Leech, a recently retired teacher and nurse, knew he didn’t want to spend his retirement sitting on a couch. He began to look for something he would enjoy doing and would help him stay healthy in his senior years. The 64-year-old ended up finding it in the water.
Leech has been swimming since he was age 13 living in his hometown of Tampa, Fla. That love for swimming would carry him into his adult years, even into retirement, as he competed in this year's Tennessee state Senior Olympics.
He made the trip to the Brentwood event venue and placed first in the 100 and 200 yard breaststroke and individual medley events and placed second in the 100 and 200 yard freestyle events.
Along the way, he not only swam better than his competition but also set two Senior Olympics state records. He said he couldn’t believe it when he found out he had.
“I was more shocked than proud that I set state records,” Leech said.
Learning how to swim competitively again took a lot of work, he said. Before he went to the state competition, he had chosen to compete in two regional competitions in Chattanooga and Athens. Before he could compete on the regional level, he had to get used to swimming long distances again.
“It’s hard work,” Leech said. “It’s an endurance contest.”
However, he was no stranger to the concept of hard work in swimming before the Senior Olympics. He had already balanced competitive swimming with his studies through both high school and college.
Though he had been swimming since he was a teenager, it had never been his only focus. He set his mind toward the goal of swimming well in his recent competitions, but he had also set out to learn how the mind works in college many years before.
Leech earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. and a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida. He later took more courses at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and eventually moved to Cleveland.
He later decided to go into teaching. One of his earliest teaching jobs was as a psychology instructor at Cleveland State Community College. Somewhere along the way, he decided to become a registered nurse and worked at places like Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga and SkyRidge Medical Center in Cleveland. However, he still continued to teach. In 2004, he retired from his most recent teaching job as a 6th and 7th grade science teacher at Ooltewah Middle School. He retired from nursing this past December.
Leech said he not only loved teaching but that he also met his love while teaching. He met his wife, Sherry, when she was a student in one of his classes at Cleveland State. After she was no longer one of his students, he decided to pursue her.
“After she was out of my class, I asked her out, and we hit it off,” Leech said. “It’s been happily ever after, so to speak.”
The couple later married and had two daughters named Sarah and Rebekah. They also have two granddaughters named KyAnna and Naomi and a grandson named Jude.
Rebekah actually played a large role in getting him to consider taking up swimming again after his retirement, Leech said. He said he was trying to figure out how to spend his newfound free time when she suggested he take up swimming again and perhaps compete in the Senior Olympics.
Leech describes his wife as his “biggest fan” and said he enjoyed seeing her on the sidelines when he competed.
He enjoyed the support of his family both during and after his competitions, but he doesn’t just credit that for his successes in competition. He said God helped him succeed because he didn’t think he would have done as well as he did on his own. After all, he didn’t expect to win.
“I give glory to God,” Leech said, pointing out that his goal was not to win like he did. “I just went in there to do my best and keep my goggles on.”
Leech said he thinks all older adults should consider getting involved with sports even if they do not want to compete in the Senior Olympics. He said his nursing career taught him the need to stay active as he grew older. He also stressed that it’s more important to focus on having a good time in competition than on winning the gold.
“You get nervous in any of these events just as you would in any competition,” Leech said. “You don’t know how you’re going to do. You just do the best you can.”
He realizes it may be slow-going at first, but he said anyone can start adding sports activities into their lives as long as their doctors say they are physically able to do so.
“Go slow,” he said. “As long as you persevere, you can build your strength.”
But the most important thing, he said again, is to make sure you enjoy whatever it is you do.
“You’re not going to stick with it unless you like it,” Leech said.