Steve Hammond’s journey to becoming a competitive swimmer is vastly different from the status quo.
Growing up in Ohio, he found a love for it while swimming in Lake Erie. He would join his brothers in the lake often, but never thought of it as something he would be able to do in a competitive setting. His lust for the sport continued as he grew older and made his way through high school and college.
It wasn’t until he took his first professional job in Cleveland that he joined a local YMCA and the U.S. Masters swim team, which held local competitions. He learned different strokes and competed with the team but put swimming to the side when he and his wife, Kathleen, began raising their children in his 30s.
About 25 years later he returned to the sport. In 2019 when he retired and moved to Ahwatukee, he took it a step further.
“I swam a lot right out of college then took that hiatus and got back into it pretty seriously,” Hammond said. “In the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve competed in state competitions, mostly in Ohio, and a couple out here in Arizona since moving out here. If you finish in the top three in your event at the state level, you can compete at the national level. I’ve been able to compete in nationals five times and the best outing I’ve had was a third-place finish in the breaststroke.”
The 64-year-old recently compete at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah. It was there in an official Senior Olympic setting that he shined.
Hammond won gold in the 400-meter Individual Medley for his age group. He also took first in 200-meter Butterfly. He also won silver medals in the 200 breaststroke and backstroke, and bronze in the 200 and 400 freestyle.
Hammond has competed in numerous state-level events through U.S. Masters, a swimming organization in Arizona. This was his first time competing at the Huntsman Games, where several thousand athletes competed.
What makes Hammond’s accomplishments in the pool special is how he was able to do it. He didn’t start swimming competitively until he was already in his 30s. Most swimmers at that caliber start from a young age on a competitive club team.
He credited his ability to be active and successful to his training regimens at the local Ahwatukee YMCA and Unify, a local destination that focuses on whole-body strength, conditioning and balance. Both Hammond and Kathleen, who is an avid hiker, workout at Unify.
Hammond said he also believes switching to a Whole Foods plant-based diet has helped him recover at a faster rate than before. When the two retired in Ahwatukee in 2019, they began their new lifestyle and have reaped the benefits since.
“We don’t eat any processed foods,” Hammond said. “Our health has improved, my ability to recover is so much faster now than I would say in the last 15 years. It’s really contributed to helping me push harder every day.”
While Kathleen doesn’t swim Hammond said she is his biggest supporter. There isn’t a day that goes by she isn’t training by his side or at the YMCA with him working out herself. They are their biggest motivators in everything they do, and he said he appreciates her for that.
Hammond’s success is something he never imagined would happen when he began swimming competitively. But he also never imagined he would end up being a part-time model on the side. That started when Kathleen had him fill out a casting form at Chandler Fashion Center when the two first moved to the Valley.
He’s now had over two dozen modeling gigs.
“Once I got into this, I really liked it,” Hammond said. “It’s a fun retirement career where if they want me then I get it and if I don’t want it then I pass on it.”
Hammond now has his sights set on competing at nationals next year in Florida. Like he has all of the other competitions, he plans to tackle it headfirst and compete to the best of his ability.
“I can’t put into words how blessed I think I’ve been,” Hammond said. “The time I’ve put in and the medals I’ve won, it makes it all worthwhile. Those competitions are the next challenge that keeps me in the pool.
“Competitions are what motivates me.”