Master of the pool

Jill Symons Hernandez

Photo courtesy of jill symons hernandez

Jill Symons Hernandez is living proof that growing older doesn’t have to mean getting slower. Hernandez is 53, a mother of five with two jobs, and she just broke three world swimming records at the U.S. Masters Swimming Summer Nationals in Mission Viejo, Aug. 7-11. Hernandez had previously broken world records twice over the past eight years. The native Chicoan also graduated from Chico State last year and all five of her children (including Sarah, pictured at right with Jill) have made their college swim teams.

How did it feel to break the world records?

It felt really good and fulfilling to have all my hard work pay off. Plus, it was great having my son David and daughters Sarah and Gracie there screaming for me. But I try not to focus on records. That takes the fun out of it. I just try to do my best and have fun at this age.

Were you surprised?

Yes, especially since the type of pool I swam in at the Masters was one I had very little experience with. It’s a 50-meter “long course,” about 55 yards long, and virtually all my life I’ve competed and practiced in “short course” pools, about 25 yards long. The only long-course pools I’ve competed in were in 2005 and 2011.

Can you list all the records you’ve broken?

This August, I broke records in the women’s 50- to 54-year-old class for the 200-meter freestyle [2:13.18]; the 400-meter freestyle [4:40.66] and the 400-meter individual medley [5:30.32]. In 2011, I broke the women’s record for the 100-meter butterfly in the same age group. In 2005, I broke the women’s 400-meter individual medley record for 45- to 49-year-olds.

How did you become such a great swimmer?

I swim five days a week starting at 6 a.m. at In Motion Fitness, and have a great coach, Brian Clark. As a child, I was on the AquaJets swim team and have coached them off and on for 20 years. Plus, my husband Mike is a physical therapist and gives me good advice.

What’s the response been?

Everyone is pretty excited. Chico is a very supportive and healthy community. I’ve gotten lots of Facebook compliments and there were huge congratulatory signs at both my jobs. My husband is also very proud.

What advice do you have for others?

We all have to exercise for our whole lives. Learn to enjoy it and make it a habit. If you’re older, don’t over-train. It’s better to under-train. And everyone should try swimming the Masters.