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Esther Mulligan is a good sport. In all the meanings of the word. Celebrating her 82nd birthday this month (September 16, many happy returns, Esther), she radiates joy — of life, of love, and of fitness. And she’s not averse to floating in a swimming pool fully clothed for a photograph when required …

Esther Mulligan with models Johan Matias and Javier Robales. Photo: Hosea Johnson

She joined Manhattan Plaza Health Club in 1983 (just five years after it opened) and a year later became a swim instructor there. She’s been part of the team ever since.

“The day after Labor Day, my husband went to work, I put on my swimming suit and came to the pool. What I have here is family,” she says. “We’re more than co-workers. We share.”
Married 62 years, she and her husband have two sons, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. “They say to me, ‘You’re still swimming, you’re still doing all this,’ and I say, ‘I’m not going to sit home and do nothing. It’s just not my style.’”

My husband – he played everything. And he was my teacher. I fell in love and he was the man of my dreams from that moment on.

Last year she had to stay out of the pool for three long months on doctor’s orders. It nearly killed her. “That was a tough one,” she says. “I came to the pool, I sat out on the deck, I got a beautiful tan, but I couldn’t wait to get back in the pool.

“Being active has always been part of my life. Bicycle riding, roller skating, running, jumping, swimming, whatever was available. In the 1940s, during the war, we were lucky to get to the pool. Saturday and Sunday, that’s what we’d do. It’d be my cousins, my aunts … then after the pool we’d go and have pizza. It was a lot of fun.”

Esther Mulligan with models Johan Matias and Javier Robales. Photo: Hosea Johnson

She lived in the Bronx at the time, then when her father came back from the war, the family moved to Chelsea and life changed forever. There was summer camp, basketball courts … and a handsome young athlete who shared her love of sport.

“My husband — he played everything. And he was my teacher. I fell in love and he was the man of my dreams from that moment on.

“We had two children and we took them everywhere. We didn’t have a lot of money to travel and things like that, but we made sure they saw the world. He played ball in the summertime. We went to Queens, the Bronx, you name it. We traveled by train and it kept us happy, it kept me happy.”

Esther Mulligan poolside at Manhattan Plaza. Photo: Hosea Johnson

That ready smile, that infectious giggle, that positive mental attitude seem to belong to a woman much younger. She laughs and says: “I’m riddled with arthritis, I’ve had many surgeries, I get cluster headaches, I have asthma — you name it, I have it. That’s what I tell people.

“But it’s mind over matter. It’s how I want to be. This is what makes me happy.”


STYLE GUIDE

On Esther
Hat, $450, made to order, Roosevelt Hat; black kaftan, $450, Chris Barreto Art Studio (by appointment only); shoes, $550, Tiannia Barnes; ring $245, and earrings, $260, Chic and Style

On Javier and Johan
Cap, $48, Gents; worsted wool suit, $2,500, The Tailory; ring, $250, Chic and Style

Pool pic
On Esther
Dress, $395, Jalla by Heike Jarick; necklace, $585, and cuffs, $580, both Chic and Style

On Johan and Javier
Sunglasses, $125, Ray-ban; swim trunks, $75, Original Penguin

Poolside pic
Dress, $395, Jalla by Heike Jarick; necklace, $585, and cuffs, $580, both Chic and Style

STOCKISTS
Roosevelt Hat (jbborn@gmail.com); Chris Barreto Art Studio (www.chrisbarreto.com); Tiannia Barnes (www.tianniabarnes.com); Chic and Style (www.chicandstyle.info); Gents (www.gentsco.com); The Tailory (www.thetailorynyc.com); Heike Jarick (www.heike-ny.com); Ray-ban (www.rayban.com); Original Penguin (www.orginalpenguin.com)

CREDITS
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: MYKEL C. SMITH
PHOTOGRAPHY: HOSEA JOHNSON
MAKE-UP/HAIR: RASHIDA BOLDEN
GROOMING: FRAN FREEMAN
NAILS: MYRIDITH LEON MCCORMICK
STYLIST: TIMOTHY TATE
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT: ASHAY FRANCIS
MODELS: JOHAN MATIAS, JAVIER ROBALES

Shot on location at Manhattan Plaza Health Club


This story was originally published in W42ST magazine’s Style issue in September 2016.

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