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.