Taking 5 On Aging Like Sea Glasses: Part I With Tracy Grilli

Courtesy: Eney Jones. This is Part I of a two-part series.

“I want to age like sea glass. Smoothed by tides, not broken. I want the currents of life to toss me around, shake me up and leave me feeling washed clean. I want my hard edges to soften as the years pass—made not weak but supple. I want to ride the waves, go with the flow, feel the impact of the surging tides rolling in and out.

When I am thrown against the shore and caught between the rocks and a hard place, I want to rest there until I can find the strength to do what is next. Not stuck—just waiting, pondering, feeling what it feels like to pause. And when I am ready, I will catch a wave and let it carry me along to the next place that I am supposed to be.

I want to be picked up on occasion by an unsuspected soul and carried along—just for the connection, just for the sake of appreciation and wonder. And with each encounter, new possibilities of collaboration are presented, and new ideas are born.

I want to age like sea glass so that when people see the old woman I’ll become, they’ll embrace all that I am. They’ll marvel at my exquisite nature, hold me gently in their hands and be awed by my well-earned patina. Neither flashy nor dull, just a perfect luster. And they’ll wonder, if just for a second, what it is exactly I am made of and how I got to this very here and now. And we’ll both feel lucky to be in that perfectly right place at that profoundly right time. I want to age like sea glass. I want to enjoy the journey and let my preciousness be, not in spite of the impacts of life, but because of them.“

-Bernadette Noll

For the story behind this poem click here.

Recently I attended the United States Masters Nationals in swimming and I was inspired and impressed with women’s racing because I had just read a research study that stated that after the age of 50 women age 3 times faster than men.

This I found surprising because not only do men die first, but I concurred with this research after a hiatus in racing because my body was not responding to my training, and my mind was not responding to my commands.

What is the key to a happier longer life? As it turns out the missing key is positive thinking. When I was a young girl my mom had all of us read Dale Carnegie’s book  How to win friends and influence people and Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The power of positive thinking and it turns out she was correct.

Positive thinking:

 Increases life span Lowers rates of depression
 Lowers levels of distress and pain
 Gives greater resistance to illnesses
 Creates better psychological and physical well-being
 Creates better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from     cardiovascular disease and stroke
 Reduces risk of death from cancer
 Reduces risk of death from respiratory conditions
 Reduces risk of death from infections
 Gives you better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

When I am down or frustrated I seek out inspiration, and at this meet I found it with two swimmers, Tracy Grilli, age 65, and Charlotte Sanddal, age 99. Here I am taking 5 with both of these positive swimmers. Tracy Grilli is first in part one.

On the internet you are referred to as “simply delightful,” I often find a line of people when I am wanting to speak to you. You single-handedly ran the USMS membership office for 20 years, you have been able to race and age with such grace, wisdom and alacrity.

Q: How have you been able to continue racing and not be so attached to your performance? Especially when your body or mind does not perform up to the expectations you have set for yourself?

A: I am a very competitive person for sure although I was just an okay swimmer, not good or great as a kid through college.  My mid 30’s is when I finally figured out “if I want to swim faster in a meet, I have to work harder at practice” breaking a minute for the first time in the 100 free when I was 44 and 20 minutes in the 1650 when I was 50.  So, for many years it was “all about” swimming my best times.  Then it wasn’t and I had to readjust my philosophy to “If I am not going to swim fast, I am going to have fun!” And no matter what my time was, I swam and it was my “best time of the day”.

I mean… it is what it is.  I know that I am very fortunate to be able to participate in this sport, the swimming friends I have met since I competed in my first meet in 1981 are just the absolute BEST!  I so hope my body holds out and I will be able to continue for many more years.

Q: You recently retired, is this conducive to training and racing? Or are you traveling more and learning new skills and hobbies?

A: I consider myself a very organized person and need structure.  When I left my job I made a promise to myself that I would wake up every morning with a plan for each day.  I like getting up and out for early morning workouts which gives me the rest of the day to do “what I want to do”. Working at USMS was a passion.  I am very fortunate to have found a hobby that I am just as passionate about – Mosaics. And of course spending time with my grandchildren – Gianna and Joey!

Q: What joy do you find in racing when your body is losing strength, mobility, and your mind is losing focus? (Not just you but all of us)

A: Joy… There is no joy when I know I am not swimming well, especially in a distance event when there is so much time to think.

I had major back surgery in October of 2018 (double lumbar fusion).  It took me 2 years to be able to do flip turns and 3 years to dive off the blocks.  I had a great 1 Hour Swim in January and have been swimming very well at workouts and swim meets leading up to San Antonio.  My expectations were high and I was excited about competing in a new age group.

It all came crashing down pretty quickly, distance day was just horrible.  I “lost it” after the 1000 only to swim even worse in the 1650 (while being lapped twice by someone with a slower seed time), I had no upf, I wanted to get out, I did not.  I had swum so much faster in both events at recent meets that I had not rested for.  I was at a total loss of why and came to the conclusion that “I (body and/or mind) was not present”.  It was time to just have fun, which is what I did!.

Q: How often do you swim? What is an example of a favorite set or workout. Do your coaches motivate you or do you swim alone?

A: I swim 4 days a week, 3200-3500 yards per workout with the Granite State Penguins, averaging 10-14 swimmers per workout.  I am very fortunate to have two great women to swim with – Karen Mareb and Beth Estel, who are one year younger and older than me respectively, and both world ranked swimmers.  We call ourselves the “Lane 3 Ladies” and definitely motivate each other.  We do not have a coach on deck and we take turns writing the workouts. I love pulling and sculling, hate kicking and like the challenge of a descend set like 6 x 100 descend 1-3 and 4-6.

The “Lane 3 Ladies.” Photo: Kysa Crusco.

Q: George Bernard Shaw said, “  Youth is wasted on the young and wisdom is wasted on the old.” Do you have any advice for swimmers that are still stepping up on the block with their body and minds changing from one year to the next?

(Personally, it is exhilarating, exhausting, and exciting because I never quite know how the race is going to turn out.)

A: I do… especially for those swimmers like me who did not reach their full potential as an age group or college swimmer.  It is very possible that as a Masters swimmer, you will achieve personal best times.  You (not your parents or coach) make the decision that you want to get back in the water, time is valuable and you must fit this commitment into a busy work and/or family schedule.  You make the decision to go to the workout, how hard to work, what to work on, whether you want to compete at a meet, which meets, and you decide what events you want to swim. I think this was the biggest surprise for me, I was responsible for my success.


Eney Jones has achieved remarkably diverse success as a leading pool, open water and Ironman triathlon swimmer.

Masters National Champion 100-200-400-500-1500-1650 5k freestyle 2009
Open Water 5k Champion Perth Australia, May 2008.
National Masters Champion 200-400-1500 freestyle Champion, Portland Oregon, August, 2008.
Overall Champion Aumakua 2.4k Maui Hawaii, September 2008
Waikiki Rough Water Swim 3rd place 2006, second place Overall 2009, 3rd place 2012
European Record Holder and Masters Swimming Champion, 2005. Records included 200, 400, 800, 1500 m freestyle
Over twenty time finalist in U.S. Swimming Nationals, including Olympic Trials 1980
Gold medal NCAA 800 yd freestyle relay 1979, silver Medalist 200 yd freestyle 1979. United States National Team 1979-1980.
Professional Triathlete 1983-1991. First woman out of the water in every Hawaiian Ironman participated (6).

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