Halesworth swimmer still going strong aged 78

At the age of 78 most people are happy to sit back and enjoy their retirement, but not Neil Howell.

For the talented swimmer from north Suffolk has been competing for over 60 years and has no plans to give up the sport he loves.

Mr Howell, of Highfield Road, Halesworth, has racked up over 400 medals in his swimming career and is hoping for many more.

'People ask me why I still want to do this at this age but I tell them that the reason why is because I love it. There are still a lot of people competing at my age,' he said.

'In a tough, fast 200 metre breaststroke race, I often wonder the same thing myself. My answer, though, is simple. I enjoy it. I always point out that there are quite a few men and women older than me who are still racing.'

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Mr Howell, who learnt to swim at 11-years-old at the former corporation pool in Beccles, praised the wealth of older swimmers, including one of the oldest competing UK swimmers, 96-year-old John Harrison, and recent record breaker 70-year-old Roger Allsopp, who became the oldest person to swim the English Channel this week.

'So many people are still doing it at my age and beyond. It is a great form of exercise and if you have got any aches and pains it's a safe way of exercising,' Mr Howell explained.

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The former physical education teacher also highlighted the recent success of the Beccles Lido.

He said: 'I was fortunate enough to swim in the first gala at the pool when it was opened in 1959.

'Two of my fellow competitors were Martin Bell, the well-known journalist and commentator, and the late Neil McKechnie, an international swimmer at that time.

'When I was head of physical education at Halesworth Modern School we used to transport children to Beccles for their lessons from 1959 to 1972 when the now extinct Halesworth Pool was open.

'I have very fond memories of the pool.'

Mr Howell first got a 'buzz' for competing when he was in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during his National Service in 1950.

'I was posted out to Egypt and this is where I started taking part in swimming competitions for the RAF. It is where I got the taste for competitive swimming,' he said.

'I think I'm good at it and I've been given a talent. I still get a buzz from it and I love it.'

The father of two and grandfather of three became a Master swimmer in 2000, a special class of competitive swimming for swimmers 25-years-old or older.

He took part in his latest competition three weeks ago and is now preparing to compete this Saturday in Barnet, north London.

Mr Howell also underwent a hip replacement in 2007 but said with the right advice he was fortunate enough to continue swimming.

He said: 'I love the competition and the friends I have made. Life is a competition. It provides goals.'


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