by Scott Kindberg
April 15, 2022
Young At Heart
Douglaston-Little Neck is a neighborhood in the northeastern part of the New York City borough of Queens. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 30 “notable residents,” past and present, who have called that community home at one time or another. Among them are baseball Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford and tennis great John McEnroe.The online encyclopedia might consider adding one more person to that list.
Since 1961, she has lived in Jamestown, but it was during Judy’s formative years near Little Neck Bay that she fell in love with swimming. So on multiple occasions as a teenager — weather permitting — Judy and her friends would either hop on their bikes or catch a car ride to the bay.
“We could swim for four hours — two hours when the tide came in and two hours when the tide went out,” Judy recalled earlier this week. “Mothers weren’t working in those days, so we would generally corral (one of them) to take us to the ocean at least two or three times a month.”
Judy eventually joined her high school’s synchronized coed swim team because she loved the water.
She still does.
Judy, who resides at Carlson Towers on the Lutheran campus on Jamestown’s east side, had quite the rooting section last weekend at the YMCA Masters Nationals at the Rosen Aquatic Center in Orlando, Florida.
Front and center, of course, were her sons, David and Jim. Toss in enthusiastic support from extended family members and several friends, including Jamestown YMCA swim coach Maria Roehmholdt and local Masters competitors Kris Meekins and Karen Williams, and it didn’t take long before complete strangers in attendance also began rooting for her.
“Everybody wanted to talk to Judy,” Maria said. “They didn’t want to see the 40-year-old who was swimming 100s in under a minute. They didn’t care about that. They wanted to meet Judy. The meet director came down from the scoring room to speak to Judy. I think that speaks volumes.”
Then again, it would be hard not to be drawn to a 96-year-old, who set YMCA age-group (95-99 division) records in six of the seven events she entered — the 50-, 100- and 200-yard backstrokes, and the 50-, 100- and 500-yard freestyles. And in the one event that she didn’t set a record — the 200 freestyle — she still received a first-place medal (one of seven she earned last weekend) because she was the only person entered.
It bears repeating: Judy is 96 and has swam for the Jamestown YMCA Masters team since 1987. Four years shy of triple digits, she is showing no signs of slowing down.
“Let me put it this way,” said Maria, who also lives in Jamestown. ” … If anybody asked me where I was going and why I was taking the days off, I said I was going to see Judy swim. … Every human being I spoke to, whether it was a 5-year-old up to an 85-year-old, they were floored that she still liked to compete, that she was physically able to compete and the times were what they were.
“It was such an accomplishment, as a competitive person, as a swimmer, and the humbleness that went with it.”
Judy is clearly humble — she was more emphatic about Meekins and Williams getting recognized than she was about tooting her own horn — but she did admit that when she joined the Masters swim team at the Jamestown Y 35 years ago the competitive juices kicked in.
“The competitive part was fun and new,” Judy said. “I was almost surprised how much I enjoyed it.”
Success in the pool has helped fuel that passion, too.
In fact, six years ago in Sarasota, Florida, Judy swam eight events, claimed eight gold medals and set national YMCA records in the 90-94 age group in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles and the 100-yard backstroke.
Notice a trend?
Maria has been a coach for the YMCA Jets for the past 14 years. During that time, the youngsters in the program have watched Judy swim laps in the pool at the Y’s Fourth Street facility as well as at an annual late-summer meet at an outdoor pool in Westfield, one that Maria describes as “fun and low key.” Judy, of course, was always at the northern Chautauqua County event accompanied by other members of the Jamestown Y’s Masters team.
“(The kids) would stand at the end of her lane and cheer her on like she was another 15-year-old,” Maria said.
At one Westfield meet before she turned 90, Judy recalled that there were some spectators who wondered aloud if she would be able to complete the 200-yard freestyle, which was the final event of the day.
Tom Mann, Judy’s Masters teammate at the time, turned to the gathering and offered a terse response: “You watch.”
Noted Judy: “I made it, and for the next couple years they looked for me.”
The “Young Fan Club” continues to grow. Maria, one of Judy’s biggest supporters, could serve as the organization’s president and noted that she plans to cheer Judy on again in person the next time she swims at nationals.
“Those were the best days of my trip,” Maria said of the time she spent at the Rosen Aquatic Center in Orlando last week. ” … It was fun!”
Without skipping a beat, Judy responded: “I’m not doing it again unless I make 100.”
Don’t bet against her.
When the national championships were complete for Judy, Meekins and Williams last week, the local trio posed for a photograph on the pool deck, their medals hanging around their necks while they each sported an identical green T-shirt. On the front was stenciled: “Jamestown YMCA Swimming.”
Fittingly, on the back, were three words: “Young at Heart.”
“Judy is an inspiration to us all and she deserves a little time in the spotlight,” Maria said. “She shines her light on everyone. It is good to flip that light toward her once in a while.”
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