Photo caption: (left to right) Frank Elm with Sue Pitt Anderson and Ginnie Duenkel
Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an oral history interview with Sue Pitt Anderson, on August 23, 2022. I'm Kate Rizzi, and I'm in Branchburg, New Jersey. Ms. Anderson, thank you so much for joining me to do this oral history interview.
Sue Pitt Anderson: You're welcome. Please call me Sue.
KR: Okay, great. Thank you. Sue, for the record, where are you today?
SA: I am in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is where I live. I never thought I'd end up in Milwaukee, but here I am.
KR: To start, where and when were you born?
SA: I was born in Trenton, New Jersey, in June of 1948.
KR: What are your parents' names?
SA: They're both deceased now. My father's name was Lawrence W. Pitt. He's Class of '39 at Rutgers. My mother is Catherine Baldwin Pitt, and she was a graduate of Trenton State.
KR: We usually like to start off these interviews getting a sense of the family history of the person being interviewed. Let's start off with your mother's side of the family. What do you know about your mother's family's history?
SA: What I know of, it's interesting. She grew up in Pennington, New Jersey. Her father was a dairy farmer and had a good-sized dairy farm. She was the oldest of four children and grew up on the farm. But, as she likes to say, she never milked a cow; they had hired help. We'd ask her questions about the depression and what was this [like], and she'd say, "I don't know. It was a prosperous dairy farm. It wasn't a struggling little family operation." She was the oldest of four children and the only one to go to college. She was very determined to get a college education. Her father, from my understanding, said, "No, absolutely not. No girl needs to go to college." So, her grandmother paid for her to go to college. She got a teaching job and moved to Irvington or someplace like that and lived with other single women in a boarding house and was a teacher for a few years and then moved back home and was teaching, I think, in Pennington and met my father and got married. I have an older brother, but by the time I was in first grade, she went back to teaching and was a full-time teacher until she retired.
KR: I am curious, there would have been very limited opportunities for your mother, but was she an athlete at all?
SA: Again, yes, but no, very limited opportunities. I think she would have been a fantastic athlete. She was born in 1916, but she could swim, she could throw a ball, she was just built like an athlete, but never had any opportunity to pursue it.
KR: Your father, of course, is Larry Pitt of Rutgers, a Rutgers Athletic Hall of Famer, a student-athlete at Rutgers when he went there. Tell me a little bit about your father's family's history and then you can get into how he ended up at Rutgers and his years at Rutgers.
SA: My father grew up in Trenton. His father was a Methodist minister, and he was an only child growing up in Trenton, went to Trenton Central High School and then went to Rutgers. His father had gone [to Rutgers], so my father was third-generation Rutgers. His father and grandfather graduated from Rutgers, and my brother and I were then the fourth generation going to Rutgers. Side note, my great uncle, my father's uncle, his name was Malcolm Pitt, and he was very, very close friends with Paul Robeson when he was at Rutgers. That's just a little side note of the family history.
My father, as I said, graduated from Rutgers. The chronology of where he went after graduation, he taught at Bordentown Military Academy. He wanted to go into the military during World War II, but he had really bad knees from playing lacrosse at Rutgers, and so the military rejected him. So, he taught at a military academy and at some point ended up at Rutgers in the Dean of Men office. He was the Assistant Dean of Men for a while and then was Assistant Director of Housing and then eventually got his master's at Columbia and started teaching in the School of Education and was also a freshman lacrosse coach and involved with Rutgers football and radio and all sorts of things. He eventually moved to Kean University and taught there and retired from Kean University, not from Rutgers.
KR: Did you know your Uncle Malcolm, and did he tell stories about Paul Robeson?
SA: Oh, yes. My uncle Mal was a fascinating man. After college, he also became a minister. Being a Methodist minister was [the family tradition]; my father broke that mold, because he said, "Absolutely not. I don't want to be a Methodist minister." My great uncle Mal went to theological school, at Drew University, after Rutgers, and then he went to India as a missionary and lived in India for twenty-five years. He came back and married a very wealthy woman and had this fabulous life of owning a house on the French Riviera and apartments in New York and Hartford, Connecticut. I have antiques from India in my house that were from Uncle Mal.
Yes, he did talk about Paul Robeson. The one story that I really remember him telling was Paul Robeson came back from his years in Russia. He had kind of abandoned the U.S. and didn't respect things that were happening in the United States, especially to Black people. At some point, he came back to perform in New York, I don't know, the Metropolitan Opera perhaps. My uncle went to see him perform and went backstage and said, "I'd like to see Mr. Robeson," and the message came out, "He's not seeing anybody." My uncle said, "Well, tell him Malcolm is here." The door opened, and in he went. They had a fabulous reunion, because they had been very close friends at Rutgers. [Editor's Note: Paul Robeson graduated from Rutgers in the Class of 1919 and went on to a career as an athlete, performer and activist. He traveled to the Soviet Union first in 1934 and again in 1949. The U.S. government targeted Robeson during the Red Scare, stripping him of his passport and his ability to travel overseas and perform. In 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Robeson's favor. The same year, he performed a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, his first concert in New York in over a decade (from "The Many Faces of Paul Robeson," U.S. National Archives and Records Administration).]
KR: Did they play sports together at Rutgers? Do you know?
SA: My uncle was not an athlete, so I don't know how their friendship developed. I just know that they were good friends at Rutgers, and Rutgers was very small at that time.
KR: You grew up in Highland Park. Is that correct?
SA: In Highland Park, yes.
KR: What was your childhood like?
SA: I have an older brother. He's six years older than me. My mother was a teacher. My father worked at Rutgers. I went to Highland Park public schools, pretty basic. I was always an athlete, even as a little kid. This is kind of how I got involved in swimming. My father, being an athlete, was trying to interest my brother in every sport imaginable, and my brother, he admits this, was not a particularly good athlete, but I was. My brother's playing baseball; I want to play baseball. My brother's playing football; I want to play football. [I would say], "Show me how to throw a lacrosse ball. I want to do this, I want to do that." I think I was probably driving my father crazy, because he had to keep saying, "Girls can't do that. You can't play on a baseball team, and you can't do this and you can't do that."
I learned to swim down at Long Beach Island in the bay. My mother taught me to swim, and then I was taking swimming lessons at Rutgers in the old College Avenue pool. My father knew the coach. A man named Otto Hill, at the time, was the coach. He said to my father, "She doesn't need swimming lessons. She can swim fine. You ought to put her in a meet." My father didn't know anything about swim meets. He said, "How do I do that?" Otto Hill gave him some information, and he took me to a swim meet. I remember it, to this day. I was ten years old. It was at the Newark Boys' Club in the City of Newark. I was terrible. I didn't know anything about how to be in a swim meet. I didn't have the right kind of suit. I didn't have anything, and I was dead last. And I said, "I love this. I want to do it again." [laughter] It went from there.
My next door neighbors in Highland Park had this little backyard pool, and I used to go in there and practice in the summer. Finally, my father started asking around, "Where is there a team? This is obviously something this girl can do." There really wasn't anything else. You could play tennis, but there was no tennis program in Highland Park. There was nothing.
He asked around, and a friend of his said, "There's a young coach named Frank Elm who is the coach at the Summit YMCA." We drove to Summit from Highland Park, and that's where I started swimming when I was eleven. Then, Frank went on to become the Rutgers coach and then we could train at Rutgers, but we drove to Summit four nights a week from 1959 to 1964. There are stories of doing my homework in the back seat of the car with a flashlight on the way back and forth from Summit. That's a long drive in the winter from Highland Park to Summit, but we did it every night. [laughter] People say, "Did your parents make you swim?" No, they [said], "If you want to do this, we'll do it and figure out how to do it." My mother is a teacher and my father's working all day, and they're driving me all over the place so that I can swim.
In the summer, in order to train in an Olympic-sized pool, a fifty-meter pool, we drove up to Wayne, New Jersey twice a day. This is where the Summit Y swimmers trained in the summer with Frank Elm. It was fun, and my parents, the other parents were their friends. My parents were basically off in the summer, and so we drove up there in the morning, drove home, drove back up there three afternoons a week. We drove back to do double sessions. So, we were spending four hours in the car every day to drive from Highland Park to Wayne in the summer. It's crazy when you look back on it, but that's what we did and that's what they were willing to do.
KR: The drive really came from you, and your parents encouraged it and facilitated.
SA: Correct, very much so, yes. They never said, "No, we won't take you," but they never said, "You have to go." It was just kind of, "Okay, let's go," and that's what we did.
KR: Let us talk about your development as a swimmer. You're eleven years old. You start swimming at the Summit YMCA. Frank Elm is your coach. At that time, what events were you competing in? What was your training like, at that early age, when you were eleven, twelve, thirteen?
SA: I swam everything. It was a Y team, so we had meets against other YMCA teams, dual meets. The Summit Y was really good. In a couple of years, it became a powerhouse. In 1964, there were three swimmers from the Summit YMCA on the Olympic Team. That's unheard of, from a little YMCA in New Jersey, to have three swimmers on the Olympic Team. We swam in New Jersey at meets that were available in New Jersey. At that time, it was the AAU, Amateur Athletic Union, that oversaw competition. We went to Philadelphia a lot for meets. We'd go down for a weekend for a big meet in Philadelphia to get additional competition, but it wasn't like, "I want to be on the Olympic Team." It was just this normal progression of developing.
This was in the early '60s, and [Frank Elm] was a young coach and we were doing things differently from other programs. We were doing a lot more swimming, a lot more yardage. By the standards of what they're doing today, it's nowhere near as scientific as the training is today, but he would just try things, and we would try things. I remember, he would get inner tubes from, I guess they were bicycle [tire inner tubes]--I don't know where he got them--but we'd hook them in a fence and do stretch cords with them. We made equipment, because it didn't exist at the time, and just did a lot of swimming, a lot more swimming. He was one of the first coaches--and he had buddies around the country that he talked to, other coaches--but we were probably the first team in New Jersey that was doing interval training, which is now what everybody does. We were doing fast swimming with short rest, basic interval training, that everybody does now for any kind of swimming, but other people were doing, you know, go in and swim twenty laps. We didn't do that. We were doing hard, fast training with short rest, and that was new at the time.
KR: Frank Elm was your coach for a long time.
KR: What was your relationship like with him personally? What does he mean to you?
