WILTON, Conn. – Kristin Gary likes to say "once a Wilton Wahoo, always a Wilton Wahoo.'' She could also add once a fast swimmer, always a fast swimmer.
Weston native Gary, 44, represented the Wahoos at the YMCA Masters National Championships earlier this month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and returned home with six individual gold medals and two silvers. She also swam on four relay teams that won gold medals. "I was a little delirious by the end,'' Gary said.
She set a YMCA record in the 100-yard individual medley, breaking a record that had stood since 2005. She also won the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyles, the 100 butterfly, and 200 backstroke. She was second in the 200 and 400 individual medleys.
She was not even rested for the meet. The signature event on the Masters swimming calendar is this weekend's Spring Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. She trained through the Florida meet in anticipation of this weekend's meet.
"The Y Nationals are a very fun, upbeat meet,'' said Gary, who was a standout swimmer at Weston High and Duke University. "It's all about spending time with friends that you've had for 30 years. It feels like you're 16 again."
Gary took a break from swimming when she graduated from Duke in 1989. "Swimming is an intense sport,'' she said. "I wanted to dedicate my energies to other things. The idiom 'a fish out of water' is so true. After a while, I came back. I wanted to get fit again. What was I going to do, step aerobics?"
She started swimming again in the late 1990s. "I thought, 'I'm never going to race again,''' Gary said. But slowly she regained her competitive fire and has been competing regularly for the past 10 years. "When we were young, we thought you hit your athletic prime when you're 15,'' Gary said. "That's not true. You don't have to hang up your goggles when you're 20."
She is also one of the co-founders of the Trident Swim Foundation, an after-school program that combines academics and competitive swimming for minority students in New York City. "A lot of them didn't know how to swim when they joined,'' she said. "They learn a lot about what it means to be on a team, discipline and work ethic. We have an excellent record with college placement and instilling the swimming ethos in the kids. I'm really proud of the kids."
Gary lives in New York and is president of the Red Tide, a masters swim team. She still trains periodically in Wilton. "I'm older now, and my swimming is so unpredictable,'' she said. "I'm not surprised that I'm competing now – I've been doing it for over 10 years. The level at which I'm competing has been a gradual accomplishment and one that I owe to good coaching, a great masters team and the fun that I have swimming with friends. And yes, the love of the sport."