For most of us, learning to swim comes almost as naturally as learning how to make the perfect piece of vegemite toast (70% butter, 30% vegemite, if you’re wondering…). But for others, certain things – like, for example, World War II – can stop our swimming career in its tracks. Today, on his 100th birthday, we share our chat with George Corones, the great-grandfather out to prove it’s never too late to dive into swimming.
Unless your residential address is ‘Under a Rock’, you’ve probably heard about George Corones – the Brisbane local who made headlines when he smashed both the 100-104 years’ 50m and 100m freestyle records at the recent Commonwealth Games swimming trials, at 99 years of age. It was hard to miss the footage of the elderly man effortlessly diving into the pool and swimming laps with practically perfect technique, and television programs and newspapers quickly made him the talk of the town.
“He’s been very busy with interviews, photo shoots and other media requests,” says George’s granddaughter, Claire. “He keeps saying, ‘I don’t understand why everyone’s making such a fuss!’”
Swimming always came pretty naturally for George. Growing up far west of Brisbane, his early-childhood swimming experiences mostly consisted of dog-paddling in the Warrego River.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an amazing feeling of there being no gravity in the water, of being suspended, and that has never left me,” says George, “so it was never a chore to have to go swimming frequently when I decided to try to be serious about it.”
A decorated high-school swimmer – George’s daughter proudly wears his 10 years’ backstroke pendant from his primary school carnival around her neck – George’s swimming career was quickly halted by a little event called World War II.
“I went to university from 1937 to 1939, and that was the last carnival I competed in,” says George. “They wouldn’t organise swimming carnivals during the war, so any swimming after that was done in the surf, purely as a summer exercise.”
It wasn’t until he was 80-years-old that George rediscovered his love for the sport, and he has been competing in Masters’ Swimming for the last two decades. Although the number of competitors racing against him in the 100-104 years’ age group are admittedly few, George says it’s all about the race against yourself, anyway.
“All you’re doing is competing against your previous times, but it’s a remarkable effort,” says George. “The person in the lane beside you might be half your age or twice your age, but you just try to do the best you can against yourself. All of the recordings that are kept tell you what can be done for everyone, at every age. It’s amazing – the rewards are astronomical.”
It’s no surprise, then, that George was so excited to hear that Claire’s son, Nicholas, one of his nine – soon to be ten – great-grandchildren had taken up swimming lessons at the Belinda Cadzow Swim School in Brisbane.
“When I told him that Nicholas had taken up swimming lessons he was so proud,” says Claire. “He thinks learning to swim is such an important skill and one that really can be enjoyed for life.”
Which explains why George truly believes that his efforts aren’t all that extraordinary. He attests that some of the international Masters’ swimming events he’s attended garnered 10,000 other participants which, he aptly states, is more than many sports will have to watch from the grandstands.
“There’s a lot that isn’t known about it and we do all try to promote it because once you get involved in it you have no idea how well you become,” says George.
And as George blows out the 100 candles on his birthday cake today, we’re inclined to believe him.