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The secret to longevity? For Ohio woman, it’s in the water

Dorothy Wasniak learned to swim in Lake Erie. The sport stayed with her for life, even as she turned 100 years old.

BRUNSWICK, Ohio — For the Brunswick High School swim team, these final practices are not about yardage or counting laps. The sessions are meant to finetune mechanics and positive self-talk to get the mind centered. To senior Leyna Swanson, it’s a familiar drill.  " We're getting ready for our sectional tournament, which is the first meet of the state tournament.”

But on February 9th, their practiced stopped – for just a little bit – to celebrate a remarkable achievement.

“This is truly like a once in a lifetime experience that I don't think everyone or anyone can ever really get to witness or see,” Swanson said.

Long before Swanson was born, and her parents too, another local swimmer made headlines.

“I’m Dorothy Wasniak and I’m a hundred years old.”

As a young girl growing up in a crowded house on Cleveland’s west side, Dorothy Wasniak found in Lake Erie a quiet escape. She was one of 10 children in the Yahnak family.

“My older sister used to take me down to Edgewater Park, with my little brother and we were allowed to go into the water. There weren't any lessons at the time, so your family would give you lessons,” she recalled.
By 12, Dorothy was swimming at Clark Recreation Center, competing and making a name for herself.

Credit: The Yahnak Family
Dorothy's older sister taught her how to swim in Lake Erie. She went on to develop her skills at Clark Recreation Center

“We have pictures and she would tell us a lot about her, being in the tournaments,” said niece Marilyn Douglas.

Aunt Dorothy’s talent took her to Great Britain, and even earned her a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. Though her speed set records, the timing wasn’t meant to be.

World War II ended Olympic dreams for thousands of athletes.

Even at 100, Dorothy is sharp, but the disappointment has softened.

Winning was nice, the medals too. But neither were the “end goal” for this Lake Erie made athlete.  For Dorothy Wasniak, swimming was life.

“What I can remember, she would go swimming every day,” said Douglas. “At least a mile and that was into her early nineties,” said another niece Dorothy Thomas.

Credit: Ty Choate
Dorothy Wasniak collected ribbons and medals she won at national competitions. They still hang on her wall today.

“Well, I guess I was more relaxed in the swimming pool,” Aunt Dorothy chimed in.

In addition to competitive swimming, Wasniak also took up synchronized swimming. Holding her breath for difficult routines wasn’t a problem.  She also made her own swimsuits, to her liking. Lined and cut to her satisfaction. Fellow swimmers envied Dorothy’s suits, so she ended up making some for them too.

Life today is a little apartment at Danbury Senior Living in Brunswick.  Pictures of family, late husband Richard and medals hang on the wall. She is still active and on-the-go.

An afternoon cocktail: white wine or perhaps a highball are part of her routine.

Swimming, however, is no longer part of her daily routine. But her body hasn’t forgotten.

Credit: Ty Choate
Dorothy never felt like swimming was work. She just did what she loved, swimming daily up until her early 90's.

So to celebrate turning 100, Dorothy requested a lane at Brunswick’s Rec Center, where a wide-eyed high school swim team was more than happy to oblige.

With team captains by her side, Dorothy made her way into the pool, ready to escape into the water again.

“Just to see the joy on her face. She really wanted to interact with the high school students She was in awe of them, as they were in awe of her. And that was just amazing to see,” said her nieces.

Credit: Ty Choate
To celebrate her 100th birthday, Dorothy wanted to swim again. The Brunswick High School Swim Team welcomed her into their practice.

Swimming up and down the lane. Dorothy swam all four strokes. “She did fly, back, breast and free. And she’s like, “I want to try everything.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” It’s insane,” said high school swimmer Swanson.

Her performance wowed the crowd and ended fittingly with a medal ceremony. Brunswick High School Head Swim Coach Mike Milliken, put the medal around Dorothy’s neck, in honor of her “lifelong contribution to the sport of swimming.”

Credit: Ty Choate
Brunswick High School Head Swim Coach Mike Milliken gave Dorothy a medal -- in honor of her “lifelong contribution to the sport of swimming.”

“I just feel that her being able to swim at 100, that was a gift to her,” said Thomas.

But Dorothy had her own gift to bestow: a lesson about longevity. It can only be enjoyed in a life well lived.

“I just proved I could live 100,” she said.

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