Joan Waldbaum: She Just Jumped Right in!


A few months ago, a local publication featured a story on Joan Waldman, 75, as winner of several gold medals at the Maccabi Games in Australia last summer. Since she lives about 10 minutes from where I live, I thought I would interview her to find out what made this septuagenarian fly all the way to Australia to swim competitively.

Over some tea and walnut cake I had baked, Joan told me that she started swimming at a very young age (5) and also swam on the Temple University swim team. But then, several decades passed before she would swim on a regular basis, prompted by her move to a condominium complex in which there was an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. So, about 10 years ago, she began to swim regularly, bought books with workout exercises, and then read an article on Master Swimmers that inspired her.

She joined a local Master Swimmers group and, at 66, was the oldest swimmer at the time. She was intimidated by the young, thin, and lean swimmers, but nevertheless, forged ahead, or perhaps crawled ahead, being the slowest an oldest. But she did not give up! She built up her stamina and was approached to compete in the Montgomery County Senior Games. (Between her swimming classes three days per week, she works out in the gym to keep herself fit.)

At her first meet, she competed in the 65-69 age group and came in first, receiving her first of many medals (See photo above). As she said, “She was off and running.” Actually, she was off and swimming! During this period, her husband died. He had been very supportive of her love of swimming. When he died, she used some of the money he left her to go to Australia, where she won several medals in the above-mentioned Maccabi Games. Her quote: “This was his final gift,” was quite moving to hear.

In deciding to go to Australia, she said, “Why not? I could do that!” However, she did not really think she had a chance of winning. But she did compete in her age category for the first time at the international level and won! All her teammates were college kids, so she became their “grandmother.”

The message she sends out to us is that she hopes her swimming and competing inspires other woman, at any age, to go for their dreams. (She confessed that as a child she did daydream about the Olympics.) Joan also said that the Maccabi Games unleashed her feeling of Jewishness and inspired her to continue competing. Next stop: Argentina In December for the 2007 Maccabi Games! Way to go, Joan….

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