Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an oral history interview with Sue Pitt Anderson, on August 29, 2022. I'm Kate Rizzi, and I'm in Branchburg, New Jersey. Sue, thank you so much for joining me again to do this second oral history session.
Sue Pitt Anderson: You're welcome.
KR: Can you state, for the record, where you are located today?
SA: I am in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
KR: We left off at the end of your first session talking about how you retired from swimming. You went to the University of Vermont. What prompted you to come out of retirement?
SA: There was a very specific incident in the summer of 1967. I went as a spectator to the national championships, [which] were in Philadelphia, same pool [that I talked about last time], Kelly Pool. I just went as a spectator to see some of my old friends who were still swimming. I was watching and thought, "They haven't gotten any faster. I could still do this." My brain said, "What are you thinking? You haven't swum a stroke in a year," but I thought, "I think I could still do this. Maybe I'll try one more time." I went to talk to Frank Elm. It was August, and I was going back to school in September. I said, "What do you think?" He was surprised but said, "All right, let's figure it out." I went to school for one semester, and then I left Vermont in January and came back and lived at home and started training again. I really didn't give myself enough time. I should have started right away in August-September, when I thought about it, but that's hindsight.
KR: That was in 1966?
SA: No, that was the summer of '67. I dropped out of school in January of '68 to try to make the Olympic Trials, [which] were in July [August] of '68. I only gave myself six months, seven months, and it wasn't really enough time. I did okay, but I didn't feel like I was quite there.
KR: Tell me about your training. Were you training with the Rutgers Men's Swimming Team?
SA: Well, no, not initially. When I was still at Vermont, they only had a men's team there. I went in and asked if I could swim with them, and the coach said, "I don't think so." Finally, he let me swim a couple of practices, and it was terrible. So, I didn't do that. I really wasn't in the water at all. I did some dry land stuff on my own.
When I came back in January, I was swimming with Frank's club team, the Scarlet Jets. Literally, I couldn't keep up with the ten-year-olds. I was really in bad swimming shape. I hadn't gained weight or anything; I just wasn't in swimming shape. I gradually worked myself back up. No, we didn't train with the men's team except on rare occasions, because we couldn't. The men's team needed the whole pool. We rarely swam together with any of the men. I'm trying to remember if there were some times when there were only a few men swimming and a few of the top young women and we would swim together on a Saturday morning or something like that, but not on a regular basis, no.
KR: During that time, when you were training for the Olympics and you were swimming with the Scarlet Jets, were you doing competitions as well?
SA: Yes, when I got in good enough shape to swim competitions. [laughter] The Olympic Trials were, I think, in July or August of that year. There were some lead-up meets and local meets and then regional and national meets, and I was doing okay. I wasn't setting the world on fire, but I was improving rapidly. The Olympic Trials were in probably July, maybe August, I don't remember, in Los Angeles. Like I said, I was almost there. I did very close to my best times. I might have done my best time in one of the events. It was the 100 and 200 butterfly, because now it's '68, so there is a 200 butterfly. [Editor's Note: The Olympic Trials in women's swimming took place from August 24-28, 1968 in Los Angeles, California. Men swam the 200-meter butterfly in the 1964 Summer Olympic in Tokyo, but women did not swim the 200-meter butterfly event until the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.]
It was a very weird system that they only used it once. In the U.S., you've got X-number of spots on the Olympic Team that you're allowed. That year, the first, second, and third place made the team automatically in individual events. Then, in '64, they had taken the fourth-place person to be the relay alternate, and that's how I made it in '64. In '68, first, second and third made the team, and then you got points. If you got fifth, you got X-number of points. If you got fourth, you got X-number of points. I got fifth in both of my events, and that's how I made the team, which doesn't make any sense. I wasn't going to swim an event, but that's how they were filling the slots on the team. What ended up is, I was the only butterflyer who made it that way, but then there were two breaststrokers. There were a couple of sprint freestylers. There were one or two girls who swam the distance events, the 400 and the 800. Depending on how many events you placed in, you could make the team, but then you were on the team, but you weren't going to swim. They never did it that way again. I thought, in hindsight, I had a very weird experience with the whole thing and I might have said, "Give it to somebody else. I don't really want to do this," because I knew I wasn't going to swim and what am I going to do? I've got to go train and pretend I'm still swimming, but I'm really done. For me, it was a very difficult experience knowing that I wasn't going to compete, but I had to go through the training camp and all of this. All the other alternates were fourteen, fifteen-year-old girls, and I was twenty. They were up and coming, and I was on the way down. [laughter]
KR: What was the training camp like for the '68 Olympics?
SA: It was in Colorado Springs. We trained at the Air Force Academy because Mexico City is high altitude, and so we were training at altitude in Colorado Springs. Men's and women's teams still kept separate. This is one of those things, "Seriously?" The men stayed at the Broadmoor, which is a beautiful resort hotel, a gorgeous resort. The women stayed--since I lived there, now I know where all these places are--the women stayed in a motel about three miles away and ate in the coffee shop and we could walk to Taco Bell if we wanted to. [laughter] There we were, in this motel, and the men were at the Broadmoor Resort. We had, I don't know, three station wagons I guess, and that's how we drove back and forth to the Air Force Academy to train. I just found the whole thing very difficult because I had no motivation to train, but I had to go to practice and I just was going through the motions. It was hard. It was difficult.
KR: You were voted co-captain.
KR: How did that transpire?
SA: They still do it this way; at some point during the training camp, the team votes on their captains. Looking back on it, I guess I was doing a good enough job of going through the motions. [laughter] I was very experienced. I was pretty outgoing. I know that I helped some of the younger girls and some of the ones who were also alternates who were feeling like, "What am I doing here?" Along with Claudia Kolb, we were two of the most experienced swimmers on the team. We had been on multiple international trips. It was an election. It wasn't something you campaigned for, but we were voted on, yes. [laughter]
KR: Just to clarify, were you captain of the swimmers or overall Team USA?
SA: Just the women's swimming. Men's swimming had their own. Every sport has their own captains. You don't really have any duties; it's purely an honorary thing.
KR: What was it like traveling to Mexico City?
SA: If you've read about the Mexico City Olympics, because there wasn't internet, it was hard to know everything, but there were major, major riots in Mexico City leading up to the games. We were kind of insulated from that. We didn't know a whole lot about that and what was going on. Anything that was brought up, it was always, "Oh, it's fine. It'll be taken care of. It's fine." It was a lot easier to travel from Colorado to Mexico City than it was from Los Angeles to Tokyo. It was pretty short flight.
When we got there, everything was brand new. The Olympic Village was brand new. Unlike in '64, when it was an old Army base, it was brand-new high rises that were going to be apartments when the games were over. The whole village was new. Everything was new. Everything had been built for the games. As I understand it, that's kind of what the riots were about was people had been displaced and a lot of money was being spent and the people who were upset about that thought that the money was being spent on things that weren't going to help the Mexican people and that people had been thrown out of their homes and cleared off the streets, so that they could put on this big show. As far as I remember, that's mostly what it was about. [Editor's Note: In the summer of 1968, there were widespread student protests throughout Mexico challenging authoritarianism and calling for greater political freedoms. The protests were also spurred by the government using public funding to build facilities for the Olympics. During a protest at a housing project in Tlatelolco in Mexico City on October 2, 1968, armed forces fired on student demonstrators, leaving hundreds dead and wounded and leading to thousands of arrests. This occurred ten days before the start of the Olympic Games in Mexico City.]
KR: What were the opening ceremonies like?
SA: The opening ceremonies were very similar to Tokyo: standing around a lot and it was very hot and standing around and waiting to go out, but then it's really exciting. That is the exciting moment, when your team comes into the stadium. It's really, really exciting.
KR: You said that in Tokyo, you really didn't get much of a chance to go see other events besides swimming. How about in Mexico City? Did you get to see any other events?
SA: Yes. Because I was an alternate and not swimming, I was kind of--I wouldn't say officially--but I was kind of put in charge of the other alternates, who were young, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, and also weren't swimming. There were no rules. [laughter] There's a lot of rules now, but there were no rules. We could do whatever we wanted, go wherever we wanted. The woman who was the official chaperone was Chris von Saltza, who was an Olympian from 1960, an Olympic gold medalist, and she was our official chaperone. She pulled me aside, and she said, "Look, I can't deal with the alternates. Do things with them. Take them places." [laughter] They didn't all go to everything, but we went to track and field, because that was easy to go to. The stadium was huge and it wasn't full for most events, so you could just go in. I think we went to volleyball. I took them to a bull fight. We went shopping all over downtown Mexico City. We had a wonderful time, but we were just out and about by ourselves. Yes, I saw a little bit more than just swimming, but not a lot of other events because they were spread out all over the city and they were a little hard to get to. I also spoke decent Spanish, just high school, college Spanish. As you know, when you're in a place that you have to speak, it becomes easier to speak. People always wanted to go with me because I spoke some Spanish.
KR: Those other events besides swimming, does anything stick out in your mind?
SA: We didn't see any of the major stuff. I would have loved to have seen the track stars raising their fist. We had been there the day before. Basically, I remember swimming. I know we went to a couple of other things, but nothing much stands out. [Editor's Note: On October 16, 1968, at the medal ceremony for the 200-meter sprint, American gold and bronze medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos, each wearing a black glove, raised their fists during the American National Anthem in protest of racial injustice. They were suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village.]
KR: I want to ask you about Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Was that spoken about at the time by people on Team USA?
SA: I don't really remember. There wasn't anything official, such as, "This is what happened," or, "This is what you're supposed to say if you're asked." There was nothing like that. It was 1968. There were a lot going on in the world. [laughter] Athletes also may be kind of insulated from all of that. There were silly things, you think back on it, like with our uniforms. For opening ceremonies, we were told we weren't allowed to wear peace beads, because we were all wearing beads, and we weren't allowed to wear the beads. We were not supposed to shorten our skirts, because they were knee length. This is 1968; it was year of the minidress. The night before opening ceremonies, we were madly hemming our skirts to make them shorter, because we didn't want to wear these long skirts. Silly stuff like that, that was more cultural. One of the other things I remember is, it was the beginning of some issues with female athletes. In 1964, there had been some question if some of the Soviet athletes were in fact women. In 1968, all the female athletes had to submit to a scraping of our cheeks, the inside of our cheek, a chromosome test. I actually got a certificate that said I'm a female, but there was a rumor--who knows?--that some of the Russian athletes went home rather than submit to that test. They weren't there and they didn't compete. If that's the reason they went home, I don't know. I remember that as being kind of a big deal. As far as a major thing about John Carlos and Tommie Smith, I know more about it now than I did then.
