Louise Wing is direct and earthy, a physically astonishing 72-year-old with a never-say-die Yankee brio. Her husband, Fred, is a cool, flinty man of 79. Louise likes concerts on PBS and garden salads. Fred prefers the shoot-'em-ups and cheeseburgers with raw onions. They have been married for so long that like the old bluegrass song says, they have twined together, the red rose and the white. "Fred and I get along all right," says Louise. "Over 40 years, he sort of grows on you."
Aging isn't the only thing the Wings do gracefully. These sturdily self-sufficient septuagenarians are two of the most accomplished masters synchronized swimmers in the world. Louise, who didn't start competing until she was 57, has won 16 national masters' solo titles in 16 tries. She racked up a perfect 100 last summer at the World Masters Championships in Rio de Janeiro, outscoring every other swimmer in the meet and winning three gold medals. And despite the fact that fearless Fred wouldn't get into the pool with Louise until 1984, the Wings have won their division of the national mixed championships six years running.
A quintessential New Englander who learned to tread water in the Charles River in Boston, Fred had been quietly disdainful of the sport of synchronized swimming. It took some time to get him involved. When he retired as a government contracting officer in 1980, Louise gave him a membership at the Jewish Community Center in Marblehead, Mass., where she taught classes in synchronized swimming. Fred hardly showed up during the first few years. He came in once to swim laps in '82, and a few more times in '83. The next year he decided he would rather sync than swim. Tired of lugging Louise's equipment and waiting around for her at events, he showed up at one of her classes and climbed into the pool. That was the last time he called the sport wimpy. "I hadn't realized it was so difficult," he says. "You need tremendous strength, endurance and breath control."
Louise may have learned to hold her breath playing the French horn, which she studied at the Juilliard School of Music, in New York City, in the early 1950s. She choreographs her three-minute solos to passages from Dvor�k, Richard Strauss and Mozart. Fred is more of an up-tempo guy. He likes Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Irving Berlin. "In duets, we pretty much stick to '40s music," says Louise. "That's what Fred relates to."
Hair combed straight back and parted in the middle, Fred pokes around the cluttered living room of the Wings' raised ranch house on the shore of Sluice Pond in Lynn, Mass. He's hunting for his glasses. "Fred has three sets," says Louise. "One is for reading, one is for distance." The other she calls his Big Bugs, for driving.
"You make me sound very methodical," Fred says, protesting.
"Well, you are!"
Louise has jammed her hands into the pockets of her warmup outfit. Her hair is cut into a gray helmet that's almost her hallmark. She gestures to the ribbons, medals and trophies spread on a table amid stacks of magazines and piles of curios. "I've got lots of paperwork," Louise says. She's the administrator of the New England Synchronized Swimming Association, responsible for registering every area swimmer and sanctioning every meet.
Louise was born in Seattle, and she hasn't stopped swimming since she left the amniotic fluid. When she was almost two, she waded into Lake Michigan on a family outing and headed for Canada. Her mother, a nonswimmer, screamed. A bystander dived in and pulled Louise out. "I was so mad at him," she says, "I beat on his chest until he put me down."
Her family moved to Arlington Heights, Mass., a couple of years later, and one day her mother took her to the beach at City Point, on Massachusetts Bay. This time Louise headed for Spain. Fortunately another bystander snared her. She beat on his chest, too.