After long hiatus, senior dives into swimming events

June 13, 1995|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to the Sun

Doris Russell's grandson calls her a "cool grandmom" because she isn't afraid to plunge with him down the 320-foot-high water slide at the Columbia Swim Center.

But high places never have bothered the 75-year-old Ellicott City resident, an ex-diving champion who recently won four gold medals and a silver in swimming competitions at the National Senior Sports Classic V in San Antonio, Texas.

At the event -- held May 22 to May 24 -- Mrs. Russell won the 50- and 100-meter butterfly competitions and the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle races for 75- to 79-year-olds. In addition, she came in second in the 200-meter freestyle competition for her age group.

"There were a lot of old, fast ladies there," said Mrs. Russell, a retired Howard County school bus driver.

Mrs. Russell holds the national record in the 50-meter butterfly for 70- to 74-year-olds. The senior swimming competitions are held every other year.

When she was younger, Mrs. Russell won hundreds of medals and trophies -- mostly in statewide contests -- in swimming and diving.

After a 35-year hiatus from competition, the desire to compete was rekindled when Mrs. Russell was encouraged to enter the Maryland Senior Olympics by lifeguards at the Columbia Swim Center in Wilde Lake village.

"I had started working on the butterfly, and the guards couldn't get over it," said Mrs. Russell, who has belonged to the swim center for about 28 years. "The bug bit me, and I have been involved ever since.

"Every time I arrive at a meet, I ask myself, 'Why am I doing this?' " she said. At the end of each competition, however, elation quickly replaces anxiety, particularly when Mrs. Russell sets a record.

A scrapbook of yellowed news clippings attests to Mrs. Russell's long competitive career, which began at a meet in 1934 when she was 14.

l After she married Jim Russell -- a top diver in his youth -- the couple had eight children, who all became involved in regional swimming competitions. Mr. Russell died in 1983.

During the years of raising their family, the Russells spent their time at swimming meets and managing their now-closed B and R Athletic Club in Baltimore. "We were ahead of our time," said Mrs. Russell. "We had an indoor swimming pool, racquetball courts, a whirlpool and a steam room. Don Shula and the Colts used to come in and work out between seasons."

Mrs. Russell, who also taught swimming at the Baltimore club, had no time to compete, but she did swim two or three times a week.

None of her children still competes in swimming, but she said she hopes that her five grandchildren, ages 2 to 12, may be heading in that direction. All but the youngest -- who she says is literally "just getting his feet wet" -- are on swim teams.

Mrs. Russell is at the Columbia pool three and four times a week, even when she isn't competing. "I could stay in there all day," she said. "It gives you a better attitude. . . . You feel 10 to 20 years younger when you get out of that water."

Mrs. Russell also has several "second loves" -- bridge, playing the piano and cooking.

But now much of her energy is aimed at preparing for the Maryland Senior Olympics in October at Towson State University where she hopes to break more records.

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