Discover Masters World: Rene Puddifoot (GBR)

Masters

Ms. Rene Puddifoot is one kind of a lady. Not only is she the oldest diving competitor at the 13th FINA Masters World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, she also happens to be the oldest diver in action in her entire country, England. She is 88 years old – the oldest male diver is “only” 85 – and trains at the Beaumont Diving Academy in Hatfield, England.

As a child, she remembers her unfortunate experience because of her lack of team spirit: “I was always hopeless at any sort of sport at school”. Soon, she would swim mostly daily to keep fit.  At 73, she found swimming was very “boring” and saw some people diving. It looked interesting and she decided to give it a try.

A few months later, she was competing at her first Masters Championships in Sheffield, England, in 1996.

Ms. Puddifoot recalls that finding a club where to train was not an easy task in the first place: “I couldn’t find a club to take me because I was too old, and there were all children.” So she bought a book! “Happily, it was a very good book,” she says, “called Diving For Gold” (by Olympic coach Ron O’Brien).

From then on, Ms. Puddifoot became her own coach: “I almost had to dive with the book in one hand for about two years because I couldn’t find anybody to admit me into a club”, she confides. Happily, purely by chance, she one day met someone who said: “Join us! We take anybody!”

She also wonders why diving does not attract more addicts: “I don’t understand why other people don’t do it, because it’s so much fun!” she says. Especially for the reason that the sport brings a number of benefits: “You don’t have to rely on anybody else so it doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t want to come with you one day, and it keeps you healthy.” Technically speaking, she likes diving because of the sport's infinite array of possibilities: “You can always improve; you can always do something else,” she notes.

Many have asked her whether she ever experienced fear when performing a dive, implying that diving might be a dangerous sport. To this, Ms. Puddifoot replies it is only up to everyone: “It’s really your own personal capabilities that you are working on and working with, and therefore, it should be able to give you more confidence”. “You can surprise yourself sometimes,” she adds laughing.

Ms. Puddifoot suffered a stroke four months ago, which affected her right leg and arm and there are still some movements she cannot fully  perform. “It is getting better but slowly,” she says, and while she is happy to still be competing: “I’m lucky today to dive at all”, she admits.

Is age a limit in diving? Ms. Puddifoot’s case is indisputable evidence: “Don’t take any notice of people saying you’re too old to do this; just do it!” she exhorts.

The real issue, she says, which hinders the development of Masters diving is the lack of training facilities. At another level, what also prevents people to engage in diving relates to their misconception on the sport: “They must see something they could possibly see themselves doing,” she explains. Most often, diving is perceived as a difficult and demanding sport, therefore not accessible to everyone.

As for our English diver, she does not see her quitting the sport as long as she feels it is fun. Two years ago at a national championship, she thought about retiring and was performing what was supposed to be her last dive: “I got such good marks that I thought maybe the idea of retiring was a little premature!”

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