BUTTE — Charlotte Sanddal was one of three senior citizens competing in the "Bozeman Teddy Bear Meet" at the Butte YMCA on Sunday.
One of the women was in her 60s, the other in her 70s, meaning that Sanddal was still easily old enough to be their mom.
Sanddal, a Helena resident and member of the Big Sky Montana Masters Swim Club, turned 100 years old in August — Warren G. Harding was president when she was born in 1922 — and her presence at Sunday's meet was inspiring to just about everyone that watched the centenarian swim the 200 breaststroke and 100 free.
"People see me and they decide 'if she can do it, I can do it to,'" said Sanddal. "So that's the best part."
A Chicago native, Sanddal remembers growing up swimming in Lake Michigan, but didn't decide to swim competitively until she was in her 70s.
She's won more medals than she can count, and her strategy is the same now as it was when she was just entering retirement.
"It's always challenging, and you always try to do your best," she said. "You do what you're able to do."
There were hundreds of kids in attendance and Sanddal's presence served as an important reminder — unlike other sports, swimming is one that you can continue to enjoy well past the age when other athletes are considered past their prime.
"I always tell my kids that swimming is a lifetime sports," said Kim Kusak, a board member of the Bozeman Barracudas Swim Club. "And Charlotte proves that it absolutely is."
Sanddal figures that her longevity has been closely tied to picking up swimming, an activity that is as challenging as it is therapeutic.
And when asked what her secret to a long life has been, she chalked it up to her love of the pool, and a lifelong strict no-tobacco policy.
"Getting in the water, and never smoking," she said. "That's a killer."