Louise James loves to swim. And she’s good at it, too. So good, in fact, that she received a varsity letter from the University of Michigan at the age of 94. The honor was one of several awarded in late 2008 to female athletes who competed for the school before Title IX gave women’s sports equal footing with men’s.
Louise James loves to swim.
And she’s good at it, too. So good, in fact, that she received a varsity letter from the University of Michigan at the age of 94.
The honor was one of several awarded in late 2008 to female athletes who competed for the school before Title IX gave women’s sports equal footing with men’s. Both James and her older sister, Elizabeth, now 96, swam for U of M in the early 1930s.
“They decided it had been unfair not to recognize women’s sports,” James said of the honor. “So they hunted down all the women who’d been connected with sports.”
Now 95, James still swims several times a week, often logging a quarter-mile at a time in the pool at Acacia Village.
“When I came here, I saw this beautiful pool that they had, and I got back into swimming again,” she said. “And I’m glad I did.”
Retirement counselor Linda Rae Avolio said James is one of many seniors who are remaining active later in life.
“In the two years that I’ve been here at Acacia Village, my whole concept of aging has changed,” Avolio said via e-mail. “I know men and women in their late 80s and mid-90s that are more vital and active than folks half their age.”
James attended U of M from 1933 to 1937 as an English major, and swam during her first two years at the school. She specialized in sprint swimming and breaststroke. She most remembers the school-issued bathing suits – “probably the ugliest swimsuits you can imagine” – made out of gray cotton, and having to use the men’s pools for practice and competitions because there weren’t separate facilities.
Although she was unable to attend the award ceremony in Michigan, her sister went and reported that only a few of their teammates had made it back to their alma mater for the event. They were two of the oldest honorees and “thought it was sort of funny that two little old ladies in their 90s were getting honored,” James said.
Both girls got their start swimming as children growing up in Washington, D.C. James said one of her first memories of swimming involved a trip to a municipal pool near the government offices where her father worked in 1920.
“The whole family would go down to this municipal pool and have a swim early in the morning,” she said. “I wasn’t tall enough to stand with my head above the water in the shallowest part of the pool.”
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In high school, James opted to take swimming lessons in lieu of regular gym classes, and joined a school team sponsored by the Shoreham Hotel. As a 16 or 17 year old, she said, she swam every day in the hotel pool, which was surrounded by palm trees and tiled floors. Her father would drive her and watch her from the balcony area as she practiced.
Competition between James and her sister helped both improve their skills, she said. Elizabeth, who later majored in physical education, was so good her sister said that she once qualified for the Olympic swimming tryouts on Long Island.
“She was a little better than I and she usually walked off with the gold and I got the silver,” she said. “She was kind of an inspiration to me, and I always tried to do everything she did.”
After college, James moved to Alabama to teach and met the man she eventually would marry. They lived in several states over the years, but spent 30 years in Oneonta, N.Y., before moving to the Masonic Care Community in Utica in 1996.
She said her 8-year-old grandson now lives in Massachusetts and is doing “quite well” with his own swimming lessons. She hopes to leave her many medals to him someday.