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James Krueger: Still swimming at 81

‘Age is just a state of mind’

Wailuku attorney and masters swimmer James Krueger holds a framed collection of accolades earned from competition. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

WAILUKU — Almost seven decades later, James Krueger is still just as driven and motivated in the swimming pool as he was on day one.

The 81-year-old freestyle and butterfly sprinter practices five days a week for national and international masters competitions, proving that hard work pays off and that age is not a limitation.

“It’s what I do; if I had gills, I’d be happy,” Krueger said Thursday morning at the James Krueger Law Corp. office in Wailuku. “I still think about every stroke that I take, making sure my elbow is at the right angle and entering the water. Old habits die hard.

“Age is not a relevance. Age is just a state of mind, and how you want to be.”

As of January, Krueger was ranked fifth in the Pacific Masters Swimming Region’s short course 50-yard freestyle in the men’s 80-84 age division — with a time of 45.88 seconds. Standings are calculated for the top 10 swimmers in each category based on previous placements and national rankings.

The Wailuku attorney recently earned silvers in the 100-meter freestyle, 50 free and 50 breaststroke in the 80-84 age group during the Southern Pacific Masters Short Course Championships held in Commerce, Calif., in December.

But he doesn’t want to stop there. He plans to compete at the U.S. Aquatic Masters Spring Short Course Yards Meet on March 22 at the University of California-Berkeley.

Krueger has been swimming competitively since the age of 12, and although he has been swimming for many decades now, it didn’t come that easy in the beginning.

“When I got to high school (after skipping two grades), I was 4-foot-11 and couldn’t play football because I was too small, and basketball, and then I grew 11 inches in four years,” he said. “Swimming was something that I could do.

“Ninth grade I was horrible, 10th grade I was so-so, and then I bloomed. I really did very well my senior year and just stayed with it.”

Like many collegiate athletes, Krueger took a break from swimming and water polo after graduating from UCLA. During his 11-year hiatus, he switched gears toward training for triathlons and the Boston Marathon, putting in the “same energy into running as I did swimming.”

It wasn’t until 1990, when three-time Olympic gold medalist and Hall of Fame swimmer Rowdy Gaines inspired him to get back in the pool. Gaines was coaching at a swim club in Hawaii Kai, Oahu, when the pair met and decided to work together for about five years.

“He’s an icon, he was the Michael Phelps of his time,” Krueger said. “Short story is that one day we were talking about swimming, and he asked me ‘why don’t you come swim with me?’ And I did…. He told me I had some talent and offered to coach me.”

Krueger went on to become a United States Masters Swimmer All-American and national champion, finishing second in the 50 free in the men’s 55-59 division at the 1996 VI FINA World Masters Championships held in Sheffield, England.

Then in 1998 at the VII FINA championships held in Casablanca, Morocco, Krueger earned silver again in the 50 freestyle, and third places in the 100 free and 50 butterfly in the men’s 60-64 division.

Representing The Olympic Club, Krueger was part of the world- and national-record-setting 200 short-course medley relay at the USMS Short-Course Championships, earning titles, including the USMS Relay All-American in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 1999.

As an Olympic Club member, Krueger also has competed for about 25 years in the annual 9.9-mile Maui Channel Swim, the world’s longest open ocean relay race that starts on Lanai.

And he continues to compete and take photographs at all the exotic destinations he travels to, feeding his passion for swimming and photography.

“Every odd-numbered year, FINA runs masters swimming all over the world, and every odd number year they have a world championship and in a different country,” he said. “We met people from all over the world doing it, but I think swimming in Italy and Japan, and swimming in New Zealand were the three most fascinating places that we went to.”

In 2017, now representing Mt. Tamalpais Masters Aquatics, Krueger swam in four 75-79 age group relays — two mixed freestyle and medley — that won golds at U.S. Masters Short Course Swimming Championships in California.

Individually, Krueger placed fifth and seventh in the nation in his age division for the 50- and 200-yard freestyle races.

“Masters swimming, older people, instead of having numbers go down in the number of people swimming, seemingly these last 5 to 10 years of older people swimming has increased. They’re coming out of the woodwork,” he said. “It’s very stimulating to find that many men and women are doing the same thing, coming out of the woodwork and starting to swim again. I think it’s because it’s available, not that it wasn’t before, but it wasn’t considered a thing to do.

“It’s open to everybody, and it can be a really fun experience.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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