PORT RICHEY — Robert Williams begins his workouts before sunrise, with laps at the Timber Oaks pool or a brisk run around his neighborhood. He's been competing in 5K races for nearly 40 years and faithfully maintained a workout regimen: he used to work at a YMCA in Pennsylvania, so he always had athletic facilities at his disposal.
Hard work is part of the equation for Williams, 82, who is ranked in the top 10 in 28 swimming events as a Senior Olympian. But he also attributes his success to something else:
"I win a lot by attrition," Williams said. "Not that many people in their eighties are running in a 5K, so the competition is thin."
The Pennsylvania native has lived in Port Richey with his wife, Bunny, for the last 20 years. He trains at the 12-yard community pool at Timber Oaks — half as big as the pools he often competes in, but large enough to sharpen his competitive edge.
Williams has accumulated countless medals, plaques and trophies for achievements in 5K runs, tennis, and most of all, swimming events. He competes in United States Masters Swimming tournaments.
At last year's Tampa Bay Senior Games, Williams competed in 18 events, taking first in 13 of them, second in three of them, and third in the other two.
"My wife is a good cook and she keeps me eating healthy stuff, which has been a big part of my ability to keep doing it," Williams said. "My numbers won't be as good when they do the rankings for this year because I had one competition in St. Pete that I couldn't finish, and during another summer championship I had the shingles, so I haven't been able to do as well as in years past."
Friends describe Williams as a quiet but outgoing man. Brud Cleveland, 92, has competed with or against Williams in various swimming events over the last 20 years. The two were part of a 400-meter mixed freestyle relay team that set a national record at the United States Masters tournament in 2003.
"I've always known Bob (Williams) to be a conscientious, dependable person and a very determined swimmer," Cleveland said. "When we're on the relay team I know he will compete to the very best of his ability."
At home, he is an energetic father of six, a grandfather of six, a World War II Navy veteran, and retiree looking to get the most from his golden years.
"My joke is that I'm waiting for my kids to retire so that they can move here and then come knock on my door to ask Bunny if I can come out and play," Williams said. "I spent a long time earning my retirement. Now I'm getting my money's worth."
His fountain of energy doesn't appear to be drying up anytime soon — something his children marvel at.
"All of his children talk about him with so much pride," said son Brad Williams. "He really is a great role model. Growing up we were always active, and it's certainly played a big part in my life and keeping me active. He beat me in tennis until I was 30. Honestly, I'm just glad I can beat him now, even though it's only because he's 82 years old."
David Rice can be reached at [email protected]