KR: I was just wondering if anything was spoken about the repercussions that they suffered at the time, because they were expelled from the team and barred from competition. I was just wondering, at the time, if the other athletes knew about it.
SA: Not really. I would say not really, speaking as a swimmer. The track athletes, I'm sure knew more much more about it than the swimmers did.
KR: In our first session, you talked about the Mexico City Olympics for you being a mixed bag.
SA: A very mixed bag.
KR: Talk about that and what the experiences were like for you.
SA: First of all, I did something stupid. I injured myself in in Colorado Springs, and so I actually was on crutches when we arrived. Long story short, we were told in Colorado Springs, "Maybe you're going to swim. Maybe we're going to use some of you on a relay, maybe." Then, there was a meeting with the head coach, who was Sherm Chavoor from California, and Frank Elm was the assistant Olympic coach, meeting with the alternates, and they said, "We can't do it. If you can't all compete, none of you are going to compete. None of you are going to swim in Mexico." That was like, "So what are we doing here?" I don't remember too much about how it happened, but one day at practice, we were told we didn't have to go to double practices. We still had to go in the morning, but afternoon practice was voluntary for the alternates. Anyway, one of the afternoon practices, all the alternates, I think there were six of us female alternates, we went up on the ten-meter tower to jump off, just like, "Okay, well, we're not going to swim. We're going to go have some fun. We're going to go jump off the tower." It was a stupid thing to do, I realize, and I was probably the ringleader of it. [laughter] I landed awkwardly. I jumped, I didn't dive, but I had had a knee injury in the past and I landed kind of flatfooted and my knee went out to the side and I tore my knee all up. That was kind of dramatic, and I had to have it drained. Then, I was told, "We're going to send you home." At that point, I said, "No, you're not going to send me home. I've come this far." "You're not going to be able to walk. You're not going to be able to walk in opening ceremonies. You can't walk with crutches." I said, "Yes, I'm going to walk. I am going to walk." I did. It got better pretty fast. I iced it a lot, but it was pretty torn up. I felt that, "If I can't even swim, I'm at least going to be in opening ceremonies. You're not going to tell me I can't be in opening ceremonies."
The Olympics, especially after people's events, are very much a party atmosphere. Now, I'm twenty this time, not sixteen. After people's events are over, they want to go out to the bars and there's a lot of drinking and there's a lot of inappropriate behavior going on. I didn't engage in that, but I did engage in the drinking. There were male alternates also, and they were all older like me (twenty was old!). They were college swimmers. We were the party group. Somebody would finish their events, "You're done, you swam your last event, you got your gold medal. Hooray, let's go!" We would go out every night with the people that were finished swimming. We had a wonderful time, but is that really what is supposed to be going on at the Olympics? I read about, in Rio, remember the swimmer Ryan Lochte, who did really stupid stuff and was drunk. I said, "Of course, he was." I know what goes on. That's why now, if you're under eighteen, they sign you over to your parents, or they put you on a plane and send you home. I know things that happened. [Editor's Note: Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers became embroiled in a scandal at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, after they falsely reported that they had been robbed at gunpoint.]
My Olympics in Mexico City wasn't about swimming. It was about all the other stuff I was doing and having a wonderful time, but it wasn't about swimming. Looking back, people still say, "Oh, my God, you made two Olympic teams." I say, "Yes, I did." But '68 was [shrugs shoulders]. Then, people say, "You shouldn't disparage being an Olympian." I'm not. As an athlete, it's very difficult to be that close and not be able to do it. I empathize with the basketball player who sits on the bench and never gets into the game at the Olympics. Okay, you've got your Olympic gold medal, but you never played even one second in a game. How must that feel? Or the gymnasts that go and they have alternates and they don't get to compete. Yes, you're all on the Olympic team. It's an honor. It's all of that. But, also, as an athlete, it's very difficult. You want to compete, and if you can't, then you're kind of like, "What do I do instead? Why am I here?" That's why it was hard for me.
KR: Did your parents go to Mexico City?
SA: No. They said, "Do you want us to come?" I said, "Why would you come? I'm not swimming." [laughter] No, they did not. I said, "No, no, don't. Don’t spend the money. Why would you do that?" [laughter] They did not, no.
KR: You described the Mexico City Olympics as the first modern Olympic Games. What was modern about it to you?
SA: As I understand it, there was a lot of live TV coverage and a lot more media attention on the Games, so that people were watching events live or maybe the next day. It wasn't just a newsreel highlight of one person winning a medal, like it had been in Tokyo. There was live TV coverage, media attention, a lot of it being, I think, because Mexico City in Mexico [was] a southern hemisphere city. It was the first time the Olympics were in the southern hemisphere. I think there was a lot of, "They're not going to be able to pull it off. Mexico, really?" I really think there was some media disparagement of the ability of Mexico to have an Olympic Games. The media coverage was huge, and that brought more attention to the stories. If John Carlos and Tommie Smith had made their statement in Tokyo, it would have gotten coverage but I don't think the same amount of coverage that it got in Mexico City because people saw it live. Starting with the riots pre-Olympics and then some of the events and so on, I just think the media started with the metal counts and making up rivalries, the Soviet Union versus the U.S., and all of those things that we've come to associate with the Olympics and making it more of a spectacle, which it has become today. I really think it's more of a spectacle. I think that kind of is when it started. Then, you go to '72 in Munich and the horrible events with the Israeli Olympic Team. Well, they knew the world's attention was on the Olympics. That started in Mexico; the world's attention was on the Olympic Games. The world's attention was not on the Olympics in 1964. [Editor's Note: During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, the Palestinian terrorist group Black September infiltrated the Olympic Village, killed two members of the Israeli Olympic Team, and took nine others hostage. The events of the attacks and hostage situation were broadcast live, reaching a global audience. After a failed rescue attempt, all of the hostages were killed, along with one West German police officer and five terrorists.]
KR: How would you characterize the 1968 Olympics for USA Swimming?
SA: USA Swimming was very dominant again. The United States was still taking first, second and third in some events, taking all the medals, not every event, but very, very dominant performance. Times were not great because of the altitude. It's hard swimming at altitude. People that got close to doing their best times, that's pretty amazing, because it's hard.
KR: What else sticks out in your mind about the '68 Olympics?
SA: I think that I couldn't wait for it to be over. I was ready to come home. [laughter] "I'm done here." It was wild. Yes, I understand all the rules they put in place now, because it was fun, it was wild. I never had any fear of being out and about in Mexico City and running around with a bunch of fifteen-year-old girls that I was in charge of, which is crazy when I look back on it. It was fun. I had a good time, and I was ready to come home. I knew that was the end for me as a swimmer and it wasn't the way I wanted it to end, but it was over.
KR: Did you go to the closing ceremonies?
SA: I think so. [laughter] I'm ninety-nine percent sure I did because I can envision a picture of me up in the stands with some other swimmers. But every team was only allowed X-number of participants in closing ceremonies, and so it was the luck of the draw. I think I was there, but I don't have a big memory of closing ceremonies. I definitely did not participate in it, but I remember being up in the stands with some other swimmers watching.
KR: What came next for you?
SA: I came home. It was September, I guess, and I was supposed to go back to school. I had taken a leave of absence from Vermont, and so I couldn't go back until January. I had a really good friend from high school who went to Trenton State, TCNJ, [The College of New Jersey]. She and two of her friends had an apartment down there, and she had a room for two. I went down and lived with her. I lived in the apartment down there, across the river, [in] Morrisville, Pennsylvania. I got a job in Dunham's Department Store in the toy department, and I walked across the bridge every day through downtown Trenton and worked in the department store. Then, in January, I went back to school. It was kind of a situation of, "I need to do something. I don't want to just sit home in Highland Park with my parents." So, I went and lived with some friends and got a job, and then I went back to school.
KR: Did you go back to Vermont?
SA: I went back to Vermont for one semester, and then I started thinking about transferring, being a little bit more academic. I had changed my major from elementary education, because I realized I definitely did not want to be in elementary education. [laughter] I think I only lasted like one semester in elementary education. Anyway, I changed my major to political science. Then, I started thinking, "Where do I want to go?" I thought I wanted to go to school in D.C. I had met Gregg Anderson, and he was at Rutgers. Then, I thought, "I might as well just transfer to Rutgers." So, I transferred to Rutgers and went to Douglass. By then, I had to be on a waiting list, but you could get a dorm room, even though I lived in Highland Park. Rutgers wasn't coed yet, but you could take classes anywhere. You could take classes at Rutgers if you wanted to. Having been away and now coming home, not coming to Douglass right out of high school, but coming after all the other things I had done, I liked it. I liked it a lot. I don't think I would have liked it right out of high school, but I liked Douglass a lot when I finally went there as a twenty-year-old.
KR: Where did you live on Douglass?
SA: I lived in Woodbury Dorm. I didn't have a room initially, and I would go to the housing office a couple times a week and say, "Do you have any rooms available? Do you have any rooms available? Do you have any rooms available?" [laughter] I think that this one woman finally said, "You are my first priority." Somebody dropped out, and I got her room. It turned out to be great because I got this room in Woodbury, and my roommate--this is weird--my roommate, I only met twice. She lived with her boyfriend off campus, but her grandmother was paying for her room and board and she didn't want to tell her grandmother that she was living with her boyfriend. So, she had a dorm room that she didn't use. I had a full room to myself. It was great. [laughter]
KR: Your father was a historian of Rutgers football. I'm curious, did you go to the hundredth anniversary game?
SA: Yes, absolutely.
KR: What do you remember about that?
SA: I remember that there was a parade the night before through downtown New Brunswick. [laughter] Gregg and I dressed up in costumes. When was the first game?
KR: It was in 1869.
SA: We dressed up. He had a bowler hat and a vest, and I had some long dress on, with another couple of his fraternity brothers and their girlfriends. We weren't officially part of the parade, but we just joined the parade through downtown New Brunswick and we're walking along, waving to everybody. [laughter] In The Home News, one of the only pictures of the parade was us, even though we weren't officially in the parade. [laughter] We got our picture in The Home News. I remember the game. We went to all the Rutgers football games. It was fun, yes. I remember it. It was fun.
KR: What was Douglass like for you at that time?
