NORTH PORT — Tony Jarvis never breaks from routine.
It’s an English thing, maybe, sticking with strict training schedules.
But Thursday was different. The former Olympian at the North Port Aquatic Center would break from routine to talk about almost 70 years of swimming, the people he’d met and places he’d visited.
The pool’s supervisor is another former Canadian. That edged Jarvis away from his inflexible 90-minute practice. It was exhilarating for those within earshot of a swimming icon, which included Trish Sturgess, the supervisor.
Jarvis is a regular in North Port doing his 25-yard laps, over and over, crawling and backstrokes, slight splashing at each turnaround. He took to water like a fish as a kid in England. He raced with the English Otter Swimming Club, held national records. At 22, he swam at the Mexico City Summer Olympics with Great Britain’s relay team. His squad finished fourth.
At age 75, he swims in the U.S. Masters Division, and holds records there. He commutes from Osprey to train in North Port.
But on Thursday Jarvis had stopped training for a poolside chat with Sturgess, a top athlete in her own right. She seemed startled, as pool staff understood that Jarvis motored about alone and on schedule until his 90 minutes ended.
But that morning Jarvis at the water’s edge joked about English and American politics, that our pools are in yards, not meters. He told stories, goggles atop his head, about a swim program in Toronto he had coached, one that cranked out champions. Because he wore earplugs, Jarvis repeated some questions. He had a great laugh and allowed questioners to complete their thoughts; some icons will do that for you. He looked a bit like Fred Gwynne, the tall American actor.
Sturgess told Jarvis that she had played hockey and swam competitively in Toronto. Jarvis had found a hometowner. The pair reminisced about Canada, missing its decency and multiculturalism, they said, but are pleased with Florida. Jarvis said he trained with Sarasota water polo players, which drifted into North Port’s flourishing water-polo program. North Port High School plans for a team, Sturgess said.
Sturgess needed to go, so Jarvis ran a few “warm-down” laps, slipped out of the warm pool and toweled himself. Well over 6 feet tall, he looked fit. He talked about nearly 70 years of swimming. He had a fanboy story about roaming Mexico City in 1968 with Mark Spitz, the American gold medalist and legend who became a star of the 1972 Munich Olympics. You could picture two tall and lithe athletes among the markets and street vendors.
Then he veered into aging. He imagined living forever. Then he thought about possibly dying in a pool, “fit and exercising” and suddenly “lights out.” He laughed that off, as his health at age 75, he said, is “bloody brilliant.”
He slipped on a polo shirt from a British swim team reunion, then offered that tennis helps the lower body, swimming the upper. He admired Marcie, his wife, bicycling 1,000 miles a month. He had no children, he added. He talked about the Palm Beach Masters, the Wahoos, a group of East Coast senior athletes, of which a few could out-swim him, he said.
Thursday at North Port’s pool was time with Anthony Andrew Jarvis, a swimming icon, still loose-limbed and bursting with good vibes, swimming lonely laps alongside women pumping foam weights and bouncing on their toes in a water aerobics class.
“Our objective is to fill the pool,” Sturgess had said of the 36,000 visitors to the North Port Aquatic Center, which opened last year, weeks past its target, closed for the winter and re-opened this spring to the coronavirus.
“We’re getting where we want to be at.”