When did you start dreaming of being on the US Olympic Swimming Team?
When did you start dreaming of being on the US Olympic Swimming Team?
In 1960, at the age of 12, Life Magazine published an issue on the Summer Olympics. The cover featured two blond female swimmers from Santa Clara Swim Club: Chris von Saltza and Lynn Burke.
I recognized the name Chris Von Saltza because her father worked at NASA in Mountain View with my father. The Olympics became a little closer to my life then. The moment I saw that Life Magazine cover, my dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer crystalized in my heart. There was no going back….my dream became my life.
I was 16 in 1964 when I swam in the finals of the US Olympic Team Trials in the 100 meter breaststroke. I had the fastest time by 2 seconds in the 100 but I wasn’t experienced enough.
Instead of starting blocks to dive off of, we had a very high makeshift platform that I was not familiar with. The trials were held in Astoria Park, NY, and I kept falling in the pool. I didn’t make the 1964 team.
I quit swimming for a while, switched teams to Santa Clara where George Haines coached, and he did his magic on me. He was a master at training his athletes. The Santa Clara Swim Club was the top swim club in the WORLD because of Coach George Haines.
We were training with Olympians everyday in our workouts. It was a great experience to be with such talented people. The coach knew what I needed: I had speed, I needed confidence.
In 1966, I set a world record for the Women’s 110 yard Breaststroke in Vancouver, Canada.
George Haines was the swim coach who got me to the Olympics the second time, in 1968. When he talked, you listened. When you’re at the point where you’ve pushed as hard as you can, THAT’S when you get better. You have to go past that. The ability to do that is when you improve. It takes everything: cardiovascular fitness, hypoxic swimming, and mental toughness.
Tell us about this photo:
That photo was taken with the famous Greg Buckingham! He started swimming as a freshman at Menlo Atherton High and was so talented that he climbed to the top quickly (rather unusual in swimming to come to the sport so late).
He set two world records in 1966. That photo was taken by Life Magazine for the cover, but they ended up putting Nixon, Agnew and their families on the cover instead. 😔
Tell us about the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
My swimming career took place pre Title IX. After graduating from Palo Alto High School in 1966, I made the decision to retire from competitive swimming and begin my college education as a Freshman at USC. There was neither support nor the opportunity for a young woman to compete at the high school or college level.
However, in December of 1967, my “Olympic Dream” was still burning strong. I dropped out of USC, returned home to Palo Alto and began training with George Haines at the Santa Clara Swim Club. In the span of 9 months, after being out of the pool for 18, I was able to qualify for the 1968 Olympic Team with a 3rd place in the 100 meter breaststroke and 4th place in the 200 meter breaststroke. (I was an alternate in the 200 meter.) At the ripe old age of 20, I became the 2nd-oldest US swimmer on the team.
A month prior to the Mexico City Olympics, the swimmers trained at the Air Force Academy in Colorado at 7,000 feet to acclimate to Mexico City’s 7,382 altitude. There had never been an Olympic Games held at high altitude before.
I vividly remember diving into the Air Force Academy pool for our first workout…after 25 meters, I climbed up high for a breath and said to myself “I can’t breathe.” No one understood what I was experiencing as altitude side effects weren’t talked about or known. I eventually suffered sinus infections and lost the speed, conditioning and confidence that I had built up at the Olympic Trials.
If I had flown from Palo Alto, CA, straight to Mexico City and swam the next day, I probably would have performed fine. For a 1 minute 16 second race you do not need to go through a month of acclimation. To go through a month of acclimation, which is how the US Olympic swimmers and track athletes prepared for high altitude, and have it go wrong, it was a sad realization that I wasn’t going to fulfill an Olympic medal dream.
Were you tempted to try again in 1972?
During the closing ceremony in Mexico City, I wanted to come back in ’72. Then life kicked in. I went back to college and I’m glad I did.
Mexico was a political Olympics, but we didn’t know it was going on in real time, so there wasn’t the threat of what happened in ’72. Every Olympics since then has always had some kind of political statement.
Even with no Olympic medal, it was still a rewarding experience. Not only did I conquer that fear, but I found my passion in the water. That’s where I’m happy, in a pool.
It was about 7 years after the Olympics that I committed to having a career in teaching and coaching swimming. Every year it gets better. I get more experience with all the people I’ve worked with. As long as someone wants to learn to swim, they’ll learn to swim to the best of their physical ability, because I believe in overcoming fears.
I graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science in 1971. In 1975, I returned to my hometown and took a full-time position as swim coach and Aquatic Director of a local country club in Portola Valley, CA.
When did you return to competitive swimming?
In 1976, I began swimming in the US Masters program, in my specialties, the 50, 100 and 200 yard/meter breaststrokes.
I saw this photo of you in Swim Magazine, swimming in the 45-49 age group. It says you set national records in the 50 & 200 and a world record in the 100. You set a total of 46 records in your career?
I competed for 25 years, until age 52, in Masters Swimming. You can’t have an off-season when you swim. Swimmers are some of the most well-conditioned athletes in all of sports. It requires such commitment.
In my 30s, I decided I wanted to run 10Ks too. Running is addictive. I ran for 3 years before I had to stop because of my knees. They began to swell after my competitions in the water, too.
And through it all you raised a family?
I married and raised four sons who all learned to swim at a very young age. They all became competitive swimmers. I coached them at local country clubs.
In 1988, I started my own swim school. As my sons were growing in their swimming skills and abilities, they all began teaching swimming lessons with me. Hundreds of children and adults have learned to swim in the school.
Tell us some of your teaching philosophies.
My 50 years of teaching swimming has taught me that in order to be a successful teacher one must tune into how comfortable and relaxed the student is.
A swimmer must learn that relaxing allows them to float. The water will support their body and do most of the hard work.
The art of becoming an efficient swimmer is based on the ability to relax as you swim. Then your energy can be used appropriately to propel you forward through the water. If you are fearful of the water, you must learn how to relax in the water and be in the present moment….your fears will diminish.
- When learning to swim, spend time learning to inhale and exhale in a relaxed fashion.
- Breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose in the water.
- Relaxed lap swimming is like meditation.The water can be transformational…connecting your mind, body and spirit
- Swimming can be a “happy place” where you are able to balance your emotions and be rejuvenated
- Swimming is addictive and FUN!
I teach at various pools in the Palo Alto area that can benefit competitive swimmers who require a long pool. I also travel to home pools to give instruction privately.
The children I work with, their parents want them to have a relationship with me. Swimming helps one of my student’s anxiety. Another client is a woman in her late 40s, joined the club I taught at, completely changed her life choices, and now has a commitment to being a real fast swimmer — and she is on a roll. She can’t wait to get to the pool and practice.
About freestyle swimming: It takes the average person approximately 2 years to become efficient at swimming freestyle.
One must coordinate the armstroke, kicking and breathing which requires flexibility. One learns which parts of the stroke and kick should be relaxed so you conserve energy. Practice your swimming technique SLOWLY…and add speed later.
The mission is to fulfill your dream, your passion.
Tell us about carrying the Olympic torch.
My son Kevin submitted an application for me and I was chosen! It was such a great honor!
Thank you. Your passion has helped hundreds upon hundreds of people get inspired to discover the water. Just being on this panel has inspired us.
For sure! It was fascinating to discover the Olympian within our swim instructor. ❤️