SA: I thought I wouldn't like going to an all-women's college, and yes, we had the freedom to take classes at Rutgers and I did take a few. What I liked at Douglass, having gone to Vermont, which was very sorority-fraternity oriented at that time--I don't know what it's like now--but it was very sorority-fraternity oriented. You dressed a certain way, you did a certain thing. Going to Douglass was freeing. You could go to class in your sweats if you wanted to, and ninety percent of the people in the class were other women. There might be a couple of guys in the classes that chose to take classes at Douglass, but it was a much more academic environment than I had been in at Vermont. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the classes. I enjoyed going to class with other women who weren't afraid to open their mouths and having this social pressure of impressing the guys taken off them. It was a good experience for me.
KR: Which professors do you remember?
SA: I don't. I don't remember any. [laughter] I remember some classes. I remember seminar classes at--what's the name of the mansion up at Douglass that's got the big lawn in front? Do you know where I mean, right behind the dorm?
SA: Woodlawn. I remember some seminar classes in there that were really good. I started there in September of '69. The spring of 1970 was Kent State and the student strikes and the student protests. That was the end of my second semester at Douglass. It was a very, very interesting time at Rutgers. I went to D.C., participated in [demonstrations]. I wasn't a leader in the strike by any means, but I definitely participated and went to a lot of the workshops and planning. You could take all of your classes pass/fail that semester; you could either take incompletes or you could take pass/fail. I thought, "I still want to get credit for the classes. I don't want to just take incompletes." It was a very--it's hard to say it was a good time to be there, but it was a very important time to be there. I was glad that I was at a place like Rutgers rather than at Vermont, which was less politically involved and less politically active. [Editor's Note: Following President Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia, a nationwide student strike commenced in the beginning of May 1970. On May 4, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on anti-war protesters and bystanders at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. In solidarity with the National Strike, the faculty of Douglass College voted to suspend normal college activity and instituted pass/fail grades for the spring semester 1970.]
KR: Let's talk about the national student strike in May of 1970. At the Rutgers Oral History Archives, we have been interviewing members of the Class of 1970 of Rutgers College, along with contemporaries and faculty members. This is a major topic of discussion.
KR: What do you remember about the student strike on Rutgers and Douglass campuses?
SA: I remember it being a very exciting time to feel like we were participating in decision making, not just being like, "Oh, well, shut up and go to class," but really being involved and participating. I remember some friends of mine at Douglass who were [saying], "Oh, I don't know. I don't know if we should do that." I said, "What do you mean? How can you not be involved in this? How can you just say, 'It's more important to go to my speech therapy class?' How can something be [more] important than this?"
I don't know what Gregg said about it, but when they did the draft lottery, he was number seventy-five. Vietnam was definitely hanging over him, us, and hanging over a lot of guys. That wasn't okay. That wasn't okay. It wasn't like, "Oh, well, I guess that's what we have to do," you know, "Rah, rah, rah." No, it wasn't okay, and, "We're not going to do this." [Editor's Note: On December 1, 1969, the U.S. Selective Service held the draft lottery, broadcast live on television and radio. The lottery selected birthdays to determine the order in which men born between 1944 and 1950 were called to report for induction in 1970 during the Vietnam War.]
My brother was in the military. He was in Germany at the time. My father had been very pro-military, and I had a lot of discussions with my father. He was teaching at Kean College by that time, and he really came around to my point of view that this is not okay and really became more outspoken politically. But he was very cautious because he was convinced that if he participated in a march or helped the student strike at Kean College or was in any way a participant, that the military would find out and immediately send my brother to Vietnam. He was absolutely convinced. He was afraid that my involvement was endangering my brother. Now, my brother ended up in Vietnam anyway. He had two years in Germany and then a year in Vietnam. He wasn't in combat, but he did end up in Vietnam but not because my father participated in anything. It tore some friends apart. It tore some families apart. It's similar to what we see now. It was very, very real and visceral being on a college campus at that time.
KR: In early May 1970, there were student protests on the Old Queens Campus of Rutgers. Then, there was actually a takeover of the Old Queens building and Mason Gross's office. Were you a part of that protest?
SA: No, I wasn't. Obviously, I was following it, but I was not part of that. I was only semi a radical. [laughter] I was still going to class, so I could get my passing grades, but I was also going to protest and going to marches and so I was semi-radicalized.
KR: You said you went to an anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C.
SA: I did, I did. It was huge.
KR: What was that like?
SA: I had a car. I had a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. Gregg and I and a friend of ours who was a diver at Rutgers, Peter Leitner, we piled into my Volkswagen and we took off for D.C. I remember stopping at rest stops on the way down, and they were just jammed with young people on the way to D.C. It was kind of like you'd get somewhat close and abandon your car and leave it somewhere. [laughter] Somebody knew somebody who had an apartment that we could maybe stay at. It was one of those kinds of things where we ended up with all these other people sleeping on the floor in somebody's apartment. I don't even remember whose it was, but I remember the march and I remember thousands and thousands of people. I remember looking up on the tops of buildings as we're marching through D.C., near the White House--I don't remember where we were--there were snipers on the roof, armed snipers on the roof, with rifles pointed down into the crowd. Nobody was shooting, but I remember looking up and thinking, "Oh, my God!" We were there very peacefully. There were some people at the end of the march who wanted to break windows and stuff, but I just remember seeing the snipers on the roof and being like, "Okay, this is real."
KR: A Rutgers alum who I interviewed talks about police shooting tear gas at the protestors at an anti-war march in Washington, D.C.
SA: We didn't get teargassed. I remember there was a big bonfire and guys throwing their draft cards into the bonfire. It was a pretty wild time. But you would hear, "Oh, there's tear gas," and so on, but I just remember the snipers on the roof. I don't know if they were snipers. That's what I call them. They were soldiers, but they were armed, very armed.
KR: On the Rutgers campus, what do you remember about the Black Student Protest Movement?
SA: Unfortunately, I don't remember much. I really don't. I wish I didn't have to give that answer, but I don't remember.
KR: Were you involved at all in the women's movement at Rutgers?
SA: No, I was not. Again, I don't remember. I remember the anti-war and after Kent State. The one thing I do remember is the first Earth Day, which was also in 1970. I remember that. I remember going to some things. I remember going to a rally at Willie the Silent, and it was for Earth Day. I remember talking to some people, some guys, and them saying, "This is important, but I might be sent to Vietnam. Right now, I can't think about Earth Day." I felt like Vietnam hung over everything, and maybe that was more personal because of my relationship with Gregg and it was hanging over him. I remember the specter of Vietnam more than anything. [Editor's Note: The first Earth Day occurred on April 22, 1970. The statue of William I, Count of Nassau, Prince of Orange, nicknamed Willie the Silent, stands on Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers-New Brunswick.]
KR: Were you training at all with the Rutgers Men's Swim Team?
KR: In his oral history, Gregg talks about you training with the men's team.
SA: Well, okay, like I said, there were random practices where I would be there with a couple of other female swimmers, but for the most part, it wasn't like we could go in, that I could go in, and [swim with the men's team]. Maybe there were some practices, but I just remember, it's such a small pool and they had a full men's team. Maybe there were a few practices that I swam with them, but, like I said, after 1968, I wasn't swimming anymore at all. I was done. If I did, it was some practices back in 1968.
KR: I'm wondering if you remember anything about Douglass College traditions.
SA: I was only at Douglass for one year, two semesters, and then I went in the Peace Corps for two years, and then I came back and was married and had one more semester to go. I really was only at Douglass for three semesters. I had friends there and I went to class, but I wasn't really a part of Douglass per se in traditions. I remember, before I made the decision to go in the Peace Corps, trying to figure out where we were going to live the next year with some girlfriends and getting in the lottery to live at Corwin and all that, but then I was like, "Well, I'm not even going to be here."
One of my memories of being at Douglass is that we still had curfew in the dorms. When I was at Vermont, curfew was abolished. There was one night, and this is when I was a student there, when the girls came back to the dorms at the girls' campus on a Saturday night and just refused to go in, refused to go in the door at curfew. The girls that were in were throwing bras and underwear out the window. Then, the boys came from the boys' campus, and it turned into almost a riot at the University of Vermont over curfew. Within weeks, curfew was gone. We thought, "Whoa, that was easy." [laughter] Then, I transferred to Douglass, and we had curfew, "Really? We have curfew again." I had a car and I remember being over on College Avenue and curfew was two o'clock and it was 1:45. We knew exactly how many minutes it would take to get back across town, taking back streets, flying through these intersections. How we didn't get a ticket or get killed, I don't know, but flying through these intersections through the back streets of New Brunswick, not down George Street, and screeching into the parking lot and running into the dorm to make it in time for curfew. I thought, "Really? It's 1969-1970, and we still have curfew at Douglass." That's probably not what you were looking for in a tradition [laughter], but that's my memory of Douglass.
KR: How did you make the decision to join the Peace Corps?
SA: Ever since the Peace Corps started under President Kennedy, I was always fascinated by that idea. I think my swimming experience, having traveled as much as I did, I just loved the idea of traveling and being in a foreign country. It was always kind of in the back of my mind. Gregg and I were dating, and he had always been kind of interested in the Peace Corps. That was pretty common with kids who had grown up in the 1960s, and the beginning of the Peace Corps in '63, I think. A lot of people were interested in Peace Corps service. [Editor's Note: Through an executive order, President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961.]
I don't know how Gregg explained it, but with the draft hanging over him, he graduated in June of 1970. I still had one more semester of school. But the Peace Corps was not an alternate service. There is no alternate service in the United States even to this day, but it was a postponement. So, you could go into the Peace Corps for two years, and your military service, subjected to the draft, would be postponed for the time that you were in the Peace Corps. That was a major impetus to do it. [Editor's Note: The Selective Service System includes the Alternative Service Program (ASP) for those granted Conscientious Objector (CO) status. COs are assigned civilian work for twenty-four months, the same amount of time prescribed to those who are drafted. Interviewee note: CO status was difficult to obtain and not really a consideration for most potential draftees.]
We had applied back in the early spring, and it was late in August and we hadn't heard anything. He had gotten a teaching job, and I had registered for my final semester. We were going to probably get married and get an apartment. He was going to have to take his chances with the draft. He had already gone for a couple of physicals. We got a letter or a phone call--I think we got a phone call at my parents' house from the Peace Corps, saying, "Hey, we just found your applications in the top of this stack. Tunisia wants two swimming coaches, and we saw your applications." We said, "Where's Tunisia?" We didn't even know where it was. [laughter] "Sure, okay, let's do it," and that was that. They said, "You have to be in Philadelphia in two weeks to start training. We're sorry we're giving you such short notice, but somebody was just going through all these applications and saw that you were swimmers and had coached," because we had. That was our summer job; we'd been swim coaches. I remember, somehow it came up, "Do we have to be married in order to live together?" They said, "Oh, yes, you can't even be guaranteed being assigned to the same city unless you're married." So, we quick got married and had a wedding at the Douglass chapel. Two weeks later, we were in the Peace Corps in training in Philadelphia. Gregg got his notice to report for military service within days of us starting the Peace Corps. So, we just had to hand that paper over to some Peace Corps person, and they took care of it and got it postponed. It was that close.
