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Etna Swimmer Is in the Zone

  • Fritz Bedford of Etna, N.H., practices his freestyle stroke at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 3, 2014. Bedford broke his own masters world record in the 50 short-course-meters backstroke at the 2013 New England and Colonies Zone Championship at Boston University. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Fritz Bedford of Etna, N.H., practices his freestyle stroke at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 3, 2014. Bedford broke his own masters world record in the 50 short-course-meters backstroke at the 2013 New England and Colonies Zone Championship at Boston University.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Barbara Hummel, of Woodstock, Vt., practices the breast stroke at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 3, 2013. Hummel, who is Fritz Bedford's coach, set a world masters record in the women's 200-meter medley relay at the 2013 New England and Colonies Zone Championships held at Boston University. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Barbara Hummel, of Woodstock, Vt., practices the breast stroke at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 3, 2013. Hummel, who is Fritz Bedford's coach, set a world masters record in the women's 200-meter medley relay at the 2013 New England and Colonies Zone Championships held at Boston University.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fritz Bedford of Etna, N.H., practices his freestyle stroke at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 3, 2014. Bedford broke his own masters world record in the 50 short-course-meters backstroke at the 2013 New England and Colonies Zone Championship at Boston University. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Barbara Hummel, of Woodstock, Vt., practices the breast stroke at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in White River Junction, Vt., on Jan. 3, 2013. Hummel, who is Fritz Bedford's coach, set a world masters record in the women's 200-meter medley relay at the 2013 New England and Colonies Zone Championships held at Boston University. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Like many of his swimming cohorts, mechanical engineer Fritz Bedford competes with the Upper Valley Rays masters team as a way to socialize and interact with like-minded individuals outside of his business life. As he’s matured in age, engineering success in the pool has taken on new forms for the 50-year-old Etna resident.

With a fresh emphasis on technique and mechanics to help strengthen times that would otherwise slow naturally with age, Bedford recently swept six events at the New England and Colonies Zone Championships at Boston University.

In his first year in the male 50-54 age group, Bedford swam the 50-meter backstroke in 27.36 seconds on Day 2 of the event Dec. 15, breaking his own world age-group mark by three-hundredths of a second (he’d swam it in 27.39 at a meet hosted by the Upper Valley Aquatic Center in October).

Bedford also set records for the Colonies Zone — encompassing New England, New York and six additional states across the Eastern Seaboard — in the 50-meter butterfly (26.62) and 200 backstroke (2 minutes, 15.9 seconds) as well as regional marks in the 200 and 50 freestyle (24.91) and was first in his age group in the 100 freestyle (55.80) and 50 breaststroke (42.55).

Not bad for a swimming veteran who calls himself “the old guy in the last heat.”

“At these events, it’s scored by age group, but you’re in the pool with a lot of younger guys,” Bedford said. “I still like to see how I stack up against them. It’s like being a little kid. You keep score of that stuff.”

Bedford’s scores have been high since his competitive days at St. Lawrence University, where he was a 19-time All-American before coaching for three years at the University of New Hampshire. He took a hiatus from competition for more than a decade before he returned in his 40s and found immediate success at the masters level, compiling 17 New England event records and a pair of national marks (several have since been broken).

He’s also made a lot of friends since returning to the pool, something Rays coach Barbara Hummel finds the most important aspect of joining the team.

“It provides a way to stay healthy and have a lot of fun,” said Hummel, a Woodstock resident who’s been leading the Rays for 13 years. “A lot of people do it for personal fitness, but it also allows you to make friends and collaborate with other swimmers.”

Still, a competitive fire burns in Bedford, and he’s had to make adjustments to his training in order remain top-flight. Whereas his training regimens earlier in life centered on shear lap volume to build strength and speed, lately Bedford has been experimenting with various techniques.

Hummel provides Rays swimmers with links to videos demonstrating the methods of successful masters swimmers, including former Olympians Jason Lezak and Aaron Peirsol. Bedford has perhaps been the most fastidious Rays swimmer in studying and applying those techniques.

“Fritz is physically strong, but he’s also strong technically,” Hummel said. “He’s a student of the sport. There aren’t a lot of swimmers who are willing to put in the time and dedication to improve the way he does.”

As far as Bedford is concerned, it’s a matter of necessity.

“I’m not as fast as I was when I was 15 or 20,” Bedford said. “I’m 50 years old and I don’t swim 20,000 yards a day or spend 4-5 hours per day in the pool like I used to. I don’t have the time, and my body couldn’t take that kind of abuse at this point.”

Bedford has learned to employ a wider stroke, which helps him compensate from a lingering rotator cuff injury suffered in an accident when he was a teenager.

“I was in a motorcycle accident when I was 13, and was just diagnosed recently and found out a piece of my rotator cuff is missing,” Bedford said. “Now when I swim, it’s more like I’m on a surfboard.”

Hummel is still competitive in her own right, having set a zone record in the 100 breaststroke (1:35.88) and winning the 50 breaststroke in 42.55. She also teamed up with three other swimmers hailing from clubs in southern New Hampshire to post a 200-meter relay time of 2:22.18, a world record for the 240-279 aggregate age-group by more than five seconds.

“With the relay age groups going in 40-year intervals, the key is to be as close as you can be to the beginning of it,” said Hummel. “We totaled up to exactly 240, so that worked in our favor.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.