SA: He just died recently. I had an interesting relationship with him. While I was swimming, we had a really good relationship. My parents didn't have a lot of money, and I know that he probably didn't charge my parents the same amount as he charged other people. I was the star, and so he did everything he could for me and for some of the other top swimmers in his program to make sure that we could do this. I don't want to go into our personal relationship, because he did amazing things for me for me as an athlete. When the new Rutgers pool was built in the '90s and I was coaching a little YWCA team in New Brunswick, I was able to go to him and say, "Let's start a club team here," which became the Scarlet Aquatic Club. He was supportive of that and really helped me personally and professionally. [Editor's Note: Frank Elm died in 2021 at the age of ninety-two. A swim coach at Rutgers for thirty-one years, he coached the Rutgers Men's Swimming and Diving Team and then began the women's program. The "new pool" refers to the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center, where Scarlet Aquatics is based. The center is located on the Busch Campus of Rutgers-New Brunswick.]
KR: You mentioned the other two Olympians who made the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 from the Summit Y. Who were they?
SA: Ginny Duenkel was from West Orange, and she was Olympic Champion in 1964. A male swimmer named Philip Riker, R-I-K-E-R, he was from Paterson. I'm still Facebook friends with Ginny, but I don't know happened to Phil Riker. [Editor's Note: In the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Ginny Duenkel medaled in two individual swimming events, winning gold in the women's 400-meter freestyle and bronze in the women's 100-meter backstroke.]
KR: Your training with the swim team in Wayne in the summer, when did that start?
SA: Driving to Wayne? Frank was from that area, from North Jersey. He was from Paterson originally, and he was living up there at the time. It was before he became the Rutgers coach, when we were going up there. He lived up there, and so he knew of this fifty-meter pool. He rented it. It was a public pool, I think, called Sundance. I remember the name of it, or maybe it was private, I don't know, but he rented it. We would get in at seven-thirty in the morning before the pool was open. We didn't have anything to do with the pool itself, but he rented the facility to have a place to train.
KR: Was it the Summit YMCA swim team swimming in Wayne?
KR: Okay, I understand.
SA: Yes, yes. Still to this day, you need to have a fifty-meter pool to train in, and we had the little four-lane Summit YMCA [pool]. That was not going to make it for moving on to national-level competition.
KR: When, in your recollection, did you get to the point that you were really seeing a bright future for yourself in swimming? When did that point come?
SA: Let me think. I was thirteen, so that would have been 1961. In 1961, when I was thirteen, the AAU Women's National Championships were in Philadelphia. It was much easier back then to go to a meet like that, because there just weren't the numbers of people swimming. I mean, you had to be good. I don't remember if there were qualifying times. I don't remember what the standards were to attend that meet. Not every little YMCA swimmer could go, but evidently we could. I don't remember all that, but, anyway, the Nationals were in Philadelphia. We are top level swimmers; we just assumed that we're going there because we'd been going to meets in Philadelphia all summer. We went and I was thirteen, and I got third place in the 200-meter butterfly. [laughter] It was like, "Well, that was fun." It wasn't, "Oh, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that." It was just our whole team did really well. Then, we started going to the National Championship meets and we started having to travel, going to California for Nationals, or I remember going to Cleveland, going to all these places for different national-level meets.
Then, the Olympic Trials in 1964, I don't remember thinking, "Oh, I want to make the Olympic Team." I don't remember that in my head in 1964, when I was sixteen. It was just, "Well, of course, we're going to go to Olympic Trials, and maybe some of us may make it. Who knows?" We were just swimmers going to meets. It wasn't like, "What does it take to make the Olympic Team?" I don't remember that at all. I don't remember ever anybody saying, "Do you think you're going to make the Olympic Team?" Now, it was different in '68. I had gone four years earlier and, "I want to try to make the team one more time." That was a goal. But, in '64, it was just, "Let's go to this meet and maybe I'll make it. I don't know."
KR: When you were thirteen and you came in third in the butterfly, is that about the time that you started to specialize in fly?
SA: To this day, I'm a terrible breaststroke swimmer. I'm not a very good backstroke swimmer, so I was a freestyle, butterflyer. You train mostly freestyle, but it was pretty evident from races that I was a good butterflyer. Again, that was just kind of organic, it just developed. In meets, I would place the highest in butterfly races, not that, "Oh, I'm going to be a butterflyer." It was kind of the other way around; it just kind of was like, "I am good at this, so I'll swim the butterfly events." None of it was very pre-planned or preordained, from my side of it. I don't know what Frank saw or thought, but as far as I was concerned, it was just all kind of a natural progression.
KR: I'm just struck by something. When you were thirteen and you came in third in the Nationals, you probably were not even full grown yet at that point, right?
SA: No, I was so skinny. I was just this skinny little kid. I see a picture of me and the first and the second place young women, and they were probably sixteen, seventeen, and we're sitting with our medals, posing on a diving board, and I look like this little pipsqueak. They were two of my idols, and there I was sitting there with them and it was like, "Wow."
This is weird because I was thirteen years old. I remember that race. I remember it because all I wanted to do in the finals [was get a medal]. I had qualified for the finals, and I was swimming in lane seven. It was an eight-lane pool, Kelly Pool in Philadelphia, where we went for all our big meets, so I was so used to swimming at Kelly Pool. I was in lane seven, and [there were] eight swimmers, eight women. At the time, and this is terrible, but only six got medals. Seventh and eighth didn't even get to go on the awards stand. They didn't get medals; they didn't get anything. I remember thinking, "I want to get a medal." All I have to do is beat the people on both sides of me, and then I will have gotten sixth at least. I remember the last lap of that race thinking, "I've got to pass these two girls, so I can get a medal." I finished and I looked up and I had finished third. Really all I wanted to do was beat the two on both sides of me, so I could get a medal. [laughter] I remember that, I remember that whole mentality of, "I just have to beat these two." [laughter]
KR: How tall are you, or how tall were you?
SA: How tall was I? [laughter]
KR: [laughter] How tall were you as a teenager, and what did you weigh? I'm just wondering your size.
SA: I was not quite five-nine, five-eight and a half. My mother was taller than me. My mother was five-ten at her tallest, but I was five-eight and a half. My ideal swimming weight was 134 pounds.
KR: At that time, in the early and mid-1960s, was there much emphasis on nutrition in terms of training, or were you just eating whatever you wanted because you needed to make up for those calories that you burned while swimming?
SA: Yes, pretty much. My mother, having grown up on a farm, I wouldn't say she was into organic eating or anything, but we ate well. We didn't have a lot of junk food in the house ever. We never had soda in the house. We just didn't have those things. I remember going to some friends' houses, other swimmers, and going to a sleepover, and I got violently ill because we ate so much junk and I'm like, "Oh, God, I can't eat this," but I'm stuffing it in my mouth. [laughter] We ate nutritiously, but not because, "Oh, she's a swimmer, she has to eat well." We just ate well. My daughters are always amazed by this: we didn't have water bottles sitting on the pool. You couldn't. There were no plastic water bottles. I remember finishing a workout, especially in the summer, and being so thirsty and coming home and eating watermelon. [laughter] That was my recovery food was to eat watermelon. We didn't understand that you're swimming and you're training and you're getting dehydrated. I just remember [makes the sound of being thirsty] being done and dying of thirst, especially swimming outdoors on a hot day in the summer.
KR: I have heard those stories from my father, who played soccer. He is a little bit older than you but would have been playing soccer in the mid-'60s in high school, he went on to play in college, but he would do double sessions and they would not have any water breaks the whole time.
SA: Yes, right.
KR: It was a common practice that you did not drink water when you were training.
SA: Yes, because it's going to make you sick and it's going to give you a stomach ache, yes, exactly.
KR: I want to step away from swimming for a moment and we will come back to trace your swimming career. Let's talk about your time growing up in Highland Park. How much of your childhood was shaped around things going on at Rutgers, sports going on at Rutgers, if you could talk about that a little bit?
SA: First of all, I never missed a Rutgers football game from the day I was born until I was a freshman in high school. My parents went to every single home Rutgers football game, and it became a thing that I never missed. Then, I got in high school, and I said, "I don't want to do this. I want to go to Highland Park High School games." We were very much around Rutgers sports, Rutgers lacrosse, because my father had been a lacrosse coach. Football and lacrosse were the main things.
I got an alumni award from Highland Park High School a few years ago. I had to speak at the school assembly, and I was telling, especially the girls but for everybody, that when I was in high school, I really lived a double life because there were [no] female athletes in Highland Park High School, any high school, in the 1960s, '50s-'60s. We had a club called Girls' Athletic Club. We had a couple of basketball games against other high schools, but we didn't have a team or uniforms or a coach. If you wanted to play, you could go play, half-court basketball. We also played a few field hockey games against other high schools. Because of my swimming and I was such a good athlete, I was one of the only ones that could run, run the whole court and run the field hockey field, but didn't have teams. So, I kind of had this secret life of swimming. My good friends knew I did that, but it was unknown by many in the high school that I had this separate life. I would be this normal, everyday Highland Park High School student and on student council and going to events and doing all this stuff, and then I would be off going to swim practice.
When I made the 1964 Olympic Team, I was a junior in high school, and I came home in October and started back to school. They had an assembly for me, and I was mortified, absolutely mortified, because I did not want to be up on the stage with this big deal being made about me. I just wanted to go back to school and be my normal high school student [self]. I had kids come up to me, and even at my fiftieth high school reunion a few years ago, this guy came up to me and he said, "Until we had that assembly, I had no idea you were a swimmer, an Olympic swimmer." He had no idea, no clue. [laughter] That was by choice. I kind of had that separate life because I didn't want to be the weirdo in high school, because it just wasn't done. Girls didn't do that. All my best friends knew. I would go to swim practice and then I would come home and get changed real quick and go to a high school basketball game and just be like this normal person who just went and swam for two hours. [laughter]
KR: That's just so amazing that you felt like you had to lead like two lives. Do you remember, early on, would people make comments to you, or would people say things to your parents? Why do you think you felt like you had to do that? I've heard similar sentiments come from other women athletes and coaches at the time.
SA: Okay, interesting.
KR: I'm just wondering why you felt like you had to do that. What type of pressure were you getting?