KR: I'm wondering about something. I always thought you needed a college diploma to be in the Peace Corps, but I guess in your case, that's not true.
SA: No. Maybe it is now, but it was depending on what you were going to be assigned to do. There were some other people who were volunteers when we were who had not finished college. If you were going to be a teacher, I'm pretty sure you needed a diploma. Yes, there was no question of if I needed a diploma; it was, did I have the experience to do the job I was going to do? Maybe now you absolutely need a diploma; I don't know. [Editor's Note: Peace Corps volunteers must be at least eighteen years of age and U.S. citizens. A college degree is preferred, not required.]
People look at it and they ask, "Swim coaches in Tunisia?" which is in North Africa. Even today, people say, "You did what in the Peace Corps? Where?" But it makes sense. There were two swim coaches. There were also maybe three or four basketball coaches, male basketball coaches, and three or four track coaches, again, males. I was the only female coach. Peace Corps service is determined by what the host country asks for, and I think it's still that way. It's not that the U.S. says, "Here, we're going to give you coaches." It's [that] Tunisia says, "We would like some coaches for these sports," the reason being that they were trying to develop activities for their kids. They were very afraid of at the time, the Tunisian government at the time was very aware of the Palestinian Liberation [Organization, PLO]. That was the radical organization of the day, the Arab radicals of the day, [which] were recruiting heavily on the streets of Tunisia, in the cities. They were trying to give their kids activities to keep them out of the hands of the radicals. They were also trying to build national pride, which Tunisia's a pretty poor country and doesn't have a whole lot, but, "If our national basketball team can go beat Egypt, that's something to be proud of. If we can have swimmers who go and beat the Moroccans and the Algerians, that's something to be proud of, and we can get these kids on local television as stars and heroes."
The other thing with swimming in Tunisia, people picture camels and desert, but it's got hundreds of miles of coastline on the Mediterranean and beaches, beautiful beaches. It's still a place that tourists go for beaches and resorts. Tunisian kids weren't learning to swim. They were seeing tourists swimming, and they would go in and drown. They didn't even have swimsuits. They would go in in their clothes and their clothes would get wet and heavy and they would drown. Drowning was a big problem. So, we want to teach kids to swim. We were doing that also; we were overseeing getting swim lesson programs started. Then, we can get kids onto swim teams, local swim teams, and then maybe onto the national team. It was developing a pipeline of athletics for kids. When I explain it, people say, "Oh, okay. That makes a little more sense than you went to Tunisia to coach swimming."
They had facilities, especially in the capital city. They had a huge swim complex with an Olympic-sized pool and an indoor pool and a spectator area. It was next to a soccer stadium and a basketball arena, and it had all been donated by the Bulgarian at some point. So, they had facilities that were just sitting there. They had coaches and their coaches weren't bad, but their coaches had been trained by the French in the 1950s. They hadn't really modernized what they were doing at all, so we were like a breath of fresh air. I mean, we had to be careful that we didn't alienate these older men who had been coaching since the 1950s and try to bring them along to different ways of doing things and more--it's the 1970s--modern 1970s technique and training methods, as opposed to the French system from the 1950s. It was challenging. It was definitely challenging.
As a female in a Muslim country, it was also challenging. We did have female swimmers. Tunisia is not very conservative country. It's a former French colony, and the people still, even to this day, are taught French in school. If you see figures about the Arab population in France, a lot of them are Tunisians who go to France. They thought, at the time, that it would be good for their people to speak another language besides just Tunisian Arabic, and they had a very educated population. Some of the older women and the more rural women covered up, but there were no burqas, no full coverage. Young women, nothing. We had more male swimmers than female, but we had female swimmers and they all trained together. There was no taboo about females participating in sports.
KR: What sort of training did you go through before going over to Tunisia?
SA: It was six weeks in the U.S., and then six more weeks of training in Tunisia before we could start working. Really the first three months of your two-year commitment was all training, and it was mostly language. We had to learn French. Having studied Spanish all the way through high school and college, now I had to learn French, and it was all oral French. We had French for eight hours a day. [laughter] All oral, no written, no drills, no writing, no conjugating verbs. We had Tunisian teachers who came in and just started speaking French, and we were like, "We have no idea," just repeating what they were saying and repeating dialogue until it started to make sense. I was functionally illiterate in French. I could read a newspaper article and figure out what it said, but I couldn't write in French. You had to pass the U.S. Foreign Service language exam. I might be making this up; I think it was a grade of zero to five, and you had to get at least a two, which was on the low end. You had to get a two in oral French in order to start working, and if you didn't, you had to continue for X-number more weeks. Then, if you still didn't, you weren't going to make it. Then, the other part of the training was just cultural, like learning about the Tunisian culture and the food and how to function in that country. That was six weeks in the U.S.
Then, we went to Tunis. I think we had about twenty volunteers in our program. There were also kindergarten teachers, who were all female. They had to learn Arabic, which is very difficult, because they were going to be working with young children who didn't speak French yet and they were going to be more out in the rural areas. A lot of them didn't make it. It was very, very tough. We were staying at a college really, living in a dorm and still doing French, but then going out into the city and venturing out.
This was really cool; toward the end of the training, then we were split up. There were some other married people. Married couples could go together. An unmarried woman would be paired with two unmarried men, so they would be a team of three, but the couples were just the couples. We were given a list of cities or towns to visit, and then we had to be at this town way, way, way in Southern Tunisia. Tunisia's, I think, about the size of New Jersey. It's small, but we were way up in the north and we had to report to this town way down in the desert, an oasis town, in four days. We had to go to these places that we were assigned, and we all had different assignments. We had to use public transportation, figure out how to stay in a hotel or wherever, how to eat, and nobody spoke English where we were going. It was, "Okay, make it or break it. You've got to get down here." It was great. It was fabulous; we were finally on our own and out doing things. I remember I got sick; I ate something bad. But it was great. Then, we got down to this desert town, and we were there for another two weeks. That was language immersion, where you weren't allowed to speak English the whole time. Even to each other, you couldn't speak English, and then that was it. Then, they're like, "Okay, here's where you're going. Here's who you report to. Bye bye. Go find a place to live and start your job." [laughter]
KR: You had to find a place to live in Tunis on your own.
SA: Yes, we had to find a place to live. We had trouble finding an apartment. We got paid in Tunisian dinars. I think we each got eighty dinars a month, which was 160 dollars. Basically, our monthly income was 320 dollars. From that, we had to pay our rent and eat and all that, and we had trouble finding an apartment. We were staying in a pretty scuzzy hotel for a while, until we found another Peace Corps couple that was leaving and we could take over their apartment. That's often [what happened]; apartments got handed down. It was furnished, and they had been living there. That made it easier. You got paid once a month, "This is all what you get."
KR: What was it like when you started working with the swim team?
SA: It was awkward at first because it's a very bureaucratic system. They say that they took the French bureaucracy and then added twice as many people to it. [laughter] A job that in the French bureaucracy would be done by one person had two people to do it in Tunisia. We worked for the Ministry of Youth and Sports. That was a cabinet-level official and cabinet-level department. Then, we worked for the Tunisian Swim Federation, these old men who were former swimmers and now they ran the Tunisian Swim Federation. They had a national team coach, but they realized he wasn't really very good. They gave us the junior-level kids and some swim lesson programs, and the guy who was the head coach said, "Yes, you should probably be coaching these other kids, too." I can't remember his name, but he was a good guy. He realized we knew what we were doing and that the kids were doing well. But it was hard because you'd get to the pool for practice, and it would be locked. We'd find a custodian. He'd go, "Nope," all in Arabic and French, "Nope. Closed today." "What do you mean it's closed today? We're supposed to have swim practice." [laughter] "Nope, not today. Sorry." There was stuff like that.
Then, we'd have to go to these interminable meetings, and some of the men would not speak to me. They would speak to Gregg. I would start speaking to them, and they would speak to him. They wouldn't speak directly to me. The kids were not like that. The kids, I'm Facebook friends with some of them now, some of the "kids" who are in their sixties. [laughter] But they weren't like that.
They were very, very, very excited to have these American coaches who were young, who weren't old men standing on the side smoking cigarettes. The Tunisian coaches would stand on the side smoking cigarettes during swim practice. Are you kidding me? [laughter] We were having fun, and we lightened up the way they were training. We made them train hard, but we didn't do the same thing every day like they were used to doing. The kids loved it.
The swim lessons were difficult. We did some swim lessons, because they were young kids. The swim lessons were difficult. We said, "They're better off with Tunisians teaching swim lessons. You don't need foreign people." Learning to swim is learning to swim; it was pointless to be doing swim lessons. We did some work with some of their club programs at some swim clubs, just advising them a little bit on some things they could do differently. Facilities was the main challenge. Like I said, sometimes it was just closed, or there'd be no water in the pool [laughter], things like that. But it was good.
Part of being a Peace Corps volunteer is managing all your free time, because people, especially in Tunisia, their workday is not that long and they take a three-hour break in the middle of the day because it's hot. What do we do with all our spare time? We learned to cook, we toured around, but sometimes it's--I've heard this from other Peace Corps volunteers--sometimes it's challenging, sometimes it's just boring. You've got to figure out what to do with your time.
KR: How successful were you at modernizing the Tunisian swim program?
SA: I think we were, in that at the end of our second year, there was an Olympics-style all-sports event for Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in Casablanca, Morocco. Tunisian swimmers had always kind of been at the bottom of the barrel. It wasn't a scored event, but if it had been, the Tunisians won. We won all sorts of events. They did great! The swimmers were on TV and it opened a lot of eyes. There was one young man who qualified, the year after we were there, he qualified to compete in the Olympics. They have different qualifying standards for developing countries. But that had never happened. Tunisian swimmers went on to participate in the Africa Games. In Tokyo, just this last Olympics, there was a Tunisian male swimmer who won, I think, the 400-meter freestyle. Before, back in the early 2000s, there was a Tunisian male swimmer who came and trained, went to college at USC, but he was a multiple Olympic medalist. I certainly can't take credit for them, but I feel like I can take a little bit of credit for opening the eyes of the Tunisian Swim Federation to what your kids are capable of. [Editor's Note: Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui won gold in the 400-meter freestyle at the 2022 Tokyo Olympics. Tunisian swimmer Oussama Mellouli is a three-time Olympic medalist who swam at the University of Southern California. When he won the 1500-meter freestyle at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he became the first African male swimmer to ever win an Olympic gold medal in an individual swimming event.]
