ACTIVE WITH AGE Pam Allen stays fit swimming, racing and coaching her grandchildren by Chris Wirszyla, LOL contributor
You better be on your toes when you meet Pam Allen, as talking to her is like being in a sprint race. She is one of those go-go-go, do-do-do people. Have a question? Well, ask it quickly, before she is off and running onto her next adventure.
Allen grew up running around the streets of Floral Park, NY, the tom-boy daughter of a New York City police officer who encouraged year-round physical activity. The family was living in Woodside, NY, when her sister fell off the monkey bars and came home all bruised and bleeding. Her father said, “That’s it! We are moving out of the city and into the suburbs.” While there, he painted a kickball court in the streets and turned their summer swimming pool into an ice-skating rink for the winter. It was a time when Allen and her friends (mostly all guys, just like today!) ran the neighborhood. But everybody watched each other and made sure the kids were safe. She knew since the fifth grade she wanted to be a physical education teacher. The dream began after she was suspended for two days for trying to go to PE class, which girls weren’t allowed to participate in—quite a shortcoming to her Catholic-school upbringing.
Sports were an important part of Allen’s life as she played basketball, volleyball, softball, and ran track, but her real love was swimming. By the time she was 8 years old, she was breaking local records and ended up being sponsored for a scholarship to Southern Connecticut State University. While attending college, one of her knowledgeable coaches suggested she add a minor of health and recreation for elders to her physical education degree.
After Allen graduated, she took off on a road trip to find a job in her field. She spent time with her sister in Ohio, then took off for Colorado to stay for a bit with her brother. She fell in love with Colorado but he convinced her it was no place for a single female, so back to her sister’s she went. While swimming at the community pool, she was offered the job of pool manager. Parents fell in love with her energy, and the goal-oriented discipline approach to teaching and coaching she displayed with their kids. As fate would have it, the superintendent of the local school district told her (didn’t ask her, told her) she had an interview. She took a job teaching and coaching in Chillicothe (Ohio).
In the midst of following her dream, she received a call from a good friend who was looking for female trainers for the US Olympic committee. Recognizing it as an opportunity of a lifetime, Allen requested a leave of absence, moved to California, where she taught, and managed the Westwood Aquatic Club, and trained the water polo teams.
Once her mother fell ill, Allen moved back to Long Island to help care for her, while continuing to teach, coach, and overseee another aquatic center every afternoon. Somehow, she managed to make it out on two dates, one on Thanksgiving Day and one on New Year’s Eve—which was enough time to spend with the man who would become her husband of 27 years, Randy.
“He was a great guy, did everything for me when I trained, riding the kayak when I swam, biking when I ran and biked,” Allen says. Randy passed away in 2011, yet Allen remembers him as someone who “could out-Lance Lance (Armstrong). . . . I will be married to Randy now and forever.”
Once Allen retired and moved to Wilmington to be near her daughter’s family, including her grandkids, life didn’t settle down at all. She swam seven days a week, an hour and half every day. Before she got arthritis, she also ran and biked frequently. She wanted to work out with people her own age, and became a member of the UNCW Master’s Club. Her active approach to life is what she hopes her grandchildren, Magnus and Waylon, will see and emulate. Even her daughter, a marine technologist, wonders how she works out so much, but according to Allen, it’s what keeps her in shape to keep up with the two-year-old and four-year-old. In essence, exercise is her social life. Her real goal is to teach and coach her grandkids the joys of movement, by taking them to games and help them socialize. As they get older, she wants to coach or help coach their school sports teams—no matter the sport, “whatever they choose.”
Allen is getting primed for her next few races, especially the “Pier to Pier” swim, held September 16 at Wrightsville Beach—or, as she refers to it, the “Pier to Pier to Beer” race. Naturally, she wants to win! She helps organize events of this caliber and is a constant advocate for getting people to participate and sponsor them. She also helped organize the Sharkbait Triathlon Club, another group of like-minded people who are not ready to give up on life.
Besides swimming, Allen continues to walk, do pilates, and take classes at the YMCA.
“I have a pulse,” she says. “I live in a wonderful place, have wonderful friends and wonderful grandkids. I am not going to sit down and let injuries ruin my life. My winning days are over; I’m done with that. I’m doing it for the exercise and for the camaraderie. Until they burn my ass and put me in the ground, I’ll continue the life I love.” LOL