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by Daniel Paulling

August 9, 2019

The 61-year-old Mission Viejo Nadadores member only began swimming seriously in April

Mission Viejo Nadadores member Isabel Zippel only started swimming seriously in April, but she didn’t let her inexperience keep her from enjoying her newfound sport on Thursday.

She swam the 50-meter freestyle on the second day of the 2019 U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship at the Marguerite Aquatic Center in Mission Viejo, Calif. The event was the first swim meet of her life, an experience she loved.

“It’s a lot of excitement,” Zippel says. “It’s fun.”

She took a circuitous route to her new sport after learning how to swim in her native Germany, but she never competed. Zippel, 61, moved to the United States in 1981 and did Jazzercise as her form of exercise for 30 years. She developed a love of moving to music and eventually taught up to six classes a week while working as an instructor for 16 years.

But she began suffering from hereditary joint problems that eventually caused her to get a knee replacement two years ago and a hip replacement last November. Zippel couldn’t do Jazzercise anymore and tried both yoga and Pilates before deciding to start swimming last fall. She took one-on-one lessons before joining the Nadadores for more advanced instruction.

Unless she was wearing fins, Zippel struggled early on to swim a long-course 50 without stopping, says Nadadores assistant coach Jeff Taylor, whom she credits, along with Nadadores head coach Mark Moore and Nadadores assistant coach Mike Gibson, with helping her greatly. Her improvement—she found it easier to breathe just to her left and learned how to extend her arms farther on every stroke to become more efficient at freestyle—came quickly.

Zippel then decided to enter Summer Nationals.

“She was shocked she could swim in nationals,” Taylor says. “She was like, ‘There’s no way I’m good enough.’ I have a lot of girls and guys who say that: ‘I can’t go to nationals. I’m terrible.’

“It’s very hard because [new Masters swimmers] don’t know what to expect, and they’re thinking everybody’s going to beat them. It just takes a lot of guts to be able to stand in there and see something that looks impossible and go ahead and try it anyway.

“It was hard for her. I don’t think she thought she could do it. I told her, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just jump in and do it and see what happens.’”

Zippel swam a 50 freestyle in 1:02 in practice leading up to the meet and set a goal to break one minute in the meet. She didn’t know if she could, but she went a 47.94, good for 19th place in the women’s 60-64 age group.

“I don’t know [how I did it],” Zippel says. “I just swam really fast.”

She’s also entered in the 50 breaststroke, which is Friday, and a relay. Taylor hopes Zippel will earn a medal in the latter event, allowing her to take home a big prize from her first meet.

Zippel plans to continue swimming and competing with the Nadadores. She loves her new sport, as well as the way the fog looks over the pool and the sunrise during her weekday morning practices.

“When I’m done swimming, I feel awesome,” Zippel says. “It’s like therapy every morning. It’s like meditating. I don’t know how to explain it. I feel like I found a fountain of youth.”

Records Broken on Thursday, Aug. 8

Jamie Fowler, Novaquatics Masters: men’s 60-64 200 backstroke—2:26.12 (USMS record and FINA Masters world record)
Bonnie Bilich, Walnut Creek Masters: women’s 60-64 200 backstroke—2:41.57 (USMS record and FINA Masters world record)
Laura Val, Tamalpais Aquatics Masters: women’s 65-69 200 backstroke—2:47.70 (USMS record and FINA Masters world record)
Anthony Ervin, Swim Fort Lauderdale: men’s 35-39 50 freestyle—23.09 (USMS record)
Holly Green Blair, Palm Beach Masters: women’s 55-59 50 freestyle—28.46 (USMS record and FINA Masters world record)

Note: All records are subject to change pending verification.


  • Events


  • National Championships
  • Nationals
  • USMS Nationals