Four years ago or five years ago, a friend of mine and I went to Tunisia, because I'd always wanted to go back. We went on a tour with an Australian tour company, so there were twelve people on this tour all over the country, because I wasn't comfortable just going off by ourselves as two females. We did this tour, but then when we came back, we spent a couple of extra days in Tunis. I said, "I want to go find my apartment," where I lived, "and I want to go to the pool." We did that and took a taxi and got to the pool. It still looked good. It still looked the same. It wasn't currently in use, but it was about half full of water. So, I think they were doing some maintenance on it. I couldn't find anybody to let us in. I was kind of stumbling around with my French because it wasn't very good anymore.
I finally found a guy and he was Tunisian, but he was married to an American and he spoke English. I told him who I was, and he said, "Oh, I remember you." This is thirty-some years later, forty years later. He said, "I used to come with my father and watch the swimmers, and you and your husband rode a blue motorcycle." I said, "Oh, my God, yes, we did." He said, "Come, come, come." He took me into the office of the Swim Federation, and there were people there that remembered me. They said, "Why didn't you tell us you were coming? We would have had a big event." That was really affirming. The one swimmer [Ali Gharbi] who went on to qualify for the Olympics, he had died recently. He had kind of a tragic life, but they had done a big celebration of him. We had coached him when he was fifteen, sixteen years old. I really felt like that affirmed everything that we had done, that people remembered us, and I found one of the [swimmers]. She had been one of the teenage girls. I found her on Facebook, and we met up for coffee. Then, she posted pictures of us on Facebook. Then, all these other swimmers wrote and said, "You didn't tell us you were coming. Come back, come back!" By that time, we were leaving the next day, and so I felt a little bit bad that I didn't try harder to reach out. It was good to see that some of them are still involved in swimming and some of them went on to very successful lives. Yes, it was good to see. [Editor's Note: Ali Gharbi was a Tunisian swimmer who competed in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. Tunisian swimmer Myriam Mizouni also competed in the Montreal Olympics, becoming the first woman to represent Tunisia in the Olympics. Interviewee note: We coached Myriam Mizouni, but I did not know that she competed in Montreal!]
KR: In terms of coaching those young swimmers when you were in Tunis, are there any anecdotes that stick out in your mind?
SA: [laughter] Gregg and I would speak in English to each other, of course, and the kids spoke Arabic to each other, but they spoke to us in French and we spoke to them in French. We got to understand quite a bit of Arabic, but they also got to understand quite a bit of English. I would say to Gregg, when we were getting ready to start something, "Okay, you ready to go?" The kids would [say], "Ready to go." I remember this one kid coming up and saying, it was the words to a Beatles song, he knew this line from a Beatles song and he wanted to know what it meant in English. It was just some nonsense line from a Beatles song. We were like, "How do we tell him in French what this means?" There were things like that. [Editor's Note: Sue Anderson later remembers that the Tunisian swimmer Ali Gharbi wanted to know the meaning of "Speaking words of wisdom" from "Let It Be," by The Beatles.]
When we took the kids to Morocco, one of the girls had her period, and she said, "I can't swim." I said, "Of course, you're going to swim. What do you mean, you can't swim?" It had never come up in the time we had been there. Then, I started thinking, they just don't come to practice when they had their periods. We're at this meet, she's flown to Casablanca, and she tells me she can't swim. I said, "Use a tampon." Well, they didn't use tampons. I went out in Casablanca, and I bought some; you could buy them. I got the team doctor and another female chaperone or coach, and I'm talking to this girl and I'm showing her. They said to me in French, "That might be okay for an American, but our girls are virgins and they will not use those items." What do you say? It turns out she swam, but as soon as she got out of the pool, she wrapped a towel around her. "That's okay for an American, but don't give those things to our girls, because we like our girls to be virgins," with tampons. There were some eye-opening things like that. Basically, the kids were kids. They were teenagers. They were silly. They were moody. They were teenage swimmers. There were days when I thought, "I can't do this," but most of the time, it was great. I've got to take a quick break.
KR: I'll pause.
SA: [The Tunisian teenage swimmers would] say, "Where do you live?" We'd say, "We live near New York," and they'd say, "Do you go to Los Angeles?" "No, we don't go to Los Angeles." [laughter] "Well, why not?" "It's on the other side of the country." Then, somebody'd say, "I have a friend who lives in Chicago. Do you know him?" [laughter] "No, I don't know him." [laughter] No concept of the size of the U.S. They had that [preconceived notion], unfortunately, everybody's rich. Part of that was there were flea markets with just mounds and mounds and mounds of American clothing, used clothing, but some of it still had tags on it, like people give stuff away and put it in used clothing bins. There were people who would say, "Do Americans wear their clothes once and throw them away?" because that's what they saw. They saw these brand-new clothes just thrown away in flea markets, wear them once and throw them away.
KR: What else stuck out to you or made an impression upon you about life in Tunisia, Tunisian culture, things like that?
SA: I would say that it was difficult at times. It was a difficult place at times to be a woman, even though there was no requirement that you cover your head or cover your face. I could wear pants. I couldn't wear shorts, but I could wear pants. You wouldn't wear a tank top. You would wear a shirt with sleeves. The tourists, mostly German tourists, tourists from Northern Europe, would come down and they'd be on the beach in their bikinis. They'd be in their short skirts and dressed like tourists on vacation. The assumption was, among the Tunisian men, that these women from Europe were looking for a pickup, that they were free and easy, whether they were or not, by the way they dressed and the way they would go out and party in the hotels. Tunisian men would go party in the hotels. The assumption was all foreign women are looking for a pickup. All foreign women are out there for the taking, and me, as a foreign woman, that must be what I'm doing, too. I would get followed down the street. Men would touch me. I learned how to say some very foul things in Arabic so that I could tell them to leave me alone. You didn't make eye contact. If you're walking down the street, you kept your eyes down. If you made eye contact, that was a pickup. That was, "Hey, here I am." I remember being out in public and being grabbed. There were things like that. There was an open-air market, where we got most of our produce and meat, right around the corner from where we lived. I would walk by there several times a week carrying my basket to go grocery shopping, and the same men would harass me every time, sitting out in the coffee shop. I knew enough Arabic to understand what they were saying, and I'm like, "I live here. Knock it off." "Well, you're a foreigner. You're open to harassment. You're asking for it by being a foreigner." "Why don't you have babies? What are you doing here? Why don't you have babies?" "Why did your mother let you come here? Why did your parents let you come here?" "Why aren't you home having babies?" There was a lot of that.
On the other hand, when the United States was going through all the stuff about terrorists and Muslims and, "These are horrible people and they're our enemy," I would go back to my experience and say, "No, they're not. No, they're not horrible people. No, they're not our enemies. No, they're not killers. They're not any of these things." Having much more understanding of the culture and what drives them, but also that these are just people who have some different ideas from us, [which] doesn't make them bad people; I found myself defending the Muslim culture quite a bit when our country was and is in the throes of anti-Muslim sentiment.
KR: What was it like celebrating both Tunisian holidays and Muslim holidays?
SA: Actually, the funnier thing is celebrating our holidays over there. [laughter] Because it had been a French colony, there was still, in Tunis especially, a pretty good-sized French expat [expatriate] population, and so there were some churches still operating, but Christmas trees were funny. Tunisian men, I guess, would go out in the woods and cut down these sad little trees and be standing on the corner, holding these trees, trying to get you to buy them. [laughter] They didn't really know why we wanted to buy these trees, but they knew they might be able to sell them.
Their holidays, we didn't really participate in their celebrations, but you knew when they were happening. One of them was Eid, one of the Eids [Eid al-Adha], where a family traditionally would buy a lamb and keep it for X-amount of time and then have it slaughtered or slaughter it, depending on where they lived. You'd walk through the streets and there would be lambs or sheep up on apartment balconies [makes a bleating sound]. You'd look up and there's a sheep up there, getting ready for the slaughter, which was a little interesting. We were aware of Ramadan and we had to be careful with training because they couldn't eat during the day. Then, sundown would be wild and loud.
We celebrated Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving that we were there, the first or second, I don't remember, at the American Embassy in Tunis, we couldn't shop at the commissary or anything like that. We couldn't go buy American products. We had to live totally on the Tunisian market, but the American Embassy would make sure that all the Peace Corps volunteers had a place to go for Thanksgiving if they wanted to. This one young couple from the embassy decided that they were going to invite a lot of Peace Corps volunteers, but they were not going to shop at the commissary. They were going to do Thanksgiving on the Tunisian market. They somewhere got a turkey, a young turkey, and they raised it. The guy had read that if you put wine down the turkeys throat, it'll tenderize the meat. There are no sweet potatoes there, so they bought white potatoes and tried to dye them orange with food coloring. I mean, the whole thing was just funny. It was the worst turkey, the worst dinner, but there was a lot of wine and it was really fun. [laughter] It's one of my most memorable Thanksgivings, of having it with all these other Peace Corps volunteers and these people trying very hard to do an American holiday with just what you could purchase in Tunisia. That was fun. It's an interesting culture and it's not a hard culture to live in. Like I said, it's not extreme, by any means, even though I had some experiences with men.
KR: Did you do a lot of socializing with other Americans who were there, other Peace Corps volunteers?
SA: Yes. We had some Tunisian friends that we socialized with. One couple in particular, they were language teachers, so they were helping us learn Arabic, because we wanted to learn more Arabic. We did socialize with them. Some of the people that we worked with occasionally we would socialize with, but mostly it was with other Peace Corps volunteers. Because there [was] a pretty large number in Tunis, that's pretty much who we socialized with.
KR: Did you have any more contact with the U.S. Embassy other than Thanksgiving?
SA: No, not really. There was a liaison guy who if there was a problem or something, there was somebody there that we could go to. He was the head of the Peace Corps in Tunisia, but he was also with the embassy. So, we could go to him. We had to go get shots occasionally, booster shots for hepatitis, and so we had to go to the embassy to get our shots. That was about it. We didn't have a whole lot of contact with the embassy.
KR: Did you travel much while you were in Tunisia?
