Too old to dive? Not at 75!

By Bob Acker

Professionally I had a Bachelorís degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota. I was employed by the U.S. Gypsum Co. from 1948 to retirement in 1987. I started work at a plant in Ohio. After a few years, I was transferred to the Corporate office in Chicago. The rest of the time I spent in the Chicago area either in the Corporate Quality Control Dept or the Research Laboratory. My chief physical activity has always been swimming. It was the only athletic sport I was ever any good at. I swam in college and incidentally was a finalist in the Big 10, and was on relay teams that made the finals in the NCAA national championships. Our best finish was a 4th or 5th.

After college I swam fairly regularly for exercise. About 1972, Masters swimming (which is like kids age group swimming, except it starts with 19-25 age group and goes up) was started as an organized program, and Iíve participated in it ever since.

Iíve never won a National championship or set an individual record in the normal swimming events. In the 1970ís I was on several relay teams that set National records.

Nearly every year since about 1972 Iíve had one or more swims that rank in the top 10 nationally. The highest Iíve ever finished in a National Championship was in 1991 when I was second in the 200 yard and 400 yard individual medleys. (The competition thins out as you get older). I have won a couple of 2 mile open water swims that were considered National Championships, but those events donít draw all the better swimmers. This year (1997) I swam in three 5K (3.1-mile) races and one 2-mile race in this area. Overall, I finished last twice and next to last twice but the next oldest competitor was in the 60-65 year age group.

During the last 10 to 15 years of my professional career my exercise regimen consisted of hour-long 2500 meter interval swimming sessions every weekday. I have maintained this workout on a 3-5 days per week basis since my retirement.

Iíd always had a reading interest in archaeology, and in the 1970ís I heard about a program in Southern Illinois that offered adult field schools where you could participate in archaeological projects. The group started with the excavation of the Koster site near Kampsville, Illinois. Koster was a famous site first investigated by Stewart Struerer of Northwestern University. There are hundreds or maybe thousands of sites in Southern Illinois ranging from Paleo to Mississippian. Koster had over 10,000 years of good stratigraphy and superimposed village sites.

I eventually went to four of their field schools. The organization is now known as the Center for American Archaeology and is headed by Jane Buikstra. In the four trips down there I worked on a Mississipian village, a middle woodland occupation of some sort (salvage archaeology, the river was eroding it away), and the last two times (last 1984 or 85) on the Elizabeth mound group. The last one Iíd worked up to the point where they let me work on removing a burial.

My son did some high school and college swimming and in 1978 or 79 decided heíd like to learn SCUBA diving. Once he was certified I decided to take the course so I could take him on some dive trips. I got my first certification in 1979, and we went on a dive trip to a resort in Jamaica in March, 1980. A depressing note was that we had a bag stolen while we were snorkelling and lost all our IDís (including C cards) some money and other valuables.

In 1983 I took the Open Water dive course to get recertified. Son Jim took his down in Florida and we dove together on a trip around Florida. I did some local diving in Wisconsin and a SCUBA safety course about that time.

1. In August 1986 I went on my first Earthwatch expedition. This was to Bermuda and included land archaeology and underwater surveys around the old British Marval Base. Over the next few years I went on the following Earthwatch trips.

2. Summer 1987 Isle of Shoals Maine/New Hampshire Historical Archaeology. This was supposed to include underwater work, but the dive master cancelled at the last minute. No diving.

3. November, 1988 Easter Island , Chile. No diving but a chance to visit a fabulous site.

4. November 2-11, 1990 Wildlife Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. I had set up an expedition fund with Earthwatch, and the main object of this trip was to use up the balance before it reverted to Earthwatch. Also I was in the process of moving from Illinois to South Carolina.

5. July 7-15, 1992. The Clovis Underwater Project (directed by Michael Faught) focused on exploring archaeological sites inundated by the Florida Gulf of Mexicoís Apalachee Bay.

Between 1986 and 1990, I did some local diving in Wisconsin and had one great Coral Reef trip to Cozumel, Mexico with our local dive club. Between my two trips to the Aucilla I made just one dive in our local lake in So. Carolina. Counting this last trip with the ARPP in October Ď97 I have about 64 logged dives. Not much when you think about it.

Now that I have resumed SCUBA diving, I think Iíd like to continue at least on an occasional basis. My research dives with various veteran ARPP partners at Sloth Hole last October gave me valuable experience with black water archaeology in a remote site.

Editorís note: Bob Acker, from South Carolina, rose to the occasion of every physical exam, swimming and SCUBA skills test, and written exam required of all ARPP divers under the rigorous standards set by the University of Floridaís Diving Science and Safety Program and the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. We could not let Bobís accomplishment pass without soliciting this amazing story from our most senior volunteer diver ever.