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Former Lew-Port swimming star still making waves at age 50; Cady-Fernandes seeking record on USA masters team

Former Lew-Port swimming star still making waves at age 50; Cady-Fernandes seeking record on USA masters team

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Her friends are freaking out. As they pass the half-century mark and the wrinkles set in -- some have even succumbed to Botox. Louise Cady-Fernandes tries her best to calm their fears because she has the exact opposite view. She says aging is "beautiful."

The former Lewiston-Porter swimming star, who now lives near Boston, Mass., knows her perspective is in the minority.

"Just walk down the local face-cream aisle at your local drugstore," she said. "It's telling you it's not OK to get wrinkly."

So, through "50 for 50," Cady-Fernandes is trying to sink that view of aging. Three decades after winning two state swimming championships at Lew-Port, the 50-year-old is on the USA masters team. She hopes to set the 50-meter freestyle record and in the process exhibit a zest for aging that eludes most women her age.

Currently, her best time is 28.6 seconds. The fastest USA women's time in the 50-54 age class so far this year is 27.23 seconds, she says, and the national record time is 24.92, set in 2008.

"I want people to know that life isn't over when you hit 50," she said. "It's really, in many ways, just beginning. Growing older is actually wonderful and an honor."

This wasn't a lifelong plan. After winning state titles her sophomore and senior years -- she suffered from the flu her junior year -- and moving on to Boston University on a swimming scholarship, Cady-Fernandes left the pool for good. She traded swimming for running.

For 30 years, Cady-Fernandes didn't work out, let alone compete, in the pool. With a husband and two kids, there wasn't time. But now, the timing seems right. Through her 40s, Cady-Fernandes vowed to rekindle the fire at 50. Last September, she joined the national team.

Cady-Fernandes missed something about swimming. Struggling to pinpoint exactly what it was that drew her back, she pauses for 10 seconds on the phone.

"I wasn't sure what I missed," she said. "I went back into the water with one goal in mind: to see how fast I could swim at 50. What I've found is that I love swimming.

"To race again is really invigorating."

The rush is back -- a surge of adrenaline she hasn't felt since high school drives her today.

Back in the day, girls feared Cady-Fernandes in the pool, said Cindy Weintraub, her best friend and former co-captain at Lew-Port who now is a therapist.

Patients always want the quick fix, the cure-all pill to happiness, Weintraub said, and Cady-Fernandes is proof that "exercise is the best anti-depressant."

That doesn't mean people need to join the national swimming team, Weintraub said, but it does mean that aging doesn't have to be synonymous with frustration.

"Age is something to embrace," she said. "As we grow older, we grow more wise and grow stronger in many ways. We know more of who we are in our lives. Louise has definitely done that."

Cady-Fernandes' husband, Tom, also is among those encouraged by his wife these days.

"For a long time, she didn't swim competitively," he said. "She didn't do a lot of competitive activity. Once she jumped in the pool, the competitive juices came right back to her."

Cady-Fernandes hadn't done a sit-up since college. Now, she has been training five days a week since October. Three mornings a week, she swims 2.5 miles a session. And two days a week, she runs 3.5 miles.

She spreads her message online, too. Through a "Lines of Beauty" blog, Cady-Fernandes stresses the beauty of aging. Her grandparents lived into their late 90s. Her mother's cousin just died at 101. Aging has never fazed Cady-Fernandes. "I've always liked old people and was never afraid to be one," she said.

The blog, which she started a year ago, has become an ideal companion to Cady-Fernandes' "50 for 50" mission. Attracting 275 to 350 views per week, its readership is growing.

"We start aging the minute we're born," she said. "To suddenly say, 'I need to do something about my wrinkles,' I just thought that this isn't how it's supposed to be. We're supposed to get older. It's an honor to get older. A lot of people don't get older."

Continued success in the pool will only help. Cady-Fernandes' next meet is May 7 at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. She qualified for a national meet in Arizona but hopes to set the record at local meets in the New England area. Of course, Olympian Dana Torres isn't far behind. At 43 years old, she holds all the 40-44 records.

Until then, Cady-Fernandes hopes to set the 50-meter mark -- and subliminally send a message to other women stockpiling cosmetics.

"At the core of her belief system is that as we get older, as we accumulate life experiences, it all makes us better," her husband said. "The perception is that getting old is ugly and a negative. She's trying to reverse people's image of that.

"She believes it. She's not just saying it."

e-mail: tdunne@buffnews.com

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