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Understated Lady of Masters Swimming Will Be Missed

Margery Meyer passed away on November 25, 2009 at the age of 87.

Author Unknown | July 19, 2000


Understated Lady of Masters Swimming Will Be Missed

Friends and swimmers were taken by surprise when Margery Meyer passed away on November 25, 2009 at the age of 87. Meyer had been battling cancer for two years, and had kept the illness a private matter between her and her family.

Meyer, who swam for The Olympic Club in San Francisco, remained active through her illness, competing at Long Course Nationals in Oregon in August 2008 and Short Course Nationals in Clovis in May 2009. Amazingly, Meyer was still setting national and world records at these meets. In her last swim meet, Pacific Masters LCM Champs in July 2009, she set both the 800-meter and 1500-meter world records during a single event. Meyer also attended the ceremony of the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale in September 2009, where she was inducted as an Honor Swimmer for her swimming achievements.

Meyer passed away at her home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., with her family at her side.

Besides a close and loving relationship with her family, Meyer made many friends along the way in her swimming career. “She was an incredible woman,” says Phyllis Quinn, Meyer’s friend and teammate. “She had a great sense of humor, witty; she cared about other swimmers and was always interested in what they were doing,” Quinn says. “She’ll be greatly missed.” Another close friend and teammate, Tod Spieker, shares, “What I revered most about Margery was her grace and commitment to family.” Spieker also respected Meyer’s humble take on her own accomplishments. “I have known lots of good swimmers, but Margery was an understated lady and never one to toot her own horn,” he says.

Meyer grew up on a sheep ranch in Knights Valley, Calif. She attended Mills College in Oakland, where she earned a BA in European history and government. After college, she moved to New York where she met Bruce Meyer, a medical student at Columbia University. The two married in 1947 and in 1955 they moved to Carmel, where Dr. Meyer set up his practice as an orthopedic surgeon.

While Meyer had always been active in sports, and was swimming a couple of times a week, she did not become a competitive swimmer until her daughter, Marguerite Meyer, convinced her to compete in Short Course Nationals at Stanford in 1987. Meyer was 64 at the time, and in this, her first competitive event, she earned three sixth place finishes in her age group. Years later, Meyer wrote, “That Masters meet at Stanford began a brand new life for me at age 64; a life filled with new friends, new challenges, new personal best times, new places to visit, better health.”

The following year Meyer swam on two world record-breaking relays. She was immediately hooked on competitive swimming. At first she trained on her own. She observed other swimmers and asked questions, and was coached over the phone by Marguerite. Then she approached Ted Trendt at Monterey Peninsula Community College and asked him to coach her, telling him she was willing to work hard and wanted to break records. In 1994 Meyer became one of the first women, along with Phyllis Quinn and Marguerite, to join The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Swimming energized Meyer. “With Masters swimming,” Meyer once said, “renewed energy appeared. I found something deep that gave birth to something in me … a potential I didn’t know I had.”

Her workouts included swimming 2,500-3,000 yards at least four or five times a week. “She kept impeccable notes on her workouts and swim times so that she could remember what she had to swim to go faster next time. She was a remarkable and respected competitor,” says Marguerite of her mother’s work ethic. Trendt, who coached Meyer for nearly 20 years, says “A person of her caliber—mental desire coupled with physical ability—comes by a coach but a great once in a while,” adding, “She epitomizes what a coach looks for in an athlete.”

During her 22-year swimming career, Meyer set over 50 world records. She achieved 424 Top 10 times, nine individual All-Americans and seven All-Star honors. She competed in four FINA Masters World Championships, winning 11 gold, five silver and two bronze medals. She is a nine-time world record holder and currently holds 17 USMS records.

Meyer was also a dynamo outside the pool. To celebrate her 70th birthday she participated in the 1.5 mile Alcatraz to San Francisco swim, which she completed in 48 minutes. She also swam on a Maui Channel Relay with five male friends, becoming the oldest person to participate in that event.

Beyond swimming, Meyer was an avid tennis player, hiker, skier, and traveler. She celebrated her 60th birthday at the base camp of Mount Everest and her 80th birthday riding the rapids of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. She was also active in her community, volunteering with numerous organizations including the Junior League of Monterey, the Red Cross and The Children’s Home Society.

Meyer is survived by her husband of 63 years, Dr. L. Bruce Meyer; children, Calvin Meyer (Taryne) of San Jose; and Marguerite Meyer of Santa Cruz.

Marguerite shares, “Margery was my best friend. It was hard to conceal my devotion to her, not that I tried to at all. Sometimes I would get the evil eye when I whistled so loudly in her swim events. But I didn't care, I was all for Margery; she was phenomenal. We enriched each other’s lives and shared a special relationship that went through and well beyond the water.”

In her own words (July 19, 2000)

In January 1987 I received a phone call from my daughter, Marguerite Meyer , to tell me she was going to compete in the U.S. Masters National Short Course competition in May at Stanford University. She said I should enter because I'd be good. "Oh, honey, 64 is too old. Besides I'm happy doing my 20 laps a couple times a week." No, Mom, you should try this. Tim Garton's mother is entered and she's 72!" "Really? Okay!" That's all it took to whet my latent competitive spirit to take over and I began with Marguerite coaching by telephone from Alabama.

