age and he very well may still be going strong at that point.
Ironically, the Senior Games were staged on June 14-19 and ended the day before his actual 85th birthday, but the age division for the Senior Games is reckoned by the year of birth, not the birthday, so Lockwood was good to go.
“That worked out pretty well for me,‘ he said.
“You only get the chance to be a first-year swimmer in your age division one time every five years, so I figured this was my opportunity to take advantage of that.‘
Lockwood certainly did make the best of turning 85, as four gold medals, four national records, and two silver medals attest.
In actuality, Lockwood broke the standing national record for the male 85-89 age division in all six events; in the other two events, though, the 86-year-old gentleman from Nevada who beat out Joel, broke the existing record by just a little bit more.
“He was really good,‘ Lockwood said. “I have to give him credit. He knew how to do a better flip-turn than me in the backstroke and that made the difference.‘
Lockwood earned gold medals in the 200-yard freestyle (3:02.23), the 50 breaststroke (45.75), the 100 breaststroke (1:47.68), and the 500 freestyle (8:12.63). His silver medals came in the 50 free and the 50 backstroke.
Amazingly, Lockwood did not break any of the national records simply by a fraction of a second, which is often the case. Lockwood beat the previous national record in the 200 free by 4 seconds, in the 50 breast by 6 seconds, in the 100 breast by 7 seconds, and in the 500 freestyle by an incredible 9 seconds, All of the previous records had been established for at least 10 years.
In the 50 backstroke, Lockwood’s time of 43.73 seconds beat out the old record of 49.86 seconds set way back in 1997, but Clarke, the Nevada torpedo, wiped out the old mark with a time of 39.72 seconds. The 50 freestyle was another matter, though. The national record going into the event was 37.08 seconds. Lockwood finished in 35.41 seconds and Clarke finished in 34.66, beating out Lockwood by 75/100ths of a second.
Lockwood credited a hardy training regimen for his success. He worked out five days a week leading up to the Senior Olympics, swimming anywhere from a mile to two miles per day at the Cadillac YMCA.
“I did different drills with some kicks and pulls,‘ he said.
“The YMCA is a great place to train. I’m grateful to them for having such a fabulous facility. The folks there are terrific and so is the pool. Scott Leesch, the Monday morning masters coach, helped me an awful lot.‘
Lockwood also credited his perfectly-fitted high-tech swimsuit, the first one he’s ever owned. Lockwood believes the swimsuit helped him trim off seconds in every event.
The high-performance, carbon-fiber, power-skin swimsuit was a gift to Lockwood from the ARENA company after the directors there learned of Lockwood’s times in the Michigan Masters Swim Meet that was held in April in Ypsilanti. Lockwood won a bundle of medals during the April meet competing in the 85-89 age bracket, and his winning times indicated his ability not only to fare well in the upcoming Senior Olympics in June but to break some national records as well.
And that’s just what happened.
Lockwood also thanked his daughter Jill Mann from Interlochen, who stayed at the house and watched her mom DixieLee while her dad was competing in the Olympics in New Mexico.
And he thanked longtime Lake City barber Ken Kitson as well.
“I got my good luck haircut from Ken before I left,‘ Lockwood explained with a chuckle. “He’s such a neat guy. He cuts my hair really short before I compete and it gives me an edge.‘
Lockwood plans to continue to participate in Michigan Masters events and bigger events outside the state as he is able, especially now that he is part of a new age division. Lockwood already owns a slew of records at the state and national level and he also set a world record in 2012 as part of the 400-meter relay. As a young man, Lockwood set two U.S. Army national records and was a two-time All-American swimmer at Henry Ford Community College. He was recently inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in his native Dearborn.
The biggest challenge facing Lockwood now is finding room to display all of his medals at his home overlooking Sapphire Lake. He may have to expand a wall somewhere.
But that’s a good problem to have, especially when you’re 85 years old and your future on the water appears as promising as your past.