SA: I think it's purely coming from me, but to use the old term, I was very much a tomboy and always had been and now I wanted to be a girl and have boyfriends and do all the normal high school things. I didn't want to stand out. At the time, I think it was kind of considered masculine to be some kind of an athlete. If you wanted to be a typical high school girl in the 1960s, then you weren't a star athlete. You could play on the basketball club because that's what other girls did and some of the cheerleaders and so on. I even tried out for cheerleading. What the hell was I thinking? Then, I finally realized, "No, I don't want to do this," because all the cheerleaders were like five-foot-two and I wasn't going to be a cheerleader clearly. I wanted to fit in, and standing out as a star athlete wasn't the way to do that, which is sad. That's what I told the high school audience, "Be proud of who you are, and go out and do that thing that makes you a weirdo if that's what you want to do." At the time, I didn't want to do that. My daughters were swimmers, but they had a high school swim team, and their high school swim team won the state championship. They were lauded in their high school for what they did, but not in '60s.
When I was a senior in high school, I got an award from The Newark Star-Ledger for being the outstanding amateur athlete in the state that year. This was the year after the Olympics . I didn't get it that year , but I got it the following year when I had won a couple of national championships. My joke was they must have run out of boys to give the award to because they finally gave it to me. The awards dinner was at a restaurant in New Brunswick, and I couldn't go to it. No females were allowed, even though I was getting the award. I could stand in the lobby and be handed the award, and then my father went to the dinner to represent me. I wasn't allowed to attend. A friend of mine a few years ago said, "That can't possibly be," and he checked with The Newark Star-Ledger and found out, "Yes, that's true." My daughters said, "Why did you even accept it?" I said, "There wasn't a thing then of 'I'm not going to accept this award, if they don't recognize [me].'" Sadly, that's the way it was. [Editor's Note: In 1965, the New Jersey High School Interscholastic Athletic Association selected Sue Pitt as "High School Athlete of the Year." Joe Theismann, a football player and native of South River, won the award in 1964.]
KR: Do you remember if you talked to your dad at the time about him having to accept the award for you? Do you remember talking about how you both felt about that? Did you think it was unfair at the time?
SA: We all thought it was stupid, but it was just the way it was. My mother and I went out to dinner at a nice restaurant, and my father went to the sports writers' dinner. The excuse was, "Well, it gets a little raunchy and they tell off-color jokes and smoke cigars, and that's why we don't want a seventeen-year-old girl here." Yes, locker-room talk.
KR: You talked about competing in the Nationals in Philadelphia when you were thirteen, and then you mentioned some other meets that you got to travel to. It sounds like you got to do a lot of travel as an early teen.
KR: Tell me about some of the meets and what stands out in your mind.
SA: I remember my first time on an airplane, because the Nationals were in Sacramento. We all flew to Sacramento, and it was back in the day when you got dressed up to fly. Usually, we drove, if it was within driving distance. We drove to Ohio and we drove to North Carolina and those are the ones I remember, but I do remember flying to California a couple of times. There was a meet in Sacramento. There was a meet in Palo Alto right before Olympic Trials. That became a very common thing; I was traveling around the country as a young teenager with the other girls on my team, girls and a few guys and coaches and parents. It was a whole thing, that this is what we did. I'm sure it cost a lot of money. My parents, as I said, didn't have a lot of money. We didn't take vacations. They said, "This is our vacation," going to these meets.
KR: I'm just curious, were you and Gregg ever at the same meet--for example, the one in Sacramento--when you were teenagers and you wouldn't have known each other at that time? Later, did you ever talk about if you were at the same place at the same time?
SA: Possibly. The women and men's meets were usually separate. I think in 1964, they started having some of the national meets men's and women's combined. Olympic Trials in '64 were combined, but in '68, they were separate. So, the men's and women's meets were often separate. He didn't become that level of swimmer until later, in the later '60s, when he was at Rutgers. In '67-'68, we were at the same meets, but we knew each other. I don't think he was competing at that level yet in the early '60s. He wasn't. There were very few boys who were fourteen years old that were competing at that level.
KR: In 1963, you set the world record for the 200-meter butterfly. Tell me where that happened and about that whole experience.
SA: That was, once again, at Kelly Pool in Philadelphia. That was my favorite pool. [laughter] It's still there. A few years ago, as part of my job, I went there to see it, and it's still there. It's not the same as it was, because they've torn down all the bleachers that were there and some of the other structures that were there, but it's still there. It's a public pool. That was a meet called Easterns. A lot of teams from all over the Northeast were there. Again, it was just like just a normal meet. I had swum a race the night before and had just done terribly, a distance freestyle race. It was just a nightmare. I just went out too fast and died and thought about getting out in the middle and didn't, and it was just a horrible experience. I remember Frank talking to me and saying, "It's no big deal. Just put it behind you." Then, the next day, I just felt great in the fly in the morning. Then, in the finals at night, it was just like everything clicked. It was one of those, you just feel so good and you're out in front and you touch the wall and look up and you're like, "Whoa, okay." [laughter] It was great. Our whole team did really well. Yes, I set a world record, and there were a couple other world records set in other events in that meet. It was just a fantastic meet. [Editor's Note: On July 27, 1963, Sue Pitt Anderson set a world record in the 200-meter butterfly (long course) of 2:29.1, which she held until Sharon Stouder set a new record in 1964.]
Then, Nationals were in North Carolina a month later. I got third and went slower. Then, Frank and I, that was one of the times that we talked about my training, and I said, "I'm exhausted. I have no energy." We started cutting back a little bit on how much I was doing. As I said, I was a real skinny kid, and I don't think I was as strong as some of the other kids. He started recognizing that maybe I needed to train a little bit differently and just not do as much as Ginny Duenkel was doing and so on, because I was just exhausted by the time we got to Nationals.
KR: What was it like at the moment that you realized you had set a world record at the pool in Philadelphia? Would you have touched the wall and looked up at a clock and seen your time? I don't know how it was at that time.
SA: [laughter] Yes, I can picture it. At the time, for a big meet like that, they built a structure over the end of the pool, like a platform, that was probably--well, you had to be able to stand on the starting block under it--it had to be ten feet tall and across the whole pool with a roof over it for shade. The timers all stood up there, so that they could look down over the finish line. It was kind of cool actually, because they didn't have the automatic timers, they didn't have touch pads, everything was stopwatches. There would be three timers on each lane standing up on the platform. Sometimes, they were down on the edge of the pool, but at Kelly Pool, they were up on this platform. Then, they had these manual dials over each lane, and the timers would agree, there were three timers, so it's the middle time, and then they would turn this manual dial to :29.1. That was my time, I still remember that, which is ridiculously slow compared to now. You would watch your time be manually turned on these dials over your lane, so you didn't know. I mean, you knew you won if you turned around and saw other people finish, but you didn't know your time until these little manual dials were turned, and then everybody goes "Yay!" It was exciting. As soon as the time came up, I knew, but it wasn't like, "I'm going to go break a world record." It was more, "I'm going to go as fast as I can and win this race."
KR: When you saw your time, did you know it was a world record?
SA: Yes, yes. By that time, I was very aware of what the world records were and who was fast and so on.
KR: How did it feel in that moment?
SA: Exciting, fun. I don't want to minimize it, but it was, "Okay, well, that was cool," but I probably had another race to swim later on. I remember getting my picture taken with a male swimmer. I think he had also broken the world record in the 200 fly and he was really cute and it was kind of fun to have my picture taken with him. I was fifteen years old, "I'll get my picture taken with Carl Robie." [Editor's Note: Carl Robie (1945-2011) set the world record in the men's 200-meter butterfly four times between 1961 and 1963. He swam with Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia and then Peekskill Military Academy. Robie won a silver medal in the men's 200-meter butterfly at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and, at the age of twenty-three, won a gold medal in the men's 200-meter butterfly at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.]
KR: You talked about how you changed your training because you were so exhausted. Did you feel a certain amount of pressure after you broke the world record?
KR: What was that pressure like?
SA: It was pressure on myself. A month later, we're going to North Carolina, High Point North Carolina, for Nationals. I was a world-record holder. I can't remember what Ginny had done at that meet, but she had done some fantastic [swimming]. Going into the meet, I was seeded first. I'm now the fastest person in the world, so of course I'm going to be the top seed going into Nationals. I was worried. I knew I didn't feel good in the water. I knew I felt exhausted and yet I was supposed to win and I couldn't. I just physically couldn't do it. There was pressure. I did feel pressure, but I also felt exhausted. I think I got third. I always got third. [laughter] If I didn't win, I got third. I never got second.
KR: Amongst your peer group at the time nationally, who were your competitors? Who were your rivals?
SA: That's hard to remember actually. There was a lot of swimming in the Philadelphia area and then Florida and California. On the '64 Olympic team, half of the swimmers were from California. The other half were spread out over the country. As to who they were, what their names were, I remember some of them, but they weren't in the East. It wasn't like people that I was competing against on a daily basis in butterfly. There was a magazine called Swimming World and it would come every month and you'd grab it to read it and you'd see meet results, but it took a couple weeks to see what people had done in other parts of the country and keep up with what other people were doing. But, mostly, the swimmers who were my main competition in butterfly were not in the Northeast. They were in other parts of the country, California mostly.
KR: You mentioned earlier the Olympic qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics in '64. Let's talk a little bit more about that. What do you remember about the qualifiers?
SA: It was in Astoria, Queens. I think it was a public pool. The fact that we held these meets in places that were probably public pools was crazy. The '64 Olympics Trials in a lot of sports were in New York to coincide with the New York World's Fair in '64. It was all part of this whole celebration in New York of the World's Fair in 1964. Because it was within driving distance, a lot of my teammates went.
I ended up--I didn't get third--I got fourth in the 100 fly. That's another story. In 1964, there were still limited events for women in the Olympics. There was no 200 butterfly, even though there were world records in national events. Women only had, in the Olympics, through 1964, a 100 butterfly. My best event wasn't even offered as an Olympic event. Women had fewer events than men. In 1968, it was evened out, and all the events were offered for women. My only shot at making the team was to try to make it in the 100-meter butterfly. At the time, the top three--now it's only the top two--but at the time, the top three would make the team, and the fourth person would be the relay alternate. I was fourth, which meant I knew I made the team when I got fourth, but I was a relay alternate, which meant that in Tokyo, I would swim in the morning in the qualifying heats of the 400-medley relay--I would be the butterflyer--and then I would be replaced in the finals by the number one butterflyer. I knew that that was going to be my role, that I made the team, but I was only going to be a relay alternate.
It was exciting. I mean, I made it. We didn't get to go home. We were taken right from there to staging in New York. Then, we went to LA and stayed there for a month to train. Then, we flew to Tokyo. My parents had to call Highland Park High School and say, "She won't be here until October," because the Olympics were in September or October at that time. [Editor's Note: The 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan took place from October 10 to 24, 1964.]
KR: What was the training like for a month in California before going to Tokyo?
