Since the Deaconess Aquatic Center opened in 2021, Andrew “Andy” Saltzman has rediscovered a love of swimming, which began in Bloomington, Indiana, when he was four years old.
Saltzman has high praise for the pool, calling it “one of the best competition pools in the Midwest. I’m proud that Evansville has such a good facility. It’s a really great opportunity not just for competition but recreation and learning to swim.”
With this reignited passion, he has introduced a new tradition to the River City Masters swim group, a part of the national nonprofit U.S. Masters Swimming. Each year, Saltzman swims his age in 100-yard intervals on his birthday, and between 10 and 15 members of the River City Masters have joined him.
He is an accomplished swimmer, having competed for Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, and while in his first year at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina. He qualified for the trials for the 1980 Summer Olympics, which the U.S. boycotted over the Soviet-Afghan War that launched the year prior. Saltzman also won three gold and one bronze medal at the 1981 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
After that, Saltzman stepped away from competitive swimming and, since 1989, has worked as an orthopedic surgeon in Evansville for Tri-State Orthopaedics, specializing in sports medicine.
In the decades since, he swam on and off at the Tri-State Athletic Club’s and Castle High School’s pools before joining the River City Masters. The group accepts anyone who wants to swim for exercise and has around 45 members between the ages of 18 and 75, many of whom compete in triathlons. It’s gotten Saltzman back into consistent swimming and introduced the birthday tradition to the group.
“We have a huge variety of professions and ages,” Saltzman says. “We swim for a number of different reasons: health, camaraderie, and because we enjoy it.”
The birthday swims started five years ago with four of Saltzman’s college roommates from Princeton’s swim team. One had a 60th birthday gathering in Buffalo, New York, where he swam his age in 100-yard intervals accompanied by Saltzman and another former teammate. It started a tradition among the group to do the same, either in open water or a lap pool.
“Athletes love a challenge. And it’s a fun challenge, a fun accomplishment,” Saltzman says.
When Jasper, Indiana, native Maria Heathcott, who has coached masters swimming for 10 years, first heard Saltzman’s idea, “we were right on board,” she says.
“It’s a good challenge and more mileage than we usually do,” Heathcott adds. “I know it’s a lot easier to swim when you have friends to support you. It’s about camaraderie and supporting one of our friends.”
It takes Saltzman about 1:20 minutes to complete a 100-yard interval, with a five- to eight-second resting period until he starts the next. It takes four laps to complete 100 yards at the aquatic center. When Saltzman takes to the pool on Dec. 2 for this year’s birthday swim, he will complete 6,500 yards — more than three miles — which will take around an hour and forty-five minutes. Of those who join him, some will complete all three miles, while others will do what they can.
With a group “mentally, it makes it much easier,” Saltzman says. He says he also enjoys “the feeling of accomplishment when you finish and being able to go eat what I want and not worry about it.”
“I still love what I do taking care of athletes and other patients. Even though I’m turning 65, I have no plans to retire soon! Swimming is keeping me young,” he adds.