Nana Whalen

National CHampion, Local Miracle Worker

Tuesday and Thursdays are big days for Nana (pronounced Nay-na) Whalen. She teaches three therapeutic water classes in the morning at the Fitness Center in Sun City. For good reason, her third session, Therapeutic Aquasize with 21 participants, has captured her heart and inspired her to write profiles of her students' awe-inspiring courage and dramatic health improvements. To read Nana's stories, go to, click on News, then H2O Miracles.

Nana started teaching swimming classes in 2001. Working with people with Parkinson's disease, Post Polio, Arthritis, Lou Gehrig's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, as well as those dealing with pre and post-op hip and knee replacements and shoulder surgeries has meant everything to her. Nana's therapeutic class is scheduled late in the morning because it is a major challenge for participants to get through their morning routine of eating and dressing just so they can navigate their way to the fitness center. "Working with physically challenged people can really break your heart," Nana admitted. "I have to concentrate on all the good they are gaining."

Nana thinks that swimming is the ultimate sport. At the tender age of seven, Nana got on a city bus (by herself) and found her way to the YWCA where she learned all the traditional strokes. When she saw the pool at Sun City and its user-friendly hours, she thought she had arrived in heaven. "I personally moved here for the pool," Nana said. Referring to pool activities as hydrotherapy, Nana recognizes water's magical properties. "Nothing can interrupt you when you're swimming. I swim two hours, three times a week. It's a complicated world out there."

When the Whalens moved here from Maryland in 1997, Nana never anticipated jump-starting a successful teaching career or winning national metals. Nevertheless, since 2002, Nana has been ranked in the top ten swimmers in her age group by the United States Masters Swimming, a national, non-profit organization with more than 50,000 members that provides organized workouts, competitions, clinics and workshops for adults aged 18 and over. In 2008, the AEA (Aquatic Exercise Association) awarded Nana the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for her many years of leadership and dedication to the aquatic fitness industry. The following year Nana took home the gold medal for the 200-backstroke event and the silver medal for the 100-backstroke event at the National Senior Games held in Palo Alto, California. She also placed in four other events. To top off the experience, Nana was asked to be an Olympic torchbearer. She received the torch from San Francisco 49er Gus McIntyre and then passed it onto a former Olympian swimmer. Most recently, Nana went to Atlanta for the 2010 Masters National Championship and prevailed in the short course yards competition. She won the gold medal.

This seemingly ageless athlete, who enjoys all four of the traditional swimming strokes, gives tribute to her coach, Joe Bongiorno, a former speech and hearing therapist from Long Island who has been at her side for nine years at the Bluffton Pool. But most importantly, John, Nana's husband of 50 years, has been her faithful sidekick, cheering enthusiastically with each amazing accomplishment. To celebrate the Whalen's golden anniversary, their three children, six grandchildren and relatives from coast-to-coast arrived last December to commemorate the marital milestone. In the words of granddaughter Patricia, a budding poet, Nana and Papa John "show us that two are better than one...their love for one another, a golden beacon for us all."

Up Close:

Join Nana and others in the upcoming
2010 Beaufort Jasper Active Adult Challenge

Dates: Mon., Oct. 25 through Fri., Nov. 5, 2010.
Description: Competitive, recreational Olympic-style contests for everyone 50+ years of age.
Categories: Billiards, bocce, croquet, cycling, contract bridge, disc golf, dominoes, golf, kayak races, pickleball, softball, swimming, table tennis, water walking, and more!
Opening ceremonies: Sat., Oct. 30, 4- 8 p.m.: Walk in the Parade of Athletes, meal provided by Carrabba's, get your groove on with the Headliners.
Closing ceremonies: Fri., Nov. 5, 1-4 p.m.: Motivational speaker, gourmet meal.
TO REGISTER OR VOLUNTEER: Call (843) 705-4021,
or go to