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Pipes inducted into swimming hall of fame

Updated: 
July 28, 2015 - 1:30am

Masters swimmer Karlyn Pipes, of Kailua-Kona, was inducted into the 51st annual Enshrinement Ceremonies of the International Swimming Hall of Fame on June 20. The Class of 2015 ceremonies was held at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California.

The event was attended by over 500 guests, who included past and present Olympians and dignitaries, including five-time swimming Olympic medalist and Hall of Famer John Naber, who served as Master of Ceremonies.

Pipes called the induction ceremony “phenomenal” and she was happy to be there to celebrate a career that was not always on a straight path.

“Five years ago if you had asked me how I felt about getting into the hall of fame, my ego would have said ‘I deserve it’. I have been on such a journey since I stepped away from competing to learn about Karlyn and who she is when she is not breaking records. Through that process, now that I have received the recognition, I appreciate it instead of feeling like I deserve it,” Pipes said. “This is the pentacle of every swimmer’s career.”

Only 12 people per year are selected for induction into the ISHOF. Inductees come from a wide variety of aquatic sports including swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming. The ISHOF also inducts coaches and pioneer contributors.

Since its inception, only 14 Masters swimmers had been honored before this year.

Pipes is a versatile simmer who has set 223 FINA Masters world records to date. She has set records in all four strokes, in the medley, and at every distance offered. Many of her records have stood the test of time, spanning four age groups, with some dating back 20 years. She has also been named Female Masters Swimmer of the Year three times by SWIM Magazine.

Pipes started swimming at the age of four and she competed in her first race for the Lompoc (California) Marlins. By the time she was 15 she was a Junior National Champion.

After living what she described as “a bad lifestyle” early on, which involved forfeiting a full-ride scholarship to the University of Arkansas and losing several jobs and relationships, she decided to get back in the water, but it wasn’t an easy turnaround.

“When I turned it around I first had to come to terms with the Karlyn from the younger days and her failures and successes that created failures,” Pipes said. “I had to give myself permission to get back into the water.”

Pipes credits much of the turnaround at the age of 31 to her mother, Adrienne Pipes.

“She is my biggest hero and my inspiration,” Karlyn Pipes said. “She attended the induction ceremony and I don’t think there was a moment where she wasn’t crying.

After getting her career back on track, Pipes quickly showed that like a fine wine, she only gets better with age.

Pipes was a winner right from the start. In her first Masters competition, she ranked first in the United States in seven events. A few years later she ranked first in every event in her age group, which included 53 different races of varying stokes and distances.

In addition to her Masters accomplishments, Pipes, at the age of 35, accepted a full athletic scholarship to Cal State Bakersfield, where she won three NCAA Division II individual titles. While in college, she became the oldest athlete to set an NCAA record. She graduated college in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.

“It was so much fun,” Pipes said. “Here is the crazy thing and most swimmers will tell you it is true, you are ageless in the water.”

Pipes continued her success in Masters swimming after college and she was named World Masters Swimmer of the Year in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012. She was named one of the top 10 Masters swimmers of all-time by Swimming World Magazine.

Over the past few years, Pipes has moved away from Masters swimming and is now dipping her hand in triathlons. She most recently competed in the 2015 Lavaman, where she won her age group.

“In swimming, my career started taking a life of its own. It became my new addiction and it was defining who I was,” Pipes said. “I decided it was time for a break and give myself permission to try other sports. It has been fun.”

Pipes loves open water swimming, especially in Hawaii. She has found a lot of success in the local waters over the years, but it is not all about competing.

“[Swimming in open water] is more sociable, and you don’t tend to work as hard,” Pipes said. “When I swim open water here is the motto, ‘if anyone sees anything interesting we stop.’ We are not hellbent on getting a distance, a time or a speed, it is about enjoying the camaraderie of your fellow swimmers and enjoying the beauty that Hawaii has to offer.”

Pipes has lived in Kona since 2003 and for the past 10 years has been coached by Harry Canales and trains and competes for the Kona Dolphin (youth) Swim Team. She also owns Aquatic Edge, which offers local, private swim technique instruction, as well as swim technique clinics and camps worldwide.

Pipes is also currently working on a book, an autobiography called “The Do Over” which is scheduled to come out in late August through Amazon.com.

“The book will chronicle my struggles and victories in a very raw and honest way,” Pipes said. “I don’t spare myself at all as far as sharing the truth in hopes of inspiring others to do their own do over.”

Pipes has also started an inspirational speaking career and would like to volunteer her time to help coaches in underserved counties so they can help their kids and take their programs to a higher level. Pipes can be reached through her website aquaticedge.org.

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