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In The News
Madame Butterfly


Saturday, May 14, 2005 9:47 AM HST

She's already set more swimming world records than she can count but last month, Kona's Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen topped all that by receiving one of the biggest honors of her life.

The 43-year-old was named the 2004 World Women's Masters Swimmer of the Year as chosen by Swimming World Magazine in its April edition.

"I think it's really cool," she said. "It's neat to be recognized. There's a lot of very well-deserving people out there which makes this an even bigger honor. It's probably my most rewarding accomplishment in swimming."

Phillip Whitten, editor of Swimming World Magazine, said they compiled a list of the world's top Masters swimmers (18 and older in the U.S. and 20 and older internationally) who were then ranked by a panel of international experts. Pipes-Neilsen's 11 world records in 2004 (in the 40-44 age group) as well as her other accomplishments helped push her to the top of the list.

"Karlyn's accomplishments in 2004 are absolutely extraordinary -- not only because of their quality as swimming records, but also because they are truly pioneering," Whitten said this week. "At age 43, Karlyn is swimming as fast as, and in some cases, faster than she did in the 25-29, 30-34 and 35-39 age groups. And many of those records are so good they are still standing."

Whitten went on to say, "Her performances are pioneering in the sense that they provide proof that physical decline after age 25 is not inevitable and further, that with effort, a person can be as fit and perform as well in her forties as she was and did in her twenties."

"I wouldn't say I had a breakthrough year, I consider it more of a consistent year," Pipes-Neilsen said. "Although some of the records I set this year were faster than the ones I set 10 years ago."

Pipes-Neilsen began swimming competitively at the age of 6 in her hometown of San Diego and by the time she was 15, was a junior national champion. Despite offers from several colleges, she chose to attend school in Arkansas. But that didn't last long as within a year and a half she was back home. After being out of competitive swimming for more than 10 years, she got back in the pool at the age of 30. She said she often wonders where her swimming career may have taken her had she stuck with the sport in her late teens and twenties.

"I just didn't have the drive or discipline to do it back then," she said. "I guess it wasn't my time to do it. In a lot of ways I regret it but in other ways I'm also thankful because I'm still doing what I love to do to this day."

In 1997 she went back to college and attended Cal State Bakersfield on a full-ride scholarship -- at the age of 36. "I was almost as old as the coach," she said laughing. Since returning to competitive swimming nearly 13 years ago, she estimates she's set more than 120 age group world records in numerous short and long course events -- 49 of which still stand today.

"I like breaking records, however, it's just the icing on the cake," she said. "It's a wonderful byproduct of being able to participate in this great sport."

It should be noted that USA Swimming is the governing body for Olympic-caliber swimmers and their records fall into another category. However, many current and former Olympians compete in Masters swimming.

As stated, some of the times Pipes-Neilsen's setting today are as good or better than those she set a decade ago. According to her, it's not by accident. "I've made a lot of changes over the years," she said, noting that she swims 15-20 miles a week. "First, I modified my freestyle technique in 2000. Plus, I'm training smarter. I'm not a kid anymore so I can't train like one."

She said she now pays more attention to smaller details of her training as well as nutrition and post-race work. "I've gotten smarter as I've gotten older," she said.

Pipes-Neilsen and her husband Eric moved to Kona a year and a half ago from San Diego. Together they run Aquatic Edge which offers swim clinics and camps across the country. "It's nice to give something back," she said, noting that they hope to expand the camps to Canada and then internationally.

So with more than 100 records to her name and now a world's-best honor, will she keep going for more?

"I know there's always a faster time in me," she said. "I like racing because I love the rush of seeing what I'm made of. I feel alive when I swim. I thought I'd do this for a couple of years and then get bored with it. Now I know it's something I'll do for the rest of my life -- it's part of me."