masters challenge

my munich olympic experience

by jani on July 30, 2012

Almost forty years ago, on August 28, 1972, we watched proudly as our U.S. men’s swim team took gold, silver and bronze in the men’s 200 meter butterfly at the Munich Olympics. To watch as all three American flags went up was a defining thrilling moment. After the race we briefly visited with my former coach, Sherm Chavoor. He was there as Mark Spiz’s coach and a member of the U.S. swim coaches. My dad was a charter member of Arden Hills Swim and Tennis Club in Sacramento, California and helped fund the building of its facility back in the early fifties. Sherm was ruthless when it came to coaching, but he knew how to build champions. He was a great coach but ironically, as my dad said, “He couldn’t swim a lick!”

Jumping back to 1972… after we watched the magnificent sweep of the 200-meter ‘fly, we left Munich for Zermatt, Switzerland and didn’t even hear about the terrible Munich Massacre until we returned several days later. It was hard to wrap my head around the possibility of terrorists jumping the fence of the Olympic Village, holding the Israeli athletes hostage and killing eleven. We then found out that Spitz, Sherm and several of the other Jewish athletes and coaches were flown home immediately after the terrorist attack for fear that they too may be a target.  Spitz won seven gold medals (a record that stood for 34 years) yet was unable to attend the closing ceremonies. It didn’t take long before Mark Spitz was hitting the sport magazine covers. He  decided to go pro pro, which at that time meant no more competing in Olympic Games. Since then the rules have changed and pro atheletes can now compete.

Below is a memory collage – the upper right photo is of Sherm Chavoor escorting Mark Spitz home to Sacramento just after the Munich Massacre. The upper left corner is a photo of the young swim team Sherm worked with in August, 1954; my sister and brother were among the teammates.  The Arden Hills Swimming and Tennis Club’s Junior Olympic team, of which I was a member,  is on the lower left. I love the Time cover photo of Spitz swimming the butterfly. He remains an icon in the world of competitive swimming!

If someone asked me in 2005 if I’d ever swim again let alone walk, my answer would have been in the negative. I was walking (or trying to) on a broken hip for a little over four years; the doctors somehow missed this until I went to the Mayo Clinic. After finding out why I was dealing with 24/7 pain and that indeed my hip was broken, I began a year of research. I found that the optimal surgical procedure is the anterior method. I will post more in depth on this subject, as you readers may have moms, grandmas or someone else close to you who needs a replacement… more men and women are needing new hips at younger ages due to sport related injuries.

I scheduled my hip replacement surgery for April of 2009. As a former swimmer, I dreamed about the miracle I might have one day and returning to this beloved sport. My first trip back in a pool was two months after my surgery; I was just barely able to make four 25-meter lengths then had to quit. I built up my time and even began using flipturns. It was then that  I realized my left hip needed to be replaced as well. So in September, just six months after my first surgery, I was back in the hospital having my  second replacement. By December, I was swimming a mile. And in the summer of 2010, I competed in my first Masters Race in three events. I won my age category!

The above photo is obviously not an Olympic athelete. But for me, competing in a swim meet was huge!  I’m so grateful that I have a body that can work well in water. It keeps me happy and healthy when I do this routinely!

The Olympics are a great motivating force. They’re motivating me and I hope they are you. I’d love to hear about any Olympic stories you’d like to share!