Seniors & Aging

Staying in the pool keeping 98-year-old in shape

Harold "Chris" Chriswell, 98, talks to friend Sue Lindsay during their aerobic swim class Tuesday morning, Oct. 26, 2009 at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center. Chriswell has been swimming at the center for 14 years.
Harold "Chris" Chriswell, 98, talks to friend Sue Lindsay during their aerobic swim class Tuesday morning, Oct. 26, 2009 at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center. Chriswell has been swimming at the center for 14 years. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Harold "Chris" Chriswell, 98, has been swimming at the Arne Hanna Aquatic Center for 14 years and regularly takes a weekday morning water aerobics class.

Name: Harold "Chris" Chriswell.

Age: 98.

Residence: The past three years at Orchard Park Assisted Living Retirement Community in Bellingham.

Family: Chriswell's wife, Iris, died in 1993. He met his girlfriend of 10 years, Sue Lindsey, at the swimming pool.

Children: One son and one daughter.

Dating Sue: Sue taught grade school throughout Bellingham before shifting careers to real estate for more than 20 years. After they met, she thought she would encourage Chris to date again.

"I was going to introduce him to an older friend," she says.

But Chris told her he was too old to date.

"I told him, 'I'll show you,' and I asked him out," Sue says.

Cross-country move: Chris was born in Buffalo, N.Y., but moved to Seattle for high school at age 14.

Woods man: Chris obtained a degree in forestry from the University of Washington and worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 37 years. From his office in the Federal Building he supervised a handful of district rangers, but made plenty of trips into the woods and mountains. His job included training and supervising rangers, plus overseeing sheep and cattle allotments, leaseholds, fire lookouts and timber sales to lumber companies at a rate of 210 million board feet a year.

"I was my own boss," he says.

Other interests: Chris also enjoyed mountain climbing and skiing and the North Cascades Highway, which was built during his tenure with the federal government.

"The most beautiful pass between here and Eastern Washington," he says.

Early love of water: "I can't remember when I learned to swim, possibly at a lake in Ontario when I was a youngster," Chris says.

During the summers of his youth, his family would drive past Niagara Falls; take a train from Hamilton, Ontario, north to lake country; ride a steamboat; then take a small train and a boat until they reached Lake of Bays, where they had a cabin in the roadless area.

Memorable place: Pioneering Canadian families built their homes on the hillsides, but the Chriswells' home was by the lake shore. "It took three-and-a-half hours to canoe to church," Chris says. "Now $1 million homes are on the lake."

Sailing: After he retired, Chris and his wife took up sailing and sailed to Alaska. "I sailed as long as I was able," he says. He later switched to powerboats.

Why he swims: Thanks to encouragement from his doctor, Chris is now a regular at Bellingham's Arne Hanna Aquatic Center.

"It keeps me in shape," he says. "I think it's one of the reasons why I have lived this long."

Baker's dozen: Before Bellingham built its civic pool, Chris swam at the city pool in Anacortes. Now he and Sue are part of a group of seniors who frequent Arne Hanna. They do water aerobics each morning from 8:30 to 9:30, Monday through Friday.

Swim, then eat: Sue plans a food-related outing for after their morning at the pool. About a dozen of the senior swimmers go along. Destinations include Bellingham Senior Activity Center, The Bayside Café, Bob's Burger & Brew and The Grace Café.

"I schedule a month in advance," Sue says.

Sue's watery background: Her interest in swimming dates back to her days doing water ballet while in high school in Grays Harbor. "We had a big group in high school that did shows" she says. "We had a good time, wore matching suits, had swimming caps with flowers on them, and did routines."

Life outside the pool: Chris and Sue enjoy traveling with groups to visit nearby islands and other parts of the Northwest.

"We pick places he had seen from the water and not from land," Sue says.

The biggest benefit: Says Sue, "Friends and fun!"


Bellingham's Arne Hanna Aquatic Center, 1114 Potter St., offers programs for people of all ages, but several are of particular interest to seniors, says Lori Jacobson, aquatics manager.

Popular ones include a water aerobics class from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 10 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, and an arthritis exercise class from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

"The freedom the water allows for movement and range of motion is life-changing for so many of our patrons," Jacobson says. "It's amazing what a little fun in the water can do for the body and mind."

The cost varies. For example, single admission for seniors to water aerobics is $3.50; a three-month pass is $70; and a 10-visit pass is $30. For details, call 778-7665.