If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Dan Winfield, the 69-year-old swimmer/runner/biker, husband/father/grandfather community-minded man, then you would know what I mean when I say that “Age is just a number.” Winfield is New Paltz’s own Paul Newman: like a fine bottle of wine that only gets better with age.
There are few 40-year-olds who could rival the shape and stamina of Winfield, poised to turn 70 in November. Although he and his wife Maureen only moved to New Paltz in 2005, it’s as if they’ve been here since die Pfalz was being settled. The two are ever-present ambassadors to the growing athletic Mecca that New Paltz has become, with Dan helping to organize a Moriello Pool morning swim program and a Saturday Lenape Lane run for all ages and abilities, as well as championing their fellow athletes from ages 2 to 102 with ongoing newsletters, e-mail notices, Facebook pages and word-of-mouth tribal support.
While Dan is the “man” behind so much of New Paltz’s masters’-age athletics, he is also a person who not only encourages everyone to participate, but also lives and works the dream, day in and day out. He not only qualified for and participated in the Federation of International Aquatics (FINA) Masters’ World Championships of Swimming and Diving in Montreal, but he also medalled. “It seemed like an exciting and intriguing thing to do,” said Winfield, who has for a long time competed in the New York State Master Swimmers championships at SUNY Cortland. “This year it was in Montreal, only a four-and-a-half-hour drive, and I thought, ‘Why not?’’
What Winfield didn’t know was that he would be up against more than 6,000 aqua competitors from more than 27 countries, on an island with two 50-meter pools and a stage that echoed the Olympics. “I have never been to a swim venue of that magnitude,” said Winfield. “The teams, the countries, the fans, the facility…there were teams from Switzerland, Egypt and Australia, all with their national gear on and completely enthused for this event.”
Winfield, who grew up in Orange County without a high school pool or a summer pool, learned to swim in a lake. It was not until he joined a swim club at Manhattan College that he began his swim “career.” “Then we had kids, and I was more focused on that and running, but I always loved swimming.”
Fast-forward decades later and Winfield joined the Shawangunk Masters’ Swim Club that practices out of SUNY New Paltz. From there he helped start the Moriello Morning Swim Club and began to focus more and more on swimming. Not having come from that competitive swim background, he said that he wasn’t quite prepared for what he was to encounter in Montreal. “I used my short-course yard times to enter [which are approximately four seconds faster than 50-meter competitions per lap], so I was in the fastest heat in every race!”
He said that when he dove into the fastest heat of the 800-meter freestyle, he was “with the pack for the first 100 meters, and then they began pulling away. I got lapped!” he said with a smile, realizing that his entry times were not accurate, but he still was placing in the top 20 in a monstrously competitive field. By the third day he was moving up, claiming a personal best in the 50-meter freestyle and a top ten medal in the 200 Individual Medley.
“My butterfly is basically nonexistent, and when I do it, I need a wall. But in a 50-meter pool, that wall seemed to never arrive!” That said, Winfield, went on to medal in the 200 IM and leave Montreal with a sense of personal accomplishment and a hunger to do more.
“You see all of these athletes, in incredible shape, from ages 25 to 90,” said his wife Marianne, as beautiful and lovely as they come. “They were not only swimming at unbelievable distances and speeds, but they were climbing the diving platforms and looking magnificent!”
While he has always been a big runner, cyclist and sports enthusiast, Winfield concedes that his love of swimming has grown tenfold. “We’re so blessed to be able to swim outside in the mornings,” he said, referring to the Moriello Morning Swim Group. Veteran Moriello Pool director “Bill Russell has been so helpful and gracious, and we can have high school swimmers, collegiate swimmers, incredible masters’ swimmers like Dave Barra, as well as those that are really just beginning to swim to help improve their fitness or their triathlons or recover from an injury. I’m grateful just to be in the pool with such high-caliber athletes.”
The same can be said for the Lenape Lane Saturday Run, where Winfield says that there are some “who run a few miles,” and others who go on to climb towards Bonticou Crag. “There are people that join us who are world recordholders. One man from New York City has run the Badwater Race, which is a 135-mile running race that starts well below sea level, crosses three mountain ranges and has temperatures that reach 127 degrees! Just to be sharing the trails with some of these individuals is humbling.”
But as Dan and Marianne point out, “There is a sense of camaraderie and community” in all of these athletic endeavors, whether someone is just starting to run his or her first mile or swim his or her first lap, or whether he or she is preparing (like Dave Barra) to swim the English Channel or 120 miles of the Hudson River. “When you see these athletes in Montreal, who are literally 90 years old and climbing a diving platform doing magnificent feats, you realize that age is just a number,” said Marianne. “And what’s so wonderful about this community is that age is blurred. We might have dinner with a young couple who just had a baby or celebrate a 40-year-old’s birthday party or be part of a support group for a cyclist that is injured.”
Dan concurred. “We’re absolutely blessed to live in a place where there are so many opportunities for athletic pursuits, whether it’s cycling, hiking, running, swimming, triathlons; and it spans from our young kids to our seniors!”
As if medalling at the FINA Masters’ World Championships weren’t enough, Dan is off to swim a two-mile open-water race in Lake Placid this weekend. But his posts on e-mail and Facebook keep coming, mentioning every achievement large or small that someone in this community has achieved, what upcoming races there are, who needs help recovering from an injury and when the next run/bike/swim or just good old fun get-together is going to be. The Winfields truly represent what community is all about!
To learn more about joining the Lenape Lane Saturday Run or the Shawangunk Masters’ Swim Club, which will commence this September at SUNY New Paltz, just look for those names on Facebook and rest assured that the Winfields will kindly, lovingly bring you into the fold — whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a beginner! ++