Age is no barrier for Masters champion Mike
Mike Anthonisz is part of the swimming legacy of Sri Lanka. An
accountant by profession, he paints in his leisure time and swims with a
passion even at his current age category of over-55. He was the over 55
champion at the recently held Masters Swimming Championships.
Surprisingly, Mike Anthonisz hated water and was terrified when he
was first thrown into the water around the age of three or four by his
mum into the sea in Galle.
He smiles to himself when he realizes what a long way he has come.
‘Whether you get over your fear of water at the age of five or fifty
five, the thrill is just the same. Even more when you are older’, says
Mike who now takes masters classes for complete beginner adults.
‘Swimming can be learnt at any age. And we still have competitive
swimming even at over 75 years. So no one is missing out on anything.
In fact, Mike says that ‘the SLAASU (Sri Lanka Aquatics and Sports
Union) even introduced a Novices swimming meet for adults last year
which was well attended by complete beginners to swimming in all age
So while mums and dads take their kids for swimming lessons they too
can learn the sport, at least to survive in the water if not for the
Mike is still the strong competitor that he used to be. National
record holder for the breast stroke events from the age of 16 years in
1969 to 1977, Mike says he was a late bloomer. Of course he had to
attend swimming classes in his school in England when he was about ten.
He struggled and finished his course.
On his way back to Colombo, in a ship, he spent all his time in the
ship’s pool and mastered his fear and swimming together. When he came
back to Colombo and realized he was now ahead of all the competition and
was truly enjoying his swimming, his friends who had competed at a much
younger age had burnt out. Mike became Sri Lanka’s national champion
Why the breast stroke in particular? Mike then says ’watch the way I
walk’ and he proceeds to walk with duck feet with his toes turned out.
‘Breast-strokers are born not made,’ he says.
Now when he gets new students into his master classes, he looks at
the way they walk and when he realizes they are really breast strokers,
he teaches them all the other strokes and the breast stroke last of all
which they master in a few days.
‘Sometimes adults learn to swim in less than a week. And the thrill
of having learnt is much much more both for the coach and the
Mike was coaching Ladies College for almost ten years when he
produced outstanding swimmers for both the Commonwealth and SAAF
competitions and brought the Ladies College swim team to the national
championships year after year. His two daughters went to Ladies and one
of them was a champion swimmer trained by dad. His son Viren is also a
breast stroker of repute.
What really got him interested in Masters Swimming Classes or rather
the adult classes was that he was training the adult team at John Keells
where he is an accountant and his team won the mercantile swimming
championships three years in a row.
Now he walks around the SSC pool with a whistle while he trains his
adult squad of 18 women and 17 men, all over 35. He still trains
intensely before a Masters meet and can put many a younger breast
stroker to shame with the speed with which he still swims. ‘Once a
competitor, always a competitor,’ he says.
He is often worried that he might push himself too hard because in
his mind ‘age has still not caught up’. He sprints a length and while
still panting takes off again. ‘One must not do that at my age but I
can’t hold myself back. I am so used to that relentless push while I was
competing at the National level.’ In fact Mike Anthonisz was the captain
of the Sri Lanka team in 1975 to China which was the only time that Sri
Lanka has beaten India in a swimming championship.
Mike is currently the Chairman of Selectors, a Masters swimming
champion and an adults swimming coach. He says, ’swimming is one of the
best sports for an adult to master as it is a non-impact, non stress
sport that can be taken at the swimmers own pace and enjoyed both as an
exercise and for relaxation and the best part is, swimming can be learnt
at any age.’