SA: Yes. We traveled throughout the country, which was pretty easy to do. They had little, they were like vans, they were called louages [French for rental]. You knew where the stop was and you'd go and you'd find this little minivan with where you wanted to go. They held maybe six people, I guess. Traveling by louage was pretty easy. We traveled throughout the country. That was great because it's a fascinating country, especially out in the rural areas. We did that, and then we also went to Europe twice. The first time, we got Eurorail passes; my parents purchased Eurorail passes. Tunisian money, you couldn't exchange it for dollars, which wasn't a problem for us because we barely made enough to make ends meet. People living in rural areas had excess money, and so you could buy airline tickets. You could buy boat tickets to go to Europe. You could buy things with the Tunisian money. We went by ferry. We took the migrant ferry basically to Sicily, and then we had Eurorail passes and went all over Europe. There were places I wish we had gone. I wish we had gone down into Africa. I wish we had gone to the former Yugoslavia. We did the traditional [trip], up through Italy and up to Amsterdam and more the traditional travel. We did that twice. We did it after our first year and then again after our second year.
KR: Is there anything that we skipped over or missed about your time in the Peace Corps in Tunisia?
SA: I don't think so. Looking back, it was great. It was the formative experience of my life. It really was formative, beyond [what] I just mentioned about my feelings toward the culture and Muslims. I learned to cook. I learned to live simply. I learned to do things from scratch. I learned to live without. When we came back, we continued to live the same way. To this day, I cook everything from scratch because that's how we learned. We came back and I remember the first time going to the grocery store. My mother sent Gregg and me to the grocery store with a list, and it took forever because we were like, "Oh, my God, there's six kinds of mayonnaise." [laughter] Sometimes, you could buy mayonnaise in Tunisia, and word would spread through the Peace Corps grapevine that there's mayonnaise at such and such a store. Then, to go in the store in the U.S., "Wow, this is crazy."
My favorite story is my tuna fish sandwich story. I was dying for a tuna fish sandwich, and there was no canned tuna and there was no mayonnaise. You couldn't make a tuna fish sandwich. I bought a tuna, a little Mediterranean tuna. They're about two feet long. We had a cat, so the cat loved it. I cooked this tuna and took it off the bone. Then, I made mayonnaise. We had a cookbook, a Fannie Farmer cookbook, and I learned how to make mayonnaise and I made tuna fish. It was the best tuna fish sandwich I've ever had, but I made mayonnaise and bought a tuna in order to do it. [laughter]
KR: Do you think your time in the Peace Corps influenced your career trajectory and what you wanted to do over the course of your career?
SA: Yes. Basically, I came back, I finished school. We're not going to spend a lot of time on this; I came back, finished school at Douglass, and then I was like, "All right, now I have a degree in political science. Now what do I do?" I went to Kean College and got my secondary social studies teaching certification and said, "Well, I can be a teacher." Gregg had done the same thing; he was teaching in North Brunswick. I got a job teaching in Bound Brook High School. I did not like teaching. It was not for me. I was also coaching. For a while, I was an assistant with Frank at Rutgers, and then I was coaching, there used to be a YWCA in New Brunswick and they had a swim team and I was coaching there and realized that that was still what I liked to do. I had my first daughter and then my second daughter, and so I didn't go back to teaching, but I continued coaching this Y team in New Brunswick.
Then, that YWCA, it's a bank now, it's across from Mason Gross School of the Arts. It's on Livingston Avenue and New Street, I believe. Evidently, the pool is still there. It's used as a vault. There's no water in it, but evidently it's still in there. Anyway, it's a bank. The YWCA went bankrupt. I had all these good swimmers, including my daughters. Katie was eleven or twelve at the time. Rutgers was building the Sonny Werblin Center, [which] was opening. I went to Frank and said, "Are you going to have a club team here?" like he had had Scarlet Jets. He said, "I don't know. I don't know if I want to do that." I said, "Well, I want to do it. I've got swimmers. We're losing our pool. I want to start a club team. If you can help me get my foot in the door, so that I can be the club team at Rutgers, because you're going to have all sorts of coaches coming in here trying to rent it or be the club team, and you know me. You know me as a coach." He said, "Yes, let's do that." We started the Scarlet Aquatic Club, and that's how I got involved in that. Coaching was always something that I did as my summer job, my part-time job, and then gradually it took off to be my full-time job. That definitely goes back to Tunisia, because I was good at it and I liked it. I didn't like being a high school teacher, and I didn't know what else I was going to do. Regrets probably, but it turned out well.
KR: I also started off my career as a high school social studies teacher and left it, so you're preaching to the choir here.
SA: [laughter] God bless people that do it. I would get the Sunday night sick, like I can't do it. Labor Day was the worst holiday of the year, because I knew I had to go back to school. It was too stressful for me. I could perform as a coach, be the life of the party as a coach on the pool deck, but standing in front of a classroom full of surly teenagers, I just couldn't do it. [laughter] Where did you teach?
KR: I taught in North Plainfield.
SA: Okay. I taught in Bound Brook, so very similar, very similar kids and experience.
KR: Yes. This is always the week of the summer that I'm so glad I'm not a teacher anymore.
SA: I know. [laughter]
KR: Before we get into Scarlet Aquatics, you mentioned that you were assistant coaching with Frank Elm at Rutgers. Was that the women's team when it first started?
SA: Yes, but I was an assistant for the men's and women's team. I was doing Rutgers; Gregg and I were also working with the club program a little bit, Scarlet Jets. Then, he had North Brunswick High School, so he stopped working with the Jets. I was with the club team and with the Rutgers team [as] an assistant coach. So, I wasn't just the women's assistant coach. I was an assistant coach. That was for a couple of years. Then, I started coaching the Y team and I liked that better than being an assistant college coach.
KR: Why did you like it better?
SA: Well, I liked being in charge. I liked being the head coach. [laughter] I also liked younger kids better than coaching college-aged swimmers. It was just more fun. It was more me to work with kids, almost like what we did in Tunisia, teenagers. I like coaching teenagers. I just didn't like them in the classroom. [laughter]
KR: How did you go about building Scarlet Aquatics as a club?
SA: The Scarlet Aquatic Club, I want to say, built itself. The facility was a big draw, first of all. The access to the facility was a big draw. I had this Y team and that was the nucleus of the Scarlet Aquatic Club because that Y closed. Those kids didn't have any place else to go. The first season, there were fifty swimmers from the Y that came to Scarlet Aquatic Club, so they were the nucleus. Then, there were other swimmers from summer clubs who were looking for a place to swim in the winter. There were some swimmers from small YMCAs who basically were attracted by swimming at the Rutgers pool rather than a four-lane YMCA pool. It built itself.
We were very successful right from the beginning. I knew how to build a successful age group team and have a lot of success. Once you're successful in a program like that, then more swimmers come. We did print up brochures and hand them out at summer club meets, but I didn't recruit. There were other coaches, male coaches, who accused me of recruiting their swimmers, and I said, "I don't have to. They call me. I don't call them. They call me. I'm sorry they're leaving you, but, A, why are they leaving you? B, if they call me, I'm going to talk to them." I would say that it built itself. When I left in 2000, we were up to, I think, 175 swimmers, and that was basically the max that we could handle in the pool time that we had.
KR: In your first session, we talked about the very few number of women coaches when you were competing in the 1960s. In the Scarlet Aquatics, you being the head coach and being a woman, were there other clubs that had women coaches? Were you on the cutting edge? What do you think?
SA: Yes, yes and yes. There weren't a lot of female head coaches. There were two others in New Jersey. On the national level, there were only a handful, two or three. I knew them all because we'd go to national meets and, "Hi, you're the other one here." [laughter] There still are not a lot. It's still an issue. At the collegiate level, at the national level, it's still an issue. There's a lot of reasons, like in a lot of professions, that women aren't retained. It's a very demanding occupation. It's hard on family life. It's stressful. A lot of them say, "Why am I doing this?" [laughter] Yes, I was unusual. There still aren't as many as there should be, and it's hard to see how that's going to change.
KR: How did you go about building your coaching staff at Scarlet Aquatics? How many other coaches were there?
SA: I think I had five or six assistants generally. At first, they were from the Rutgers program; Frank assigned the Rutgers assistant [coaches] also to be my assistants, so that was a way for them to earn a little bit more money. But, then, I remember Rutgers had an away meet and I had practice and I had a hundred kids in the pool and no assistants. I said, "Frank, this doesn't work, and, no, I'm not going to cancel practice just because you have an away meet and I don't have assistant coaches. They can still be assistant coaches, but I have to hire people who are not on the Rutgers staff." [I hired] a couple of former swimmers. A guy who's still working with Scarlet, who was a coach with another program but had moved to the New Brunswick area, I recruited him. I did advertise a little bit and got some coaches that way, and that's how I got Tom Speedling, who's the current Scarlet Aquatic Club coach. I put an ad in the Targum, and he answered the ad. So, just word of mouth mainly; a lot of former swimmers.
KR: What were some of the highlights for you as the coach of Scarlet Aquatics?
SA: We had a lot of success at the local level, of course. There were some great meets at Rutgers, New Jersey Junior Olympics, great rivalries with Berkeley Aquatic Club. A lot of kids from Westfield went to Berkeley, the Berkeley Aquatic Club, some great rivalries. We did very, very well at the Junior National level. We were always, in the years that I was there, one of the top teams at the Junior National level. Juniors was the first step in qualifying to go on to the National level. There would be Juniors Northeast, which you can kind of picture including the Midwest, as far south as Virginia, New England, that whole area. We were one of the top teams. I always had two or three kids swim at the National level, but I never had great success at the National level. We were there; we had a couple of swimmers there, but our focus was pretty much the Junior National level. We'd take maybe fifteen, sixteen kids to the Junior Nationals, and we had kids win and win relays. We had a lot of kids go on to swim in college, college scholarships. That was our level. To be very successful at the National level I think would have taken more time and energy than I had. I knew coaches that were very successful at the National level, and I looked at it and thought, "I can't do it. Don't want to do it, can't do it." It wasn't a conscious decision, but it was a conscious decision on my part that I didn't have any more time or energy to give to get to the next step, which would have been taking a big team and you would have had to branch out to different facilities and get more pool time and spend more time. It didn't sound fun, and I was still having fun.
KR: What were some of the difficulties or challenges of running a club of that size?
