If you’ve been wanting to step out of your office or your comfort zone more often, find a new hobby, incorporate more exercise into your life or simply try something new, swimming might be the avenue you’ve been looking for.
Mark Fitz-Walter, senior practitioner with Mortimore & Associates on the Gold Coast, has experienced great success in the pool over the last 30 years. He was ranked number one in the world by the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) when they released their current world rankings for Masters swimmers, the event being the 50-metre men’s butterfly in the 65-69 year age group. His time of 30.75 seconds was also a new Australian record.
According to Mark, he was “pretty good” at swimming going through school, but drifted away from the sport for some time before deciding to take it up again in his early thirties. He soon found his niche in butterfly and concentrated on the sprints, training six times a week in the lead-up to major competitions.
Fast forward a few decades and Mark has competed in four FINA World Masters Championships, listing one of his proudest moments so far as clocking 27.9 seconds in 50-metre butterfly when he was 55 years old.
Mark says that having been so successful in his swimming pursuits and reaching the number one ranking gives him a quiet confidence.
“The benefits you get from exercise naturally flow into whatever else you do,” he said. “I know that if I can go from being a ‘nobody’ to number one in the world, I’ve got a set of tools that assisted me to do that.
“I can equally apply these tools to the stresses of law and in dealing with client’s problems.”
He explains that, whilst practising law, you are often looking at ways to mitigate risk and a defensive mindset can become all too pervasive.
“After 40 years, I’m quite sure it changes the way you think and the way you approach life,” he says. “I think swimming helps rewire some of that.”
Before merging with Mortimore & Associates, Mark ran his own practice on the Gold Coast for 30 years, focusing on commercial law, property and leasing matters.
Mark understands the pressures of practising law all too well but considers the positive impacts of swimming to be considerable. He has personally experienced the benefits mentally as well as the positive physical and social outcomes from participating in the sport, and he credits swimming for helping him climb out of a dark place after a challenging period in his life.
“You’re sitting down all day – one of the best ways to deal with that is to get in the water,” he said. “I was getting quite depressed. I decided I needed to do something to work on that, and the best thing I know is exercise.
“There’s something very therapeutic about water – just being immersed in it.”
He found significant value in applying himself to something outside law. Besides providing a total body workout, the release of endorphins and improving cardiovascular fitness, Mark believes the stresses of legal practice can be alleviated through swimming. He recommends it to other legal practitioners as a sure-fire way to relieve stress, find and maintain more balance in life, and even help improve work performance as a result.
For those wanting to start swimming, Mark recommends doing just that. Find a group to train with, set some small targets initially and get out in the water and start swimming.
“Swimming can be so interesting today,” he said. “Put fins on, use a snorkel, try paddles or just use a kickboard.”
As an elite Masters swimmer, his training is high intensity and has an added technical element, however Mark emphasises that Masters swimming caters for all levels of fitness and abilities. Membership is open to everyone over 18 and you can start competing, if you so desire, once you’ve hit 25.
There are also plenty of opportunities for socialising and interacting with other people if you join a swimming squad, whether it be in the pool, at swim meets or after a morning training session for coffee. To start swimming and stick with it requires a level of self-discipline, but having a group of like-minded people makes it so much easier to come back to the pool.
You’ll meet a broad range of people with different backgrounds but with whom you share a common interest. If you start competing, you may have the chance to participate in the relays which Mark points out as one of the highlights.
If you’re not looking to be competitive, don’t let this deter you.
“The thing about competing, is that you really only compete against yourself,” he said. “10 to 15 percent of our squad are competitive and the rest are in for the fun of it!
“One time in our squad we had a radiologist, an ophthalmic surgeon, a postal delivery officer, a real estate agent, a fireman and a couple of students.”
Swimming is for anyone and everyone… so if you’re interested, why not dive in?