ACAPULCO, Mexico – Some 2,400 medals won, mostly gold, and 400 international records have given Maru Walls the name of the Acapulco Siren. At her 82 years she is the woman with the most swimming records in Mexico’s history, in a career that spanned just 24 years.
“I haven’t competed all my life – I began in 1994 at age 58 after cracking my skull in an accident and diagnosed as facing a lifetime of confinement to a wheelchair or my bed. Then I started training with a coach who made many world champions, the teacher Joaquin de la Peña Castillo,” Walls told EFE.
Maria Eugenia Walls Galindo, better known as Maru, a native of Pinotepa Nacional in Oaxaca state, daughter of a British father and a Mexican mother, was moved at a very young age to the Pacific coast city of Acapulco, Guerrero state.
After her arrival in that paradisiacal Pacific port, the sea caught her attention, so that without knowing how to swim she jumped into the waves for the first time. “I asked my pals to show me how to swim, but I sank. They rescued me and I regained consciousness at a Red Cross facility,” she said about her first time in Acapulco waters.
After that, Maru realized that before she learned to swim, she’d have to learn how to survive in the water, so she started studying the techniques used by sea mammals. From that moment she began to help other youngsters swim.
It wasn’t until 1998 at age 62 when she first took part in the Swimming category of the 1998 World Masters Games in Portland, Oregon. “When I saw how many people were competing, I said ‘No, this isn’t possible, I don’t belong here. There were 8,500 participants from around the world,” she recalled.
Still a beginner, Walls was able to win seven medals.
Despite doing so well in that swimming championship, Maru was almost disqualified beforehand.
“I had recently fallen down and (the accident) was on my record. They made me sign four documents because, they said, it was a big responsibility for them,” she said.
“I told them, ‘Okay, I signed four documents, you sign one for me,’” Maru recalled, and revealed the content of what she had written: “If Maru Walls is swimming the butterfly and suddenly remains motionless, get a doctor to check my vital signs to say that I died, but he must certify that I am really dead; then they can take me away.”
Even with her medical history and advanced age, Walls kept competing with her typical will to win, and in a Latin American competition in Costa Rica she took 12 medals, 11 for first place and one for second, the latter after helping another swimmer suffering a cramp, which made her cross the finish line 40 seconds after the winner.
After being considered the woman with the most swimming records in Mexico, the Acapulco Siren can now compete for a place in the Guinness Book of Records, though there is one problem: she doesn’t have the backing or enough funds to take part in the 2019 World Master Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, between Aug. 12-28.