No matter what place she might take in a swimming race, don’t ever tell Susan Zink she’s not a winner. The Senior Olympian firmly believes being able to compete is — almost — all that matters.
“I’m winning, I tell myself,” the Pahrump resident said. “I’m in the pool, so I am a winner, even if I come in last. I’m a winner. There’s a whole bunch of people lying out there in hospital beds or home sick and don’t get to that pool and swim. So every time I go in the pool, I’m a winner. I’m blessed with that.”
That attitude does not mean Zink is satisfied every time she doesn’t sink during a race. Her drive to compete paid off last month at the Nevada Senior Games, when she won the 100-yard individual medley (3 minutes, 10.53 seconds) and finished second in both the 50-yard butterfly (1:41.39) and 100-yard breaststroke (3:16.71) in the women’s 65-69 age group, qualifying her for another trip to the Senior Olympics.
She will not compete in the butterfly at the Senior Olympics, scheduled for June 14-25 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Zink started swimming longer events after some somewhat impertinent advice. Her daughters have been very supportive of her competitive exploits — one traveled from Peru for the 2015 Senior Olympics in Minnesota — but it was suggested that perhaps the shorter distances were not her strength.
“She said, ‘Mom change your tactics. Change what you swim. Stop going for the 50 meters and go for something with a little distance, ” Zink recalled. “And I went, ‘thank you, I’ve always wanted to be told I’m too fat to sprint.’”
Zink’s positive approach allows her to file away almost everything as a learning experience. But while she has been a water safety instructor and recently was recertified to teach swimming, the idea of competing came later.
“It was kind of a fluke,” she said. “I was sitting here one morning and I wondered if there were any swim meets or anything for seniors. I went online and the Nevada Senior Games popped up, and they were in a couple of weeks. So I signed up and went.
“That’s the one where I qualified for the Olympics. I called my daughter in Boulder City and my daughter who lives in Peru and told them, ‘Your mom’s done something.’ ‘What have you been up to now, Mom?’ ‘It seems that I have qualified for the Senior Olympics, and I don’t want to go alone.’”
Both daughters, Roberta Ohlinger-Johnson of Boulder City and her younger sister, Christina Analise Ohlinger-Molina of Peru, have accompanied their mother to major meets.
“When I went to the Nevada Senior Games, my older daughter went with me, and it’s a good thing she did,” Zink said. “Because I didn’t even know how to put a cap on. There is a trick to it, and I didn’t know how to put it on. That latex really grabs your hair, and when you take it off it hurts and it’s hard to put on. She told me to get my hair wet, get some water in the cap and then put it on. I said I’m not taking this off because it’s too hard to put back on.”
Younger daughter Christina made the trip to Minnesota four years ago.
“My daughter from Peru flew up here,” Zink said. “It was, ‘My mother is not going to the Olympics alone.’ She said almost every woman competing had the same story. When they were younger, there was nothing for women. Everything was for the boys. Some of these women were really, really good, and she was very impressed.”
Having relatives from Peru led to Zink gaining an international fan club.
“Here I am being followed on Facebook by all these people I don’t know from Peru, and when I finished 16th, they thought that was fantastic,” she said. “They only show the final heats, but they don’t show all of the other heats. There are thousands and thousands of Olympians who never get on TV.
“I go down to visit my granddaughter, Petra, after the Olympics, and all those people who were rooting for me wanted to come over and they had a party. They still thought I was terrific. You don’t have to have a gold medal to be a winner. … My granddaughter says, ‘Grandma, thank you.’ ‘For what, honey?’ ‘I thought when you got older you just sat in a chair and life was over and you sat there until you die. Now, I’ve got all this to look forward to. I have all these sports I can pick out to compete in, and someday, Grandma, I’m going to the Olympics.’ “
Zink enjoys pondering that thought, because the Olympics mean a great deal to her.
“These people are doing everything,” she said. “They’re playing golf, they’re playing tennis, they’re running. It’s the most inspirational thing you’ll ever see.
“People know about Junior Olympics, they know about Special Olympics, they know about the Olympic Olympics, but they don’t know there’s a Senior Olympics. Don’t give up on life. Get out there. Play. Have fun. Enjoy life. It’s still fun.”
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter:@PVTimesSports