SA: That was a great month. I have really, really fond memories of that. The women's team and the men's team were kept separate. Heaven forbid we trained together, even though we all trained with guys on a daily basis on our teams. We were in LA and the men were in Palo Alto, I think. We weren't even in the same city. We trained at the pool, that's still there, the pool that was built for some Olympics, I can't remember when, but the LA Coliseum pool. Now, I look back on it; they would never do things like this with an Olympic team now, but we stayed at a motel, literally, a motel in Watts. This is before the riots, but it was definitely a sketchy area. We walked to the pool through Watts. I can't even imagine an Olympic team now being told [to do this]. We got money, we got cash, and we got to go to restaurants and buy our food. There weren't many restaurants; there was a little coffee shop. We stayed in this motel for a month and walked down to the pool and trained and walked home. [Editor's Note: First known as the Los Angeles Swimming Stadium, the LA84 Foundation/John C. Argue Swim Stadium is an aquatics center that was originally built for the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. It is located near the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Watts Rebellion occurred from August 11 to 16, 1965, in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles. The unrest resulted in thirty-four deaths, over a thousand injuries, four thousand arrests, and forty million dollars in property damage.]
We had a wonderful time. We were teenage girls. We had fun. We didn't get in any trouble. There wasn't any place to go or anything to do, but we trained really hard. I remember the head coach, his name was Peter Daland, and Ginny, my teammate, had made the team in two events, the 400 freestyle and 100 backstroke. He thought that Ginny and I trained the same way, which was a lot of yardage and so on. The first week, he had me in this training group doing the most yardage, trying to replicate the way you were trained to get there. Finally, I went to him and said, "I can't do this." He was a nice man. He said, "Why? I thought Frank's girls," which he called us, "Frank's girls trained with a lot of yardage." I said, "I stopped doing that a year ago. I couldn't do it." He said, "Oh, my gosh, I didn't know. I'm going to call Frank and talk to him and see what we should do." I was only an alternate. I wasn't the big star. He did; he switched me to a different group, and it was good. It was great. It was a good experience.
KR: Wasn't Frank Elm one of the coaches?
SA: No, in '68, he was one of the [coaches]. He was '68 and '76. He was on the staff in '68 and '76. He was on the '68 staff, but not in '64. [Editor's Note: Frank Elm served as an assistant coach for the 1968 and 1976 U.S. Olympic Swimming Teams and as the head coach for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team.]
KR: You had your teammate Ginny Duenkel as a part of this team. What was the camaraderie like amongst the U.S. Olympic swimmers? Did you become friends with some of the other swimmers?
SA: Oh, yes.
KR: There were other women on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team who were roughly your age, born in 1948.
SA: Oh, yes. I'm still Facebook friends with some of them. [laughter] It was so much fun. Life magazine came and did a spread on us. There we are, at the motel, and we're throwing each other in the motel pool. They just wrote this article about these crazy teenage girls having a wonderful time in this motel and training to go to the Olympics. It was a lot of fun, and I made some really good friends. That was my first international trip, but then I made several more. Part of the incentive to do that was to, again, yes, be part of an international U.S. National Team, but also to be with these friends that I made. My best friend who went on to be my roommate on every trip I was on was from California. I've lost touch with her now, but we were roommates on numerous trips after that. [Editor's Note: Life magazine covered U.S. swimming in the October 9, 1964 issue. The article is entitled, "Best-Ever U.S. Girl Swimmers: Zippy Teen-Agers All Set to Mine the Olympic Gold."]
KR: Who was that?
SA: Her name was Claudia Kolb.
KR: She was your co-captain on the 1968 Olympic Swimming Team.
SA: Yes. We met in 1964 on that team.
KR: What was the flight over to Tokyo? Was it a plane with just Team USA?
SA: Yes. It was a nightmare. It was so long. It seemed like it took days. [laughter] I remember we landed--it's my claim to having been in Alaska--because we landed in Anchorage for refueling and we were lying on the floor. It was just Olympians. I don't even remember who else was on there, but all the swimmers. We were lying in the aisles and on the floor and thinking, "Oh, my God, how much longer?" It just took forever to get there, but that's all I remember about it. I remember lying on the floor trying to sleep, because it was forever.
KR: Did your parents and your brother get the chance to fly over to Tokyo?
SA: My parents did. There was a tour organized for the parents, my brother didn't, but my parents went and had a wonderful time. It was a tour; somebody, I don't know who, organized it for swimming parents who wanted to go. I didn't really see them while we were there. We were staying in the village. They were in a hotel and they were also touring around Japan. I don't remember seeing them other than to wave, but, yes, they did go. Again, I don't know how they afforded that, but I didn't ask.
KR: What was talked about in your family when you realized that you were having this opportunity to be an Olympian? When you first told your parents and when you first told your brother, how did everybody feel?
SA: They were at Olympic Trials. They were there, so they knew I was going. I don't know, my parents were, I'm sure, very proud, but they were very low key about everything. My mother was a third grade teacher, and people who were in her third grade class later told me, "Your mother talked about her daughter going to the Olympics." I said, "Really? She did?" [laughter] They were very proud, but I think it was part of their not putting pressure on me is that we didn't really talk about it. I remember saying to my mother, I needed some clothes in California. I only had what I took to Olympic Trials, a few pairs of shorts, and I needed some clothes. She had to go buy me [clothes], because I didn't have money and we didn't have a place to go shopping. She had to buy me some clothes and mail them to Los Angeles. [laughter] For some reason, in my head, I thought, "We're getting uniforms, and so we'll have all the clothes we need." No, you have a travel uniform, a pair of sweats, and a parade uniform. You don't have everyday clothes. Now, they do; now, they [have] shorts and shirts and all this stuff. But we got a basic three sets of travel, parade and sweats, and that was it.
KR: Did you get swimsuits also?
KR: Did you save your uniforms?
SA: I did, until a while ago. I had them for a long time. They were in a box, and then they were at Gregg's house. Then I moved and then I moved and then I moved. I asked my daughters if they wanted them, and nobody wanted them. I think they went in a box; they went out. I don't have them. I literally think I threw them away, which is sad, but I think I did. I tried them on once to prove that they still fit, and then I thought, "What am I going to do with these? Why am I going to carry these with me throughout the rest of my life?"
KR: When you arrived in Tokyo, what were your initial impressions?
SA: It was cold, and we were unprepared for the cold. It was cold. Literally, the Olympic team manager I-don't-know-who had to go out in the City of Tokyo and find winter jackets for us, blue-quilted winter jackets, that they then got a USA patch sewn on, because it was cold. The pool was indoors, and the Olympic Village was not luxurious, by any means. It was an old U.S. Army base from the occupation following World War II. There were dormitories that soldiers had stayed in, and they were big open rooms. We were eight to a room, and there was a cafeteria where we ate, which had been the military mess hall. The pool was new. The Olympic Village, there wasn't security like it is today, but it was pretty secure. Not anybody could just wander in. There were bicycles, so you could just pick up a bicycle anywhere. That's how we got back and forth to the pool. We'd just pick up a bicycle and ride over to the pool.
Outside the pool, getting in was sometimes [difficult]; there were just hordes of Japanese fans outside the pool when we were trying to get in. They wanted autographs, and we had to learn how to say in Japanese, "I'm sorry, I don't have time. I have to go," so that we could get in to the pool. There was one young woman on the team, who I'm still Facebook friends with--her name is Sandy Nitta, and she was Japanese-American. She didn't speak a word of Japanese. Her parents had been born in Japan, but she was a California girl. They all assumed she could speak Japanese, and she was just a hero to the Japanese. She said, "I wish I spoke Japanese," because they wanted to interview her on television. She said, "Why didn't my parents warn me about this?" [laughter] They were very, very kind and supportive, and it was fun.
In the village, I don't know how it is today, but the dining halls were kind of [divided]. You had a dining hall that you went to, and it was sort of divided by food groups. People that ate the same basic types of food were in the same dining hall. We were with Australians and Canadians and the British and so on. It wasn't like you'd be in the dining hall sitting next to somebody from Africa. It just didn't happen. You'd see people in the village and there were places that you could go hang out, but basically you hung out with your own teammates. I didn't know people from other sports. We didn't go to other events. You went to swimming, you were a swimmer, you hung out with the swimmers, you saw swimming. I always tell people that you see much more on television than you do if you're actually there.
KR: That's interesting. That was one of my questions, what did you do when you weren't swimming? I was wondering if you were going and seeing track and field and seeing these other events.
SA: No. A little bit I did in Mexico City, because then it was easier to get to other events, especially track and field or anything that was in a big stadium. Basically, no, you would have a pass that you wore, like a badge, and it said swimming and that got you into the swimming venue, but it didn't get you into anything else.
KR: What was the opening ceremony like in Tokyo?
SA: The opening ceremony was very cool. I always say that 1964 was the last kind of old-fashioned, old-style Olympics and 1968 was the first modern Olympics because 1964 wasn't televised. It was on the highlights at night, like on newsreel, black-and-white newsreel at night, highlights, but it wasn't live TV and it didn't get a whole lot of coverage. The opening ceremonies was in a huge stadium, and it was packed mostly with Japanese fans, some foreign fans. You could see a little group of Americans waving their flags up in the stands. The other thing with opening ceremonies, and athletes say this, is there's a whole lot of standing around and a whole lot of waiting. Now, if people have events the next day or the day after, they don't even go to opening ceremonies, because it's exhausting to stand there that whole time. I remember standing on the field and standing and standing, and there's all these speeches in Japanese and French. You don't understand anything. They didn't release doves. They released pigeons, and you know what pigeons do. They flew over the field and we're all like [covering our heads]. [laughter] It was fun. I have very fond memories of it. It was fun. We marched in. Now, they kind of come in in a mass, the teams, but we were in line. You had to walk in line and stay in line, and it was pretty formal. It was fun.
KR: I'm just wondering, do you remember how many days it was into the Olympics that you started competing?
SA: I don't remember how many days, but swimming was first. Right after opening ceremonies, I believe swimming started the next day. I don't remember which day I competed, but it was pretty early in the Olympics. Then, when swimming was over, there were a few swimmers who were getting in trouble, not me, but going out into Tokyo. Fifteen-year-old girls should not be drinking in Tokyo. I think the officials didn't think of that. They're like, "What are we going to do?" A couple of swimmers got sent home. A couple of girls, not the boys they were with, the girls got sent home. They were put on planes and sent home. The rest of us, along with, I want to say, the Australians and I forget who else, but we did a tour of Japan by train. We went to a couple of other cities and swam exhibition meets. I don't know if that was planned or that was a last-minute thing because they're worried, "Oh, my gosh, what do we do with these kids?" Now, when your events are over, basically you either sign yourself out, if you're over eighteen, I think, or you are sent home. You're not allowed to just stay there and party, but the partying gets pretty insane. We did a tour of Japan by train and then I think we came back and went to closing ceremonies and then went home, but they got us out of the village because some crazy things were happening.
