Think you’ve got an impressive exercise streak going?
I checked with Austin swimmer and sports psychologist Keith Bell, whom I last wrote about in September 2019, when he logged his 11,111th day – that’s about 30 years – in a row of swimming. (Read that entry here.) I wondered how he fared during last week’s Snowpocalypse, which delivered 6.5 inches of snow across Austin and knocked out power and water to people all over Texas.
Bell, indeed, managed to keep the streak alive. But instead of logging the usual 4,000 to 8,000 yards (roughly between 2.25 and 4.5 miles) in a pool or lake, he kicked and sculled his way through swim practice – in his home bathtub.
“It’s no big deal, it’s just me, it’s just what I do. I eat every day, too,” he said, as if we all have been exercising every day for three decades straight.
Nope, the tub wasn’t as good as Deep Eddy, Barton Springs or Lake Travis, a few of his usual haunts. It wasn’t even good as the YMCA, where he did monster kicking sessions while recovering from shoulder surgery. (He swam the morning before surgery, then positioned himself at the edge of the pool so he could keep his shoulder dry while kicking in the water starting the next day. “I worked up to at one point kicking for two hours pretty darn hard with fins and doing sprints in middle,” he said.)
Bell’s swim streak began in April 1989. He didn’t intend to start something big, but about 6,000 days into it, his son took notice.
“I’m closing in on 12,000 days now,” he said this week.
He prefers cold water (he broke down and put on a wetsuit to brave the 50-something degree waters of Lake Travis recently), and in the summer tends to swim in the lake late at night, after dark, when it’s cooler, with his wife paddling a kayak alongside him.
Why such a dedicated routine, you might ask?
“I love everything about it,” he said of swimming. “In some ways it’s like meditating. It’s relaxing and there are always different challenges. You learn a lot about yourself and the decisions you make, and the water just plain feels good.”
Bell, 72, who swam at Kenyon College in Ohio, served as an assistant coach of the men’s swim team at the University of Texas, then coached the first intercollegiate women’s team there. He has also coached U.S. Masters programs and high school teams. He is married to Sandy Neilson-Bell, who won three gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
And while those bathtub workouts were memorable, he’s back in deeper water again. Neilson-Bell says he took a dip in 52-degree water this week.