SA: In spite of the fact that we had this great facility at Rutgers, we were pretty much hamstrung by the Intercollegiate Athletic Department and the Department of Recreation. That's what I was talking about. They set our [schedule], when we could use the pool, when we could be in there, how much time we could have, how many lanes we could have. "The pool's going to be closed." "We're going to do this." "There's a meet and you can't be in here." That was difficult to have a working relationship with the Athletic Department, who I was under, and the Recreation Department, who controlled the pool. That was very challenging at times, a lot of times. Facilities, in spite of having the best facility in the State of New Jersey, it was challenging to be able to access it as much as we needed and to work with multiple bosses.
I didn't really have a lot of power. [laughter] We were under the Athletic Department, but that was borderline not legal by NCAA rules to have this club program, because it could be considered a feeder for the college team. A college team is not allowed to have a feeder program. They can have a lesson program, but we were skirting the NCAA rules pretty closely. Now, Scarlet Aquatics is under the Recreation Department, which is legal. I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but the Athletic Department was making money off of Scarlet Aquatic Club. I don't think they had any idea what I was doing. I remember having a meeting with somebody; he had to do my performance review. I thought, "How can you do my performance review? You've never been in the pool. You don't know what I'm doing. I could have kids flinging themselves off the tower and you wouldn't know. How can you do my performance review? All you're looking at is how much money we're bringing in." I remember him saying, "Would there ever be a time in the future when any of the swimmers from Scarlet Aquatic Club might be good enough to swim on the Rutgers Varsity?" I said, "They're too good to swim on the Rutgers Varsity. They are going to other schools." He said, "What?" [laughter] I said, "My best swimmers are not interested in going to Rutgers because they are being recruited by places like Stanford and North Carolina, Penn State and Michigan." He had no idea, no idea, that that's what we were doing there. It was a very interesting relationship with the University. I think it's a lot cleaner now, from what I understand. Tom Speedling works for the Recreation Department and is not involved with the Athletic Department, which is more legal and a lot cleaner, I'm sure.
KR: What were other challenges involved in coaching? What were challenges working with young people, working with parents, things like that?
SA: Parents. [laughter] Need I say more. [laughter] I was pretty strict with parents. Rutgers made it easy in some ways in that they did not allow the parents to be in the pool area watching, so they could be out looking in an observation window, but they could not be in the pool. So, that was good. Even though I worked basically out of my home, I did have an office I could use in the swimming office, but I worked basically out of my home. I had a phone number just for Scarlet Aquatic Club. If anybody ever called my home number, I would not speak to them. They had to call my [work] number. I would not answer the phone in the evening. You could leave a message, but I had office hours. I just had to draw a pretty firm line, so they were okay. They pretty much left me alone when they realized I wasn't going to listen to every little thing they wanted to say.
I bit off more than I could chew administratively because having come from a small Y program where I did everything--I did all the entries, I did the finances, I did the billing, I did the recruiting, I did the entries for meets, I went to all the meets--and I started doing that at Scarlet, and then it just got bigger and bigger and I was in over my head administratively in terms of there just weren't enough hours in the day. I should have had the assistant coaches doing some of that, but they were paid so minimally and had other jobs that I didn't feel that I could ask them to take on these responsibilities, but I was just buried in paper and paperwork. Sometimes, it felt like getting on the pool deck at six-thirty at night was my lowest priority because I'd already spent hours doing paperwork, which a lot of people don't realize is involved. Now, a lot more of it is--there's computer programs to help with that, but it's still a lot. You really need somebody who their full time job is just administering the team. I was doing all that and coaching and being a mom and a wife and trying to have a life, and it was overwhelming.
KR: What was it like for you being a working parent?
SA: Well, I had always worked, from the time the kids were little, coaching. I wasn't teaching when I had the kids, but I was always coaching. That was, in the beginning, just to earn some more money, because we were living off one teacher's salary. It was a juggling act. Now, both of my girls swam and they were very good. I don't know if I would have kept doing it had they not wanted to swim. If one or both of them had said, "I hate this and I want to be a ballerina," or, "I want to be a soccer player," or whatever, I don't know if I would have been able to keep doing it, or if I would have wanted to keep doing it. It wasn't like I was coaching to coach them, and Gregg coached with me in the summer, so it was what our family did. I would have had a hard time doing it if I was trying to manage kids doing other activities or involved in something else and I was trying to coach, which is probably why a lot of women can't do it, but men can, because they have a wife to do these things, but if the wife is doing these things … We tried and I think we did a pretty good job of not bringing swimming home, how they did in meets or how they performed in practice or what happened at practice. Yes, we would tell funny stories and we would laugh about things, but I didn't say, "In this set, you should have been doing X." We didn't bring it home. We couldn't. Punishment for them was, "You can't go to practice." That was punishment. Punishment was like, "Oh, you didn't finish your homework. You can't go to practice," because they wanted to go to practice. It's where their friends were, and they loved it. They were good. Our team was good. We were good. It was an exciting atmosphere for kids to be in.
KR: How do you think swimming changed from when you were a young person, a teenager, and competing and swimming to when you were coaching and coaching your daughters?
SA: I have all due respect for what Frank did for me, but his practices were deadly dull [laughter], and I tried to make practice challenging but also fun. I tried to make sure there was some fun, not every day, I mean, you're working hard, but I tried to have an atmosphere where there's something fun about it. You'd never know when you walk in what we're going to do today. You'd never know what the workout's going to be. You can't predict it, because there's nothing worse than knowing that you hate a set of ten two hundreds and you know that's what we are going to do because it's Wednesday. [laughter] That was something personal for me and my memory of swimming. I tried to keep it challenging and keep it more motivating.
Swimming changed in that, especially for the girls, there was college swimming to look forward to. There were scholarships to look forward to. There was more to it than just I'm going to swim until I finish high school and then I'm going to be done. There was also high school swimming, and so most of my swimmers also swim for their high school teams. That was challenging to juggle, you know, you're swimming for a high school team, you're swimming for a club team, you've got high school practice, you've got club practice. There was so much more offered. They were respected, the girls--and the boys--they were respected in their high schools as swimmers because swimming was more of a thing than it was when I was growing up. Swimming was a sport that you did and you were respected for it and you were known for it. That was totally different from when I was growing up. There were more meets. There were more levels of competition. There were more swimmers. It had grown exponentially in a good way.
KR: What sort of involvement did you have in professional associations?
SA: Professional associations, not a whole lot, but I was involved in governance. I was on the New Jersey Swimming Board of Directors. I think, of course, my first year I was the secretary because that's what the woman is. [laughter] I never wanted to be the general chair, the highest position, but I was in a position, I was the age-group chair, and that was a position to make some changes in how we structured swimming for kids in the state for the better, I think. [I was] doing some things to move swimming forward and do things better for families and for kids. From that, being involved in the governance level, was pretty much how I moved on to working for USA Swimming.
KR: How did that opportunity come about?
SA: I had gotten divorced, and Sally, my younger daughter, was graduating from high school. As I said, I was overwhelmed by the administrative work, and I wasn't making enough money to be single and doing this job. I needed to restructure the whole thing with the Recreation Department, the Athletic [Department]. The whole thing was just overwhelming, and I was exhausted. I saw an advertisement in a swimming publication that USA Swimming was going to hire four people to be regional coordinators, and I thought, "Sure, why not? Let me apply." I applied. It was kind of a foregone conclusion that if I wanted the job, I was going to get it, because they were looking for people who were experienced coaches with experience at the governance level and had run their own programs, and so I was the perfect candidate for the job. I got it and moved to Colorado Springs in 2000 and retired from coaching, stopped coaching, and made sure Scarlet would carry on, that it was on a firm footing. First, a coach named Brian Brown took over, and then eventually Tom Speedling, who had been one of my assistants, became the head coach. They've gone on, so it's all good.
KR: For USA Swimming, you were the Programs and Services Director. What did you do in that position?
SA: Well, that was my final position. I started as the Eastern Zone Coordinator. USA Swimming is divided into four geographic zones. The Eastern Zone, obviously being from the East, I knew the coaches and the team. My initial job was to travel, a lot of travel, because I was stationed in Colorado Springs. [I was] traveling to the Northeast, not only to go to some of the big meets to represent USA Swimming, but also to travel around the Northeast and visit the clubs and do workshops for the coaches or for their governing boards or just to hear what their problems were and try to help them figure stuff out. That was my first job. That was for four years, I guess, I did that; I think four years, something like that.
In part of that job, we realized that people were saying, "Hey, we need material for parents on how to be a good swim parent. Coaches need nutrition material, and clubs need governance material. Yes, we need all these things. Who's going to do that? Who's going to produce all of these?" We didn't have anybody to come up with all this stuff. It was just people saying, "This is what we need." I said, "I'd like to do that," because I didn't like the travel. I really didn't like the travel; I wanted to just live in Colorado Springs and work there. I became the Resource Development Specialist, I think was my title. I spent a couple years just developing DVDs and printed materials and materials for clubs and coaches.
Then, we did a reorganization internally and I became the Programs and Services Director, which was kind of a big deal because I was up against the glass ceiling and this was breaking through the glass ceiling. It was kind of a big deal that I became the Programs and Services Director. My position was to supervise the new person doing the resource development, and I was in charge of coach education materials. I was in charge of developing club education, not doing that on-the-ground development of the materials, but overseeing our coach education and club education. Also, a big part of it was diversity and inclusion outreach and trying to grow our membership in diverse communities. That was a big part of it, and that was the most rewarding part of it for me.
KR: Tell me a little more about that specifically. What were you focusing on in your diversity initiatives?
SA: Initially, it was, how do we grow our membership? USA Swimming is a membership-based organization, a dues-paying organization. I think there were about 350,000 registered members, everything from eight-year-olds up to adults. In order to keep growing, you need to grow your membership, and so it was, how do we grow our membership in diverse communities where there just isn't competitive swimming? It's difficult; facilities are a challenge. I live in the City of Milwaukee. Milwaukee has many old high schools that have pools that have been drained. They don't have water in them anymore. There's outdoor pools that are closed in many cities and got worse during the pandemic, lifeguard shortage, all those things, but facilities in cities are a challenge. Coaches are a challenge. Finances are a challenge.
We tried several things working with existing clubs in cities. We did a big project that we called Project Detroit, where there were some existing swim clubs in Detroit and a pretty good-sized one with Detroit Recreation. I spent a lot of time in Detroit doing clinics for coaches and parent meetings and going to the city and trying to make sure the pools stayed open and getting young coaches to see that this could be a career, and African American coaches who had been swimmers and this can be a career, you can be a swim coach for a career and you can do this. It's still a challenge. It's ongoing. We've seen some success.