KR: The event that you competed in at the Olympics, it was the 400-medley relay. You swam in the qualifying heat.
KR: You were in heat two.
SA: I think so.
KR: Yes. When you were about to swim, you're about to get into the pool, what was going through your mind? How were you mentally preparing yourself?
SA: Your job, when you're swimming in the preliminaries, is don't blow it. [laughter] Don't do anything stupid. Don't false start. Just qualify the United States for the finals. You don't have to set a record. At the time, the U.S. was so dominant in swimming that there was no doubt that we would qualify for the finals. I think we probably qualified first. I don't remember. I did right on my best time that I had swum at Trials. I knew I was going to be replaced in the finals; we all did. Our job was just: get in and do it and don't blow it. [laughter] Don't make any mistakes. That was basically our mindset: don't make any mistakes. That's basically what the coaches said: slow starts, perfect touches, just do everything perfectly to get the team into the finals.
KR: Yes, you did come in first in the second heat.
KR: Why was it done that there were four different swimmers in the preliminaries versus in the final race? Was that typical?
SA: Yes, they still do it in the Olympics. At the time, that was the only meet that you could do that, that you could change the lineup for the finals. The thinking was, one, you gave more people an opportunity to be on the Olympic team and have a role, and, secondly, the people that were the four fastest were usually swimming multiple events and so why have them waste their energy, use their energy, in a qualifying heat that they didn't need to participate in when the B-team could just as easily make the finals. It was really to save them from another swim, another event, that was unnecessary.
KR: In the preliminaries, you did come in first in the 400-medley relay, sending the U.S. to the finals, where they would win Olympic gold and set an Olympic record.
KR: Now, if it was today, you yourself would have also won a gold medal.
KR: But it wasn't done that way back then.
SA: No, no. There are places where I am listed as a gold medalist, but I don't have a gold medal. We knew that. Now, looking back, you might think, "Well, that stinks." But we knew that; that was just the way it was. Only the finalists got the medal. Now, the team gets the medal, and so whoever swam in the morning, or whenever the preliminary is, was part of that team, but that changed. I don't remember when that changed. [Editor's Note: In the 1964 Olympics Games, Nina Harmer, Judy Reeder, Susan Pitt (Anderson) and Lillian Watson swam the women's 4x100-meter medley relay in heat two of the preliminary round. Cathy Ferguson, Cynthia Goyette, Sharon Stouder and Kathy Ellis swam in the finals, setting an Olympic record and winning gold. Since 1984, preliminary swimmers have earned medals for their team's performance in the finals.]
KR: When it changed, do you remember having any particular reaction?
SA: It would have been nice. No, because, again, it was, like a lot of things, you knew that going in, and so you can think, "It would have been nice, but it didn't happen." It would have been nice to swim in college, but it didn't exist. It would have been nice to have a gold medal, but I don't.
KR: You described this party-like atmosphere for Team USA in swimming, and U.S. swimming did indeed do very well at the '64 games.
KR: What was the feeling about the overall success of U.S. swimming?
SA: At the time, it was kind of a foregone conclusion. If we hadn't been successful, there would have been something really wrong. It was no surprise. In fact, that was the last time--no, I'm wrong--but I don't remember when they changed from allowing a country to have three swimmers per event down to two. It might have been not until '72. I'm not sure, but for the U.S. to take first, second and third in events was seen as not giving other countries a chance. There were multiple events where we could have taken first, second, third, fourth and fifth, if we had been able to put that many swimmers in. We were that dominant at the time. Australia had some outstanding individuals like Dawn Fraser, who was a big Olympic star. There was a Dutch swimmer, Ada Kok, who was a butterflyer; I can't remember if she won or got second. There were individuals from other countries, but as a team, the U.S. was dominant. [Editor's Note: The United States won a total of twenty-nine medals, thirteen gold, eight silver and eight bronze, in swimming at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles was the first Olympic games at which only two swimmers per country per event were permitted. Ada Kok, from the Netherlands, won silver medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in the women's 100-meter butterfly and women's 400-meter medley relay.]
KR: I read that at the 1964 Olympic Games for swimming, it was the first time that electronic touch pads were used in the Olympics.
SA: Yes, right.
KR: Do you remember that? Do you remember that being new?
SA: No. [laughter] But I can picture it now. Yes, I can picture that there were electronic touch pads, but I don't really remember it. I think I remember the coaches saying, "Make sure you hit the wall with some force."
KR: Is there anything else about swimming in the Olympics that sticks out? Is there anything that was different or unique that you remember?
SA: The only thing I can say is that I had a wonderful time and wanted to keep swimming, which was a little bit unusual at the time. There were quite a few young women who, if they didn't make the Olympic Team in '64, and this went for quite a few of my teammates from the Summit Y, "Why should I keep swimming?" and they quit. We didn't even use the word retire. They quit after the Olympic Trials because, "I didn't make it, so I'm done." There were also several young women who were on the '64 team, they were teenagers, that was it for them. Maybe they swam one more year and then thought, "What am I going to do now? I'm not going to stick around for three more years." There was no college swimming. I remember wanting to continue, and to the credit of swimming higher-ups, they realized that they were losing all these young women because you only have an opportunity to compete at a very high level every four years. That's not enough motivation. In 1965 was the first National Team trip, where after summer Nationals that a team was picked of probably, I can't remember, maybe the first and second-place swimmers, maybe first, second and third, and we toured Europe. They started doing things like that to give especially young women more incentive to keep swimming. There still wasn't an incentive to keep going in college, but at least not to quit when you were fifteen years old because you made an Olympic team and now you're done. I should add there were also the Pan American Games the year before the Olympics, but I never made a Pan Am team.
KR: What does it mean to you to be an Olympian?
SA: People make a big deal about that, and I kind of have to say, yes, it's a great honor, but I was very young. At sixteen, I don't think I had a real good grasp of what that meant. Maybe I had a better grasp of it when I was twenty, although that was a mixed-bag experience, the Mexico Olympics. I think I kind of have the caveat of, yes, it's great and it's something that will always be attached to my name, but it didn't define me as an athlete. I will say that my best years as a swimmer were not the Olympic years, unfortunately. That happens to a lot of people. My best years were '65 and '66. That's the way it happens sometimes. You don't always peak at the right time, your age, your training, whatever, and so I try not to put too much emphasis onto the Olympic Team because my best memories of being a swimmer are from other events. But I will never downplay that it has opened doors for me. Ten years ago, I got an Olympic rings tattoo on my ankle. I was with a couple other former swimmers, and we were at a convention in Las Vegas. I know people say, "Oh, well, Las Vegas." It was ten o'clock in the morning. We made an appointment at a tattoo shop. We went to get the Olympic ring tattoos because all the swimmers do it now, and we thought, "Nobody did that back then, but that doesn't mean we can't do it now." So, I have an Olympic rings tattoo on my ankle. I'll be in a yoga class, and somebody next to me will say, "Are those the Olympic rings?" It's definitely something that I'm proud of and that opens doors for me.
KR: Let's talk about what came next for you after the Olympics. Let's talk about those years of '65 and '66. You talked about traveling to Europe and swimming. Tell me about those experiences. You set another world record. Then, you won a national championship. You set an American record.
SA: After the Olympics in 1964, I came home. So many things had changed. Frank Elm had become the Rutgers coach, starting that September. We left the Summit Y. The Summit Y said, "Yes, we're very proud to have three Olympic swimmers representing the Summit Y, but you're really taking too much pool time and we want to deemphasize this program. Congratulations, but we're not going to do this anymore. We're just going to have a little Y team." Frank said, "Okay, well, I'm done here." He left the Summit Y and was the Rutgers coach and formed a team called Scarlet Jets. It was basically the Summit Y swimmers, but a lot of them lived up closer to Summit. I was the one that was traveling to get to Summit. A lot of the others lived more in that area, West Orange, Chatham, Westfield, places closer to Summit. Some of them continued swimming, but like I said, if you didn't make the Olympic team, it was kind of common to think, "I'm not going to do this anymore." Ginny Duenkel swam for a few months. She lived in West Orange, and her parents said, "We're not driving to New Brunswick." She stopped swimming, and most of my friends quit. So, I was the oldest one on the team. I was sixteen, and most of the swimmers were thirteen, fourteen and were living closer to Rutgers. I still wanted to do this.
Nationals that winter were outside LA, in Commerce, California. I was the only swimmer from our team who went. It was me and my parents and Frank, and I actually roomed with a swimmer from California because I refused to stay with my parents when I went to meets. [laughter] I didn't want to have my own room, so I roomed with a girl from another team who I vaguely knew but who was there by herself. It was very interesting because some of the Olympians were still there swimming, but many of them had stopped swimming. The girl that I beat [was] Sharon Stouder, who was the Olympic Champion in the 100-meter butterfly. She has since died. I don't know much about what happened to her. I didn't like her in 1964-'65, to be perfectly honest. We were not friends, and it was my goal to beat her. Her best event was not the 200, it was the 100, but she was the Olympic Champion and I thought, "I'm going to beat her. I don't care what it takes. I'm going to beat her." I did, and that's when I set an American record. As an athlete, it's not the record; it's that I wanted to beat Sharon Stouder, and I did. [laughter] That's how I was.
Nationals that summer were in Ohio somewhere. It was a combined meet with the men, and they were picking a team to go to Europe. I thought, "I want to go to Europe. I want to do that. I'm going to make that team." I very much responded to being incentivized, to beat somebody, to have an experience. I think we had a couple of other girls who went to Nationals that summer, but I was the only one that was making finals or anything like that. Frank was gradually rebuilding a team after the demise of Summit Y.
KR: When you were swimming with the Scarlet Jets, were you swimming at the pool at the Barn?
SA: Yes, yes. In the winter, we swam there. In the summer, once again, like a lot of coaches still do today, they're scrounging up long-course, fifty-meter pool time. We went in the early morning to the Metuchen Community Pool. Frank rented pool time there. We went in at seven o'clock in the morning to the Metuchen Municipal Pool in the summer. In the winter, it was all at the College Avenue Gym. [Editor's Note: The College Avenue Gym, nicknamed the Barn, is the gym at the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers-New Brunswick.]
