Nickie Brown has never been a competitive swimmer, but at 77, she knows how to set a goal and work toward it.
Wednesday she did that twice, joining the 100-mile club at the Indianola YMCA in the morning and celebrating by performing her first ukulele concert later in the day.
"I have an audience, so why not?” she laughed.
Brown started swimming regularly in 2017, when her husband, David, started water walking for his health. A friend suggested she start tracking her miles and try to join the Y’s 100-mile club. She started her effort in September of 2017.
“I’m a member of it now, as of 7 a.m.,” she said Wednesday. Her prize? A t-shirt.
“I’ve worked pretty hard for that t-shirt,” she said. But she also got something else — the support of people throughout the Y, including those she attended aerobics class with and swam next to.
“They’re such nice people, I call them my cheerleaders,” Brown said. “They cheered me on.”
Brown said she swam a half mile most days. With 52 weeks in a year, she said, “You could do it in a year if you never missed, but of course, life jumps in on you on those things.”
She took time off when David was in the hospital, to go to a wedding, to spend a month in Florida.
“And then you do get sick and you do not wake up in time one day,” she said. “It takes you a while.”
Even the half-mile a day seems to take a while, she said. It takes 18 laps, or 36 lengths of the pool, to go half a mile. She could do it in half an hour. Occasionally, she did a mile.
“It makes you feel so good,” she said. “But it’s pretty boring to do day in and day out. It is a time when you are actually in solitude. You don’t pay attention to anything else.”
Sometimes, Brown got through it by thinking about her family.
“There are 19 of them in David’s family and mine, and I’ll think about one family for a whole lap and what they’re doing,” she said. “I just check in with them mentally.”
Other times, she said, “you’re figuring out what you’re doing for dinner.”
She also broke up the tedium by varying her strokes. “I was having a hard time counting my laps and remembering,” she said. “So then I started doing four laps of American crawl, four breast stroke, four back stroke and four side crawls.”
She was most efficient, she said, when she did the American crawl one direction, the back stroke the other. She also was more efficient when she remembered to watch the flags over her lane and prepare for the wall.
“You go under the flag and then count seven strokes and turn,” she said. “I hit my head two or three times” before figuring that out.
Brown said she plans to continue swimming, but will add aerobics and other exercise back into her routine.
She also plans to keep up with her ukulele. Her first husband, John Lyon, originally bought the instrument. After his death, she gave it to a niece, but after a while, she took it back.
“I decided I’m going to learn how to play it,” she said. And so, after finishing her 100 miles, she was headed home to give her friends and cheerleaders tea and a rendition of “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” on her ukulele.
She’s been taking lessons for three months and she’s adding her music, along with her swimming, to the list of things inspired by the message on a white board in the lobby of the Y.
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal,” she said. “A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action becomes a reality.”