If you look at the Olympic team, you see some non-white swimmers are now Olympic swimmers, but it's still a challenge to get a pipeline. It's all of those things. It's perception. It's learn to swim. It's fear. There have been scholarly papers written in books about why African Americans in particular don't swim, and a lot of it goes back to they weren't allowed to swim. They weren't allowed to be in the pools; they weren't allowed to learn to swim, and they were told to be very, very afraid, it's a scary environment. Just overcoming that and having spokespersons like Cullen Jones, who's a New Jersey swimmer, who's an Olympic gold medalist, talking and doing outreach to parents and talking about [when] he almost drowned as a child and you have to get your kids to learn to swim and if your kids learn to swim, they will have their own kids learn to swim. It's a whole culture shift, and it was very challenging and very rewarding.
KR: You mentioned the glass ceiling in your positions at USA Swimming. What challenges did you face?
SA: I was very respected as a coach and that I had been a head coach and that I knew what I was talking about, but it was very much a good old boys' club. The coaches who were the leaders of the professional organizations were all men and they all knew each other and they all partied together and they were the good old boys' club. You could be respected for what you did as a coach, but you were not invited to be in the old boys' club, nor did I want to be in the old boys' club. The guys that I worked with, for the most part, were all former coaches too, and they were good guys and they were very accepting, but there was also this thing about the top positions go to the men. I challenged it and I would speak out and I would raise my hand and I would say, "No, this is not okay," or, "Why are we doing this?" or "Why are we doing that?" It was a process. There were more and more women there after I left, but I still have Facebook friends of younger women, who are still coaching, who just say, "Thank you for all you did. You opened a lot of eyes and you were a role model for me." I didn't even really realize it, but you opened doors for people and you opened doors for us and just doing women in coaching clinics and just being visible and opening my mouth and questioning even to my boss, who was a good guy, but saying, "I know I'm not paid as much as these men who are doing the same job as me." He'd get all uncomfortable and say, "Well, you know, they …" I'd respond, "No, I know, because I see the houses they live in and the cars they drive. I know they're being paid more than me." Well, I got a big raise that year. [laughter] There were things like that where I just had to [say to myself], "All right, open your mouth; you've got to open your mouth."
KR: Did you retire in 2014?
SA: I did. I could have stayed there another couple years, but there were some people working there and there were always coaches who hung on too long and there were young people coming up that I thought would be great leaders. I had run out of gas. I could have kept doing the job, but why? I didn't need to do it anymore, and I was ready to be done.
KR: How did you end up in Milwaukee?
SA: In 2009, I moved back to New Jersey, even though I was still working in Colorado. My mother was very elderly, and she was still living in the house I grew up in, in Highland Park. I thought that that was not a good situation of her living alone in the house, but she wanted to stay there. I also really didn't want to live in Colorado Springs anymore. I was pretty much over Colorado Springs. I told my boss that I didn't know what I was going to do, but I was going to leave. I was going to quit and didn't know what I was going to do, but I was going to quit and move back to New Jersey because that's what I needed to do. Right away, he said, "Let's figure this out. You're too valuable to me, and the job you're doing, you can do from home." For five years, I basically commuted to Colorado. I went to Colorado for one week every month at USA Swimming's expense. I was out there for in-person meetings and anything else that needed to be done there, but then the rest of the time, I lived and worked from home in New Jersey. So, I was one of the first remote workers. I was living in New Jersey. Then, eventually, my mother was in a nursing home, and my daughter here in Milwaukee had one little boy and was pregnant with her second child. My other daughter was living in Evanston, Illinois. I just said, "What am I doing? Why am I flying to Milwaukee to visit my grandson and soon-to-be second grandchild? I'm retired and I'm living in this big house by myself. This is stupid. I'll move to Milwaukee." I sold the house and moved to Milwaukee, and here I am.
KR: I just have a couple more questions before we wrap up for today.
KR: What do you think are the major issues that swimming is confronting currently?
SA: Continued outreach to diverse communities to get rid of their country club image as a rich white person's sport, which it's not, but it still has that image. In some places, I guess it still is a rich white person's sport. I think that it is a sport that all sorts of people can participate in and gain from, but there's still an image issue. Facilities are a big issue. [I am] living in Milwaukee and seeing people just don't know how to swim, because they're not learning and they're not learning because there's no pools, so that's a big issue.
I know the transgender swimmer issue this winter got a lot of play, Lia Thomas, the swimmer from Penn who won an NCAA women's title. I know that people want to make that a big issue. I don't think it needs to be. I think there's ways to figure that out. There's a big organization, the Women's Sports Federation, [which] has come up with some recommendations and solutions, and I think that that's the way we need to go. I understand, as a swimmer, tough to say, but I don't think she should have been swimming at NCAAs. I don't think enough time had passed since her transition and she had too many of the attributes of male puberty to be fairly competing. I don't know what we do with it at the high school level. I don't know what we do with it at the club level. I'm glad I'm not the person that has to figure it out. But I think there are answers that can be figured out. We've figured out how to include disabled swimmers. We've figured out how to do a lot of things. I think we can figure this out without making it such a divisive issue. It's not you hate her or you like her; I don't think it's that. But it's a hard issue, and it's not just a swimming issue. Other sports are going to have to figure it out, too. [Editor's Note: In March 2022, Lia Thomas won the NCAA title in the women's 500-yard freestyle, becoming the first transgender athlete to win a Division I national championship. Thomas competed on the University of Pennsylvania men's swim team from 2017 to 2020 and on its women's swim team in 2021-2022.]
Swimming needs to be part of everything that's going on in this country. Whether it's racial issues or gender issues or political issues, they can't divorce themselves from things that are going on in this country because it's a valuable thing. My grandson, my older grandson, is nine. He's just started swimming on a team. I don't know if he's any good, he's not bad, but it's fun to watch him and I would love to see him continue. He's not a ball sports kid. He's not a baseball, football, basketball player. He doesn't like them, doesn't want to do them. I think swimming has a lot of appeal for kids who don't want to do ball sports and parents that don't want to do ball sports. [laughter] It's a great sport for a lot of reasons, and so we need to continue to find a way to make it available to everybody.
KR: Rutgers was very much a part of your family life because of your father. Then, you grew up so close to Rutgers, swimming in the Rutgers pool with the Scarlet Jets. Then, you went to Rutgers. What does Rutgers mean to you? How do you think Rutgers overall shaped you?
SA: It's interesting living in Wisconsin now and Rutgers being in the Big Ten, but people here still have no idea what Rutgers is. [laughter] They say, "Really? It's big?" I say, "Yes, it's big!" "Is it as big as the University of Wisconsin?" "It's bigger!" They're like, "What?" They still have this Ivy League image, like it's Rutgers and Princeton. I say, "Are you kidding me? This is a huge state university." I find myself defending Rutgers a lot and saying, "Come on, you guys," or they think it's Northwestern, a little private school. I find myself explaining that a lot.
I also find myself being much prouder of Rutgers than I used to be because of Rutgers really representing New Jersey and the diversity that is New Jersey. When I get my Rutgers Alumni Magazine and seeing all the faces that are Rutgers, that's not the University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is still very un-diverse. My daughters went to Penn State and Penn State is a little bit diverse, but I'm very proud of who Rutgers is because Rutgers is different. I don't think people are aware of that, and I don't think it's Rutgers's fault that people don't know that. New Jersey is still the brunt of jokes out here. When they hear I'm from New Jersey, they start talking in these stupid Brooklyn accents. I say, "Do I talk like that? No, I don't. Do you want to hear me talk like that? Yes, I can do it, but that's a stereotype. I want to hear you do a Wisconsin accent." They're like, "Well, I don't talk like [that]." "I know. Exactly." [laughter] Unfortunately, New Jersey is still the brunt of jokes and then Rutgers becomes the brunt of jokes. Then, unfortunately, until they have a winning football team, they're going to be the brunt of jokes in the Midwest. I think there's a lot to be proud of, of being a Rutgers graduate. I told my daughters, I didn't do it, but when we were there this summer, I said, "You know, I don't have a Rutgers sweatshirt. I want to get one." Then, we weren't anywhere where I could buy a Rutgers sweatshirt, so I just looked online. I said, "Oh, I can order one from Walmart. How about that?" [laughter] I think I need to be more of a Rutgers ambassador out here, because people don't get it. [laughter]
KR: What did you think about when the Rutgers Men's Swimming Team went from being varsity to club and the other Olympic sports went from being varsity to club?
SA: That was a ridiculous excuse. They blamed it on--I still don't know why they did that--they blamed it on finances. They blamed it on the women's sports. They blamed it on Title IX. Yet my daughters went to Penn State and Penn State has not cut any sport. In fact, they've added sports. To say all of these reasons, to cut men's swimming when you had one coach; you didn't have a separate women's coach, men's coach. They train together, they traveled together. There was no reason for that. I know that Gregg was involved, all sorts of people were involved, in, "Okay, you need money. We'll raise the money." "You can't have scholarships. Okay, we'll have a program without scholarships." Every answer that was given, the Athletic Department didn't want to hear it. I think they just, in my opinion, couldn't be bothered. They didn't want to have all those sports for no reason, so they had to come up with reasons. I think it was terrible. I think it was a disservice to--I'll use the term--non-ball sports kids, non-ball sports boys that didn't want to play football, basketball, all these sports that were important, and great student athletes in all these sports. Just get rid of them. I had a hard time with Rutgers when that happened. I wasn't proud of Rutgers then; that's for sure.
KR: I have reached the end of my questions. At this point, I'd like to ask you if there's anything you would like to add.
SA: I cannot think of a thing. [laughter] I can't believe we went another two-and-a-half hours. I don't envy you transcribing all this. I hope you have somebody that helps you do that.
KR: Yes, I do. We have a transcriber, and then I go through the transcript and edit it.
SA: It's been my pleasure.
KR: This has been great. Have you ever done a life-course oral history interview before?
SA: No, not at all. I was telling my daughter about it, and I was like, "Yes, it's all the stories you've never heard."
KR: [laughter] The beauty of this is that you'll get to pass on this oral history to your children and to your grandchildren.
KR: Then, once you review the transcript and approve it, it will go on the ROHA website and it will be available for students and scholars who are studying various subjects and may in the future draw from your oral history.
SA: That's awesome. Thank you so much, Kate. It's been my pleasure.
KR: Thank you so much. This has been so interesting, and I really appreciate it.
SA: Let me know if you need anything else.
KR: Sounds good. Thank you. Have a great day.
SA: Thank you, bye.
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Transcribed by REV 9/9/2022
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 9/21/2022
Reviewed by Sue Anderson 9/22/2022