KR: What was the size of the College Avenue Gym pool?
SA: Twenty-five yards.
KR: Okay, twenty-five yards.
SA: Yes, twenty-five yards. It's a standard length. It's very narrow. The lanes were very narrow. It was perfectly adequate but not for a big team. There was only a men's team at Rutgers at the time. They finished their practice. We came in after them. We trained, I don't know, six to eight, probably something like that, and we didn't do doubles. We couldn't get in anywhere in the morning. The summer was the only time we did that and came in twice a day. In the winter, it was all College Avenue.
KR: I read that you set a world record in the 220-yard fly in Wales in the summer of '65. Can you tell me about that?
SA: Right, yes. That was weird. There are no longer world records for a 55-yard pool. So, there are 25-yard pools. There are 25-meter pools. There are 50-meter pools, which is the Olympic size. There used to be 55-yard pools, which converts almost to fifty meters, but not exactly. It's a little bit longer. Because there were a number of these old 55-yard pools still in existence, there were world records. I don't know if there were American records. I don't remember, but there were world records for 55-yard pools.
The U.S. team that was picked off of this meet in Ohio, the first stop was Cardiff, Wales. We were on an overnight flight and, you know, jet lag and the whole thing. We got there and we're told, "You can't go to sleep. You have to stay up all day." We were like, "Oh, my God, how do we do that?" The next day, we swam. We were swimming against other swimmers, but I don't remember who else was there, maybe British, maybe there was a British team. It was a big old pool. It was cold. I swam the 220-yard fly and I swam a time that was mediocre if it had been an Olympic-sized pool, a 50-meter pool, but it happened to be a world record. It was just, wow, that's a world [record]. It was cool. We set all sorts of world records in that meet because nobody was swimming in 55-yard pools anymore, so it was a little hokey, but it was cool. It was fun.
Then, we went to London, and we went to France. I think we went to Paris and we were doing competitions, but we weren't really training. We were just traveling and competing. Then, we went to Monaco, to Monte Carlo, and we stayed there for maybe a week and had an exhibition meet against the French National Team and went to a reception with Princess Grace. My Uncle Mal, who I talked about, had a summer home there. He invited me to bring five of my teammates to his place for the afternoon, and it was fabulous. Then, we went to Bilbao, Spain, and then we went to Portugal. Then, we came home. We swam in meets in all those places, and we just got slower and slower as we went, because we weren't training. We were just traveling and swimming in these meets. It was great fun. It was fabulous. We had a wonderful time. [Editor's Note: Grace Kelly was an American actress who married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 and became known as Princess Grace.]
KR: How did the opportunity come about to go to the Soviet Union in 1966?
SA: Can I take a break and come right back?
KR: Yes, absolutely. I'll pause.
KR: I had asked you about how the opportunity came about to go to the Soviet Union in '66.
SA: Right. When I said that I had other experiences that resonate more for me than the Olympics, that's the one; it was this trip to the Soviet Union. Once again, it was [that] we were going to pick a team based off of the results of Nationals, a team to go to the Soviet Union. It's going to be a really small team. Side note, I had injured myself in school, in high school. I had torn my knee all up, torn the ligaments of my knee all up, doing a high school thing, being in this obstacle course race in a gym show, stupid. I got hurt very seriously, tore my knee all up. That was in maybe January. It was back before they did any kind of arthroscopic surgery. I was on crutches. I went in and Frank said, "What did you do?" when I go walking in on crutches. My father took me to the doctor who took care of the Rutgers Football Team, and he said, "We're going to drain the fluid out, and swimming is fine. You can go in and swim; just kind of drag it and be careful." I was able to get back in the water pretty quickly, even though I couldn't walk. I think Nationals were in April probably. By then, I still couldn't really go off the starting blocks with full force. I kind of pushed off with one leg, but I was okay. I could swim. That's just a side note because that came back to haunt me later. I got second in, I think, both butterfly events, but the winner randomly was Canadian. Why she was swimming in our Nationals, I don't remember. Anyway, I was the fastest American at the meet, so I got picked for this team.
It was a very small team. There were only six women and nine men who were picked for this team in July to go to Warsaw and Moscow. I don't know if my parents had trepidation about me going to these countries. I didn't. [laughter] I had just graduated from high school, and this was to be, as far as I was concerned, my last competition. I would come back and go to Nationals, but then I was done. I was going to going away to Vermont in the fall. This was it. This was my last hoorah.
Back then, the Soviet Union and USA had a track meet every year, and it would be one year in the U.S., one year in Soviet Union. That had been going on for a few years. That was the impetus of, "Well, let's expand that to other sports. Let's take swimmers to Moscow, and then Russian swimmers can come to the U.S." I don't think they ever did. This only happened once, when we went to Moscow.
We flew to Warsaw and competed in the Polish National Championships. Warsaw, at the time, was fascinating. It was still showing the scars of World War II. There was still rubble in Warsaw. We stayed in this big old hotel that must have been fabulous in the '20s, with the big tall windows and the long velvet drapes, but it was definitely showing its age. We swam in the Polish Nationals. They really weren't very good. They were very, very gracious and would tell us in broken English, I'll never forget this, multiple swimmers saying, "Please go beat the Russians, please. We can't do it. Do it for us. Beat the Russians." I'm almost tearing up talking about it. We're like, "Okay, okay, we'll do that." [laughter]
We flew to Moscow, and, oh, my God, what a world that was. We were the first U.S. swimmers and the first athletes, other than a track team occasionally, to compete in Moscow, and we had no idea what we were getting into. There were fifteen swimmers, one coach, one chaperone. That was it. It was a really small group. We were met by people from the U.S. Embassy, and they had translators. There was always somebody from the embassy with us. We stayed in this hotel that was like a dorm--it was a hotel, but it was a hotel for athletes. So, any international athletes who were competing there stayed in this hotel. There were other athletes from other sports and there were other swimmers there. We thought we were doing a dual meet with the Russians, but it turned out the Bulgarians and the Romanians and other random swimmers from Soviet bloc nations were also there. What we found out was that the Russians didn't want a dual meet because they knew we would win. They wanted it just to be an international meet with no score kept, and so they invited some other random swimmers from other countries to be there. Fine.
This hotel was so weird. These are the things I remember. There was a radio; the plug didn't have a plug. The wire went directly into the wall, so you couldn't unplug it and you couldn't turn it off. It would come on at six o'clock in the morning, blaring this marshal music. You'd be like [makes exasperated sound], and it would play for fifteen minutes and then go off. It was your alarm clock that you couldn't turn off. There was a bathtub that you could stand in up to your neck. It wasn't a whirlpool or a hot tub, but you could fill it up and stand in it. That was cool.
The food was absolutely terrible. We all lost so much weight at this [meet]. We would get gristly meat and boiled potatoes and runny eggs, runny soft-boiled eggs, no vegetables. We would see--I can't believe these things happened--we would see these trays of food going by to other tables, and we'd say to our translator, "Can we have that?" They'd say, "Oh, it's all gone." [laughter] The biggest star on the team was Don Schollander, who was an Olympian, a gold medalist. He was the Mark Spitz of the '64 Olympics and in Life magazine with all his gold medals. He had blonde hair, California boy, funny, funny guy. The Russians were all over him, because he's the gold medalist and this all-American boy. He would say vile things with a big smile on his face [laughter] to the Russians, like, "You're a f****** bastard. We would like some good food, please." [laughter] They were like, "Oh, Schollander, Schollander!" It was crazy. Finally, the embassy sent over a crate of oranges and some Hershey [bars], but they couldn't even get decent food for us. We had boiled potatoes, oranges, chocolate bars from the embassy. We couldn't drink the water. There was no milk, so we were drinking Coke. Can you imagine international athletes today living like that? [laughter] [Editor's Note: At the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Don Schollander won four gold medals, the most of any athlete at that Olympic Games. Life magazine featured Don Schollander on the cover of the October 30, 1964 issue with the title: "America's Great Swimmer: Don Schollander, First U.S. athlete since Jesse Owens to win four Olympic gold medals." At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, each in world-record time.]
We were not supposed to go out of the hotel, but we did go out and walk around. If you went out and walked around, you were instantly followed by somebody literally in an overcoat, in the summer, literally there was somebody [following you], like it was a spy movie, walking behind you. My friend and I, my roommate, Martha Randall, who was from Philadelphia, she and I went into this little store in the neighborhood. We walked in, and all the people stopped talking. They were just staring, "Oh, my God, who are these girls and why are they in this store?" The store had lots of things in the window but almost nothing inside. We just kind of walked around. We're thinking, "Maybe we're not supposed to be here." [laughter] We were told not to sell anything to people on the street. One of the male swimmers did not obey that and met a guy and sold a pair of Levis to him, a pair of blue jeans, because they couldn't get them in Moscow at that time, and almost got arrested. He almost got sent home. The embassy had to get involved in getting him off for selling a pair of Levis on the street in Moscow. [laughter]
The pool was a fantastic facility. We had nothing like it in the States. It was an outdoor 50-meter pool, permanent bleachers, probably seated five thousand people. The coolest part of it to us was that because they used it well into the winter, it was a heated pool. We were there in July, so it was warm, but you could swim out of the locker room in this little canal that came out of the locker room into the pool. It was very cool.
We were guinea pigs to the Russians. They were filming everything we did, everything we did in training, everything we did in warm up, and we were fine with it. Our coach said, "If you don't want to be filmed or you don't want them studying you, you just say so." But none of us cared. We joked, "Oh, maybe we should swim our strokes all weird, so they get the wrong ideas. Maybe we should do everything wrong." [laughter]
We were real excited for the first day of competition, thinking, "This place is going to be rocking. It's going to be full of people. This is going to be so exciting." It's a two-day meet. We came in for the first day, and the place is empty, except for maybe a hundred people. There was a little group from the embassy with the little American flags, and then there were a few other people that we found out were Russian officials. We asked our embassy person, "What's going on? We thought this was going to be packed." He said, "Oh no, no, no, no. If the Russians do really well today, it will be all over the news, and it will be packed tomorrow. If they don't win today, it will be empty again tomorrow." It was; it was empty again the next day. We swam, and we won most of the events. I won the 100 fly. I can't remember if I swam anything else. I think I did, but I won my event.
