Close to the Heart: 74-Year-Old Swimmer Wins Gold Just 6 Months After Quadruple Bypass Surgery

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Dave Jarvis is a man who knows how to follow his heart. Jarvis arrived at the Florida Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale in December of 2021, eager to compete among the friends he made through years of masters sporting events. At 74-years-old, he continues to do what he loves most: swim. But it was a long road to this point – one in which Jarvis had to overcome both physical and mental hurdles. He is so passionate about swimming that even major heart surgery couldn’t keep him away from the pool. Jarvis had quadruple bypass surgery a remarkable six months prior to the competition.

“That was tough because for three months after the surgery, you don’t do anything at all. You don’t lift anything and your body kind of goes to pot,” Jarvis said. “In August I started swimming again. My family, neighbors, church folks all encouraged me. My teammates all encouraged me all along the way, and I think that helps a lot.”

Dave Jarvis sent this photo to his family and friends following his quadruple bypass surgery

The Road Back to the Pool

While the mental and social support from his peers was crucial to his recovery, Jarvis also had to get his body back in competition shape. He rehabbed with doctors and leaned on his coaches. Jarvis credits his years of staying physically active as the key to being able to push the limits on his rehabilitation time.

“I am sure that the workouts and conditioning from before the surgery helped in recovery. The doctors all seem to say the same thing,” Jarvis said. “I’ve known a number of folks that have had bypass surgery and they took a lot longer to get back. They’re all amazed and say ‘hey, how come you’re walking? How come you’re doing this? Should you be doing that?’ So, I think the workouts and the swimming helped a great deal.”

As if his story wasn’t inspirational enough, Jarvis told Growing Bolder he created a different tale to tell his grandchildren about the marks on his chest.

“These three holes were where the drainage tubes came out and, of course, the scar is where they cut,” Jarvis explained while pointing to his chest. “When my grandkids first saw them, I told them that they were bullet holes. I said I was leaping in front of my wife as a burglar came through. But they didn’t buy it,” he laughed.

Jarvis is back in the pool following his surgery, but not without scars on his chest

Finding His Tribe

Jarvis lives in The Villages, FL, where he has found a community of like-minded swimmers and active adults, many of whom have become close friends. A member of The Villages swim team since 2011, like many of his teammates Jarvis has found great success in the water in his later years. At the 2017 National Senior Games, Jarvis set two national records for his age group on his way to collecting five gold medals. This time at the 2021 Florida Senior Games, despite being only six months removed from heart surgery, Jarvis took home another three gold medals. When asked what the biggest lesson of his story is, the senior swimming star pointed to having a strong faith and the power of positivity.

“I credit all the people around me. I thank God for the blessings that He’s given me and the abilities He’s given me,” Jarvis said. “I think you need to have a positive attitude. You don’t want to listen to people telling you what you can’t do. I listen to the doctors, and they tell me how fast or slow to take it; but I think the positive is better than the negative.”

In an email to Growing Bolder following the interview, Jarvis says that as he continues to look forward, he will always look back on the words that his surgeon told him last year.

“She said that she does the surgery, I follow directions, but God does the healing,” Jarvis wrote. “I have been blessed to live here in The Villages, be able to participate with their [swim team], and have very supportive family, neighbors, friends, teammates, and church members.  I’m sure all that is making my recovery easier as God heals me.”

Jarvis and his positive attitude will return to Fort Lauderdale to compete in the National Senior Games in May.

Click here to learn more about how you can participate in the National Senior Games and to read more stories of inspirational senior athletes.

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