After my event, the second day, our coach, a man named Don Gambril, who was a wonderful man, came to me and said, "You don't have to say yes, but the Soviets, the Russians," I can't remember what we called them at the time, "want to know, because you're finished, you don't have any more events, if you would like to do some tests for them. They're going to take you, it's right here at the pool, and there'll be a translator with you." I said, "Sure. What are we going to do?" "Nothing invasive. They're not going to stick needles in you or anything." "Sure, I'll do that." I was very curious.
They took me under the spectator area through a tunnel, and there was a whole gym in there with all sorts of weight equipment. It was like a lab, but it was a gym also with all this stuff. The Russian women at the time were very bulked up, very muscular. I don't think they were using anything. I don't think we're yet to the East Germans, but they were very, very muscular and big. [Editor's Note: In the 1960s, the East German government began a program to administer performance-enhancing drugs to its elite athletes to improve success in international competitions, particularly the Olympics.] I had won against their champion quite handily, and so they asked me if I would do some strength testing. I said, "Sure." I'm still skinny. There's not a whole lot of meat on me, because at that time, we didn't do weights or anything. We just swam. They had me doing a bench press, but it didn't move. It was just pushing on it and then there was a needle that would move to measure how hard you were pushing. They did a couple things like that. Then, they started [talking angrily]; they were jabbering at me in Russian angrily. I said to the translator, "What's going on?" He said, "They think you're not trying. They think you're trying to fool them." I said, "I'm trying as hard as I can." [The translator said], "They think that you couldn't possibly swim as fast as you did and beat their champion and be this weak." Then, I started arguing with them. I said, "You're not testing my conditioning and my aerobic conditioning and my flexibility and all the other things that go in it. You're just testing how hard I can push on this bar." They said, "We're done here!" They basically threw me out. I went out, and my coach Don Gambril said, "How did it go?" I told him, and he laughed. I had kind of an uncommon breathing technique also, as did our male butterflyer, Ross Wales. He said, "I think between you and Ross and your technique and your failure on these tests, you've set them back a good twenty years. Congratulations." [laughter] It was just amazing. It was so eye-opening for me.
In the meantime, while we were there, there was some international incident, I think, involving a spy plane or something. I don't remember. But there was the threat of pulling people out of the embassy. It was a major, major deal, and we didn't know what was happening. My parents could read about it in the paper, but we were in Moscow and we had no way of communicating. That's another thing that's so weird. There was no communication with home that we were fine. They saw results of the meet in The New York Times, so they knew we had swum, but are we going to be able to get out? Are we going to be able to come home? Is it dangerous? Are we going to be held there? None of that happened. We got to go tour Red Square and see some things there. It was just such an eye-opening experience for an eighteen-year-old kid to have, and that's why, for me, it was so much better than the Olympics. [laughter]
KR: Did you have any interaction with the Russian swimmers?
SA: No. It felt like they weren't allowed to talk to us. We tried. We'd shake hands and smile, and they didn't speak any English. It felt like they weren't allowed.
KR: How long roughly were you there in Moscow?
SA: I think we were probably there for five or six days, because we got there early enough before the meet to acclimate to the time change and train a little bit before the meet. Then, the meet was two days, and then we might have spent one or two days in Moscow being tourists and being taken places. You couldn't go any place by yourself, but being taken places. There's a picture of me and two other swimmers in the, I think it was pronounced "goom," G-U-M department [store], the big [department store]. I don't even know if it's still there, but it was the big department store in Moscow, right on Red Square. We've got the big Russian fur hats on, and it was in Life magazine, that we were these young Americans swimming in Moscow. It was cool. [Editor's Note: The meet took place in Moscow on July 16 and 17, 1966.]
KR: At any point later in your life, did you ever travel back to Moscow or anywhere in the Soviet Union or Russia?
SA: No, I didn't. I would have liked to, but I never did. The same with Warsaw, I would like to see Warsaw, because, like I said, a lot of it was still rubble.
KR: Where did you go after you left Moscow?
SA: Then, we flew directly home. A few weeks later, we had national championships in Omaha, Nebraska, and that was to be my last meet. I won my last race. I was national champion. Then, I said, "That's it, I'm done. I'm going off to the University of Vermont." That was just normal. That was what was expected.
KR: When you got back to the U.S. after traveling to the Soviet Union, was there any sort of debriefing?
KR: Did anybody talk to you in terms of just finding out information?
SA: No, nothing, no, which is interesting too, looking back on it. It was such a weird experience. No, none. I don't know, maybe the coaches were debriefed, but we weren't.
KR: That is certainly unique. There are not many Americans who can say that they traveled to the Soviet Union or to Warsaw in 1966, during the Cold War.
SA: Yes, I agree. It was very, very unusual. The six women and nine men who were on the trip, it was a real bonding experience for us. The men were a little bit older. They were all in college. The women, we were all seventeen, eighteen; I think there were two fifteen-year-olds, but then the rest of us were seventeen, eighteen. The men, in particular, were protective of us, which sounds very chauvinistic, but at the same time, it was a little bit scary to be out walking around. We very much traveled as a group or with our teammates.
KR: Before I get into your retirement at that point, you mentioned you had a somewhat unusual breathing technique. Can you describe that to me?
SA: I sometimes see swimmers today and I think if I had been stronger and more muscular, it would have worked itself out, but it was called late breathing. I took my breath when my arms were recovering over the top, instead of when my arms were at the back. It looked awkward; it looked like I was popping my head up at the wrong time. Frank tried for a while to change it. I would say, "That's what I am doing," and he'd say, "No, you're not." I just couldn't feel it. We didn't have video. We didn't have anything for anybody to say, "This is what you're doing." He finally [said], "Fine, you're going fast. Don't worry about it." There were a couple of other swimmers at the time who swam the same way, but I think the ones I've seen now that slightly look that way, they're so much more muscular. I think it's a strength thing more than anything else that might have changed that. Also, I couldn't swim like that without a great deal of shoulder and back flexibility, which was just something I had naturally. I used to be able to like tie myself in knots I was so flexible, not anymore, but I was. [laughter]
KR: Do you still swim now?
SA: Yes, I do. Two or three days a week, I go to a local gym and I swim close to a mile. I break it up; I don't just swim laps. It is still the best form of exercise.
KR: You said you were not a very good breaststroker.
KR: When you swim, do you do butterfly and freestyle?
SA: Freestyle and backstroke. I can barely do a lap of butterfly. Yes, it's hard. [laughter] I don't do it.
KR: I was just wondering, because it is not very common to see people in lap pools swimming butterfly for exercise.
SA: I can do one lap of butterfly, and it's not easy. For years, I didn't swim at all. When I moved here [Milwaukee]--I lived in New Jersey for a while before I moved here--I said, "I have to be able to do one lap of butterfly. I have to do that." Yes, I've worked myself up so that I can do one lap of butterfly. I have no desire to compete in a Masters competition or anything like that. I just swim for the exercise, but I still swim pretty hard when I swim and I still do flip turns. People have tried to get me into a Masters program here, and I say, "Yes, but you swim at six o'clock in the morning. I am not interested in that." [laughter] [Editor's Note: Masters swimming is a class of competitive swimming for swimmers who are twenty-five and older.]
KR: This whole time we have been talking, when you have talked about coaches, you have talked about male coaches.
KR: I'm just wondering, at the time, in the early '60s, mid-'60s, were there women swim coaches? Were any of your peers coached by women who had been former Olympians?
SA: We didn't have any female coaches on our team. Females were usually coaching the eight-year-olds, you know, "Women can coach the little kids." However, there one female coach; her name was Mary Freeman Kelly. She was married to John B. Kelly, who was Princess Grace's brother. If you remember me referring to Kelly Pool, the Kellys were in Philadelphia, a big wealthy family, Kelly Brickwork, lots of money. That was Grace Kelly. Her brother John Kelly was married to Mary Freeman. Now, John Kelly, this is long sorry, but John Kelly had been an Olympic rower. Mary Freeman was an Olympic swimmer, I believe, in 1956 in Melbourne? She became a swim coach, and she coached a team called Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia. She coached males and females and put a number of swimmers on the Olympic Team. I think there were four Vesper swimmers, four or five Vesper swimmers, on the '64 Olympic Team. She was their coach, but she was very unusual in being a female head coach. She was the only one I knew of at the time until well into Title IX years. I had some very good friends, and she was their coach. [Editor's Note: Mary Freeman competed in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 banned discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded education programs. One of the most enduring effects of Title IX has been opportunities for women in interscholastic sports.]
KR: At what point did performance-enhancing drugs become an issue in swimming or come into play in swimming?
SA: I was no longer swimming. Performance-enhancing drugs were mainly used by the East Germans; the height of that was the '76 Olympics in Montreal. Previous to that, I don't think it was an issue in '72 in Munich, or if it was, it wasn't recognized yet. Between the '72 and the '76 Olympics, I was still peripherally involved in swimming, in that I was working as an assistant to Frank Elm. I didn't go to national meets or anything, but it was starting to be talked about, because in international meets, the East Germans were starting to set all sorts of records. They were very masculine. They had huge muscles. It was starting to be recognized in, I would say, '73-'74. It came to a head in the '76 Olympics when they won almost all the gold medals. Now, it's recognized, "We've got to do something about this," but it was the mid-70s when it became a big issue.
KR: You talked about the Nationals in Omaha in 1966 and how that was going to be your final event. Was that bittersweet for you?
SA: No. By this time, I was kind of a planner, so I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do this, and then I'm going to do this. That was the end. Then, I was going to go have this new life and be a college student at the University of Vermont who nobody knew anything about who I was before this, so that I could just be a normal college student and not be put on some kind of a pedestal. That's what it was about. I just wanted to go have this normal college girl experience. I found more and more in high school, as people knew more and more about me, if I wanted to go to a party, it would be, "Oh, you can't go to a party. You're a swimmer." "Oh, you can't have a beer. You're a swimmer. You can't do this." There just were assumptions made about me and what I could and couldn't do. I was ready to go be kind of a wild party girl, to be perfectly honest. [laughter] I did for a year and a half. Yup, that's what I did. [laughter]
KR: You went to a good school for it, too. [laughter]
SA: [laughter] It was the party school. I did not really know that when I went there, but, boy, it was. [laughter] Then, I got tired of it. I felt like I wasn't being academically challenged. I was just tired of the whole scene and decided I didn't want to do that anymore, to that extent. I don't want to disparage a Vermont education. I'm sure you could get a good education there, but it was pretty easy for me. I was an overachiever in all fields, and so it was really easy to get straight As in freshman year at the University of Vermont.
KR: I just want to go back to your decision to retire from swimming, which was the decision that all women swimmers had to encounter.
KR: This year, in 2022, we are celebrating fifty years of Title IX and the opportunities that has allowed women in interscholastic athletics. Was there really no possibility of swimming in college for a woman? There wasn't a single college or university in America where there was a program?
SA: There were. There were no scholarships. There were a few schools. Why does Slippery Rock come to mind? There were some state schools in Pennsylvania that had swim teams. There were a few larger schools that had swim teams, but they were very unserious. They weren't high-level programs. They were more recreational level; they were more like a club.
In fact, Vermont had a club team, a swim team, and they had a few meets. Somehow, despite my best efforts, word got out and they begged me to be on this team. I said, "No!" The girls on the team said, "Come on." I said, "No, I don't want to do it." They asked, "Why not?" I said, "Because I'm done with that. I'm done. It's not the level that I swam at. I don't mean to disparage what you're doing or the pleasure that you get out of this, but I don't want to do that." A couple of girls begged me and begged me, and finally, I said, "Fine, I'll swim in one meet." It was a Sunday morning, and I had been partying the night before, I'm sure. We had to drive to Middlebury and swim against Middlebury College, and it was just horrific for me. I hadn't been in a pool. I won every event I swam in, and people were so excited, "Oh, my God, you're so good!" I thought, "This is terrible." My times were terrible. I hated it. I was embarrassed by the whole thing. I went so far, when I was at Vermont--this is how crazy I was about not wanting to be the swimmer--the University of Vermont had a swimming requirement; if you couldn't pass the swim test, you had to take swimming as a phys ed [physical education] course. I went into the phys ed teacher, and I said, "I'm going to tell you who I am and what my background is. Please don't make me take the swim test." She said, "But you'll pass." I said, "That's the point. I don't want to go in and take a swim test." Finally, she exempted me from the swim test; she actually looked up who I was to make sure I was telling the truth. She said, "Okay, you don't have to take the swim test." I didn't want to do that. I knew another swimmer from California, and she was still in high school. She transferred to a new high school, and nobody knew she was an Olympic swimmer. She transferred to this new high school. They made everybody take swimming, and she pretended she couldn't swim. Then, on the last day, she sprinted down the pool, and they said, "What the heck?" She said, "Yes, you have no idea who I am. This is stupid that you make me take swimming."
There were opportunities, but they were at such a different level than I was used to swimming at, and they were geared toward different swimmers. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to do "half-assed" swimming, for lack of a better term. I didn't want to swim for fun. I didn't want to be in some little club team at the University of Vermont; I just didn't want to do it.
There were a couple of girls who I knew in California who continued swimming with their club teams. Santa Clara Swim Club was the big team at the time. They went to Santa Clara University and still swam for Santa Clara Swim Club and swam until they were nineteen or twenty but swam for their club team and went to college but didn't swim for a college team.
KR: At that time at Douglass College, for example, there would have been synchronized swimming, and it would have been a club.
SA: Yes. Also, I refused to go to Rutgers for several reasons, but, one, I wanted to go away. I just wanted to go away to school. I'd been around Rutgers all my life, but also, at the time, there was a housing shortage and if you lived within ten miles of campus, you had to live at home. I said, "No, no, I'm not going to do that." [laughter] Very few people I know from Highland Park or anybody around there wanted to go to Rutgers or Douglass because you had to live at home. There was just no opportunity to live on campus.
KR: You grew up and competed in the pre-Title IX era, and so that lack of opportunity would have been typical or normal to you at that time.
KR: Then, of course, you raised and coached your daughters and coached many other athletes in the Title IX era.
KR: In your mind, based your experiences, what has Title IX done? Why is it important?
SA: Oh, my God, it changed the lives of females. It gave an opportunity that I didn't have that I would have taken advantage of in a heartbeat to swim on a college team and keep swimming. I did want to keep swimming. There just wasn't any way to do it. It gave an opportunity to women--and to men, because men now started to realize that these girls could do things and had skills. There used to be this thing of, well, girls reach their peak at sixteen. No, they don't. They just have no other opportunity. That's why now you see women swimming into their twenties on national teams and in the Olympics. They didn't reach their peak at sixteen. Like men, they reached their peak in college and after. It opened the eyes of not only women as to all the opportunities that they had, but also opened the eyes of men to understand that half of the world's population was perfectly capable of doing things that they had been denied the opportunity to do.
Yes, my daughters got to take advantage of it. I always say, I didn't get the college scholarship, but they did. Even if they had not been top-level swimmers and getting scholarships, just the opportunity to be on a team in high school and to get recognition in their high school as athletes and silly things, like girls wearing varsity letter jackets. The only varsity letter jacket I had was my football player boyfriend's, just stuff like that. [laughter] Then, that translates beyond athletics to opportunity to do all sorts of things and to recognize that half of the world's population was denied this just because you're a girl.
In '69, when I was at Douglass, I was hired to coach at a YMHA in Highland Park, right across the bridge, right across the Albany Street Bridge, on that corner. It's now a condo complex, but it used to be the YMHA. They had a swim team, and I was hired to coach the team. The year before I was hired, there had been two Rutgers male swimmers who coached it, and they split the job. One of them would come one night; one would come another night. I was coaching a summer team in Piscataway, Rivercrest Swim Club, and people said, "You should hire her to coach the Y team." I was hired to coach. All these kids from my summer team came, and so we had many more swimmers than they had had the previous year and did very well. I knew the guys who had been coach the coaches before; they were friends of mine. I said, "How much did the Y pay you?" I can't remember the numbers, but they told me. I said, "What?" They were each paid more than I was paid to do the job by myself. I was going to go back the next year. I went in, and the aquatic director said, "Oh, yes, you did a good job. We'd like you to come back." I said, "Okay, but this is how much you paid these guys. I should be paid what they were paid combined, because I'm doing the job by myself." The guy literally looked at me and said, "You can't expect that. They're men. You're a girl. You don't get what they get." This was in 1969. "What?" It doesn't matter what kind of a job I did or how many kids joined the team and brought money in. No, you're a girl. You don't get what they get. He wasn't an old guy. He was like just a normal guy. That was okay. Yes, things changed for the better; that's for sure. [laughter]
KR: Gregg Anderson's oral history is a part of the Rutgers Oral History Archives. I worked on his transcript, and he talks about you. He swam for the Rutgers Men's Swimming and Diving Team. He was a two-time All-American. What struck me is that was an opportunity that you were never afforded. You were never an All-American because there was no possibility …
SA: There was no possibility of doing that.
KR: … Of you striving to become that.
SA: No, no. Even today, I guess people don't realize when Title IX came in or the changes that it brought, it's now so normal for there to be women's teams and so on, and people will say to me, "Where did you swim in college?" I say, "I didn't." "Why not?" "There was no swimming in college for women." "What? What about in high school?" "No, there was no high school swimming either for women." Now, Highland Park High School to this day doesn't have a swim team, but there was no such thing. People that are old enough to know say, "Oh, yes, that's right," but young people say, "Are you kidding? You were an Olympian and you didn't swim on a college team?" No, I couldn't. It wasn't that I didn't want to; I couldn't. There wasn't any, and that is eye-opening still to people. It wasn't that long ago.
KR: Yes. Even folks of your generation who raised daughters and sons in the Title IX era, they are used to how their kids were raised.
KR: When they look back at the pre-Title IX era, they're like, "Oh, yes, it was like that. I can't believe it was like that."
SA: Right, yes.
KR: There were no varsity sports for women at Rutgers University until 1974, and that includes swimming.
SA: Right. Have you talked to Judy Melick?
KR: I want to, but I haven't yet. I'm aware of her story. Do you know her?
SA: I'm not in contact with her anymore. I did know her, yes. She swam for Scarlet Jets, but she was younger, much younger, than me. I can't even remember, I think I was an assistant coach with that program when she was swimming, and then I was an assistant at Rutgers with Frank on the first women's teams. Ellen Wallace is another one. She barely missed the Olympic team, but she was another outstanding Rutgers swimmer who was local. She was from South Amboy and Scarlet Jets. Frank did a really good job of being one of the first to realize that this was an opportunity and to recruit swimmers who knew how outdated the facility was at Rutgers but were willing to swim there for the opportunity to be on a really good team in its early years. He did a really good job of recruiting a lot of young women to come to Rutgers as swimmers in the very early years, before other schools caught on to, "Oh, yes, we could be really good. We could be recruiting." He was doing it right away, as soon as possible. Judy Melick would be a really good one to talk to, but I don't have any contact with her. Have you talked to Tiny Condrillo? Do you know that name? I can put you in touch with her. She was very active--they just had a big Title IX celebration at Rutgers that she posted a lot of pictures about. I think she's in touch with Judy Melick, so you could probably get her contact information. [Editor's Note: Judy Melick was the first woman to swim in NCAA competition with the men's varsity team at Rutgers, for which she earned All-American honors. Melick competed in the Munich Olympics in 1972. Ellen Wallace-Turnbull was a four-year All-American in women's swimming at Rutgers. Tiny Condrillo participated on an all-male varsity swim team at Westfield High School. At Rutgers, she initially swam on the men's team, but in her sophomore year, Rutgers established the women's swim team. She earned All-American honors as the team's captain and led Rutgers to three undefeated seasons.]
KR: That sounds good. Thank you. How does it sound if we wrap up for today and we'll meet for a second session? Then, we'll talk about your transferring to Rutgers, the 1968 Olympics, and then we'll go on from there.
SA: Okay, perfect.
KR: To conclude for today, we've talked about a lot of different topics. Is there anything you would like to add?
SA: No, I don't think so. It's fun. What I will add is that my daughters, who are now forty and forty-three, they had never heard some of my stories because they weren't interested. They were swimmers in their own right; they didn't want to hear about Mom and what Mom did. For some reason, I wrote the whole story of the trip to Moscow, because I wanted it in writing just so I would have it. I shared it with them, and they said, "What! How come you never told us about this?" I said, "I don't know." [laughter] They said, "What else haven't you told us?" I did tell them about not being able to go to the awards dinner. They were stunned by the whole thing. I'm glad to share this, because it's in no way, "Poor me, I didn't get to do this," but just eye-opening of how things have changed and that we can't give up. We've got to keep going. [laughter]
KR: I'm going to stop the recording. Let's speak for a few minutes off the record. Sue, thank you so much for doing this first oral history session with me.
SA: You're welcome.
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Transcribed by REV
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 9/21/2022
Reviewed by Sue Anderson 9/22/2022