I've been very active all my life, growing up on a sheep ranch in California, riding, hiking the hills, skiing in the Sierra and Europe, sailing in San Francisco Bay and jumping in at any opportunity to swim or skinny-dip in any puddle, pool, waterfall, stream, lake or ocean. The only competition I had ever done was in the family pool with my sisters, brother and cousins galore in the 1920s and 1930s. The big advantage my happy summers gave me was my fierce but friendly competitive spirit.

So, my Masters training commenced by adding four more laps one week and four more the next week 'til maybe I was up to 40 laps three times a week. Marguerite came home for Easter and put me through other exercises and intervals. I began to learn the concept of pushing hard then rest and thus increased my stamina a small amount that spring.

May and National Championships came all too soon. We were ensconced in a hotel in Palo Alto, with granola and bananas ready for an early breakfast. Marguerite brought me a present—a new, tight, lycra Speedo racing suit and said I couldn't wear the cotton-flowered spaghetti-strap model with the pretty flared skirt, and that I had to ditch the swim cap with rubber tendrils and chin strap. My terrycloth beach robe was replaced with an Alabama Muscle Shoals Sharks T-shirt. Masters swimmers were used to seeing lots of skin! I will never forget standing on the blocks, feeling almost stark naked in front of 2,000+ healthy, tanned competitors aged 25-90, convinced I'd make a fool of myself.

Ten minutes before the backstroke Marguerite realized I had no idea how to "do the dive." In the few minutes left before the gun, we raced to the warm-up pool where she quickly showed me the foot placement, handhold and how to dive in backwards upside down. I somehow did the dive, and thrashed arms wildly as Marguerite gave me her trademark, deafening whistle urging me to go faster. I finished sixth. I also swam the 50-, and the 100-yard freestyles placing sixth in both, out of about 20 women in the 60-64 age group, including the great sprinter, Florence Carr. It was then that I began to realize I could be a Masters swimmer.

May 1987, at that US Masters meet at Stanford, began a brand new life for me at age 64; a life filled with new friends, new challenges, new personal best times, new places to visit, better health. Mother-daughter traveled to all the local events and nationals, and in 1988, just my second year in Masters, we joined Holmes Lumberjacks and flew to Brisbane for the second Worlds Masters Championships. I was on two women's world record-breaking relays, placed second in the 50 back and the 800 free, thirrd in the 400 free, fourth in the 100 back and 200 free, and seventh in the 200 back. George Boles, coach of the Lumberjacks, gave me a tremendous boost as my first coach, and our friendship continues today.

Realizing I'd never make progress without tackling the flip turns, I called Bob Walthour, Carmel High School girls' swim coach who taught me the dizzying maneuvers involved. For the next five years I continued training on my own in a private club pool. During meets I always looked for the best freestyle and backstroke swimmers and tried to copy them or asked for pointers. Of course, when Marguerite could be there she helped refine my strokes and continued her "You can do it, Mom!" encouragement.

When I met Coach Ted Trendt at Monterey Peninsula College and told him of my goals to set national and world records, and that I would work diligently he accepted the challenge to make my dreams reality. I learned about interval training, sets, aerobic and anaerobic, and heart rate training.

Competition has always been keen in my age group with the likes of Dorothy Donnelly, Mary Lee Watson, Florence Carr, Jeanne Merryman, Doris Steadman, Clara Walker and Petey Smith. But one of the great assets about Masters is that everyone is so supportive. "It's a good, clean sport." And I can add, happy, healthy and friendly!

My best times were in distance freestyle and the backstroke. The butterfly was extremely difficult but finally with expert coaching in a lake by Jim Beglinger it clicked. I can muddle along in the breaststroke, so I now swim a 100 IM for fun.

Open water competition became a new adventure with California's Pacific Ocean, lakes (Sonoma, Berryessa, Donner) and rivers all within close distance in Northern California. I tackled Lake Minnetonka near Minneapolis in 1993 when I was 69, which meant swimming exactly five miles. Each swimmer, (there were 100) was provided with a canoe escort, color coded by a helium balloon tied to the bow. That was one of the most festive and colorful of all the open water events and the longest in my experience.

You never know what will turn up at a cocktail party! For me it was an invitation to join a Maui Channel Relay team to swim from Lanai to Maui, a distance of nine miles. My 70 years added up to the 320+ category exactly. The sixth guy had to drop out, and I had no hesitation in accepting the offer. This was too intriguing to turn down. Ironically, I'd discouraged my daughter swimming in this event in the past—"Too dangerous." Well, here went Mom and had a fling with her new younger friends all in their 50s—Rich Bassi, Jim Krueger, Tex Haraszti, Ed Cazalet and Allan Cartwright. I became the oldest swimmer ever (female or male) to participate in that event in 1992 and may still hold the age record. I swam the Maui Channel relay again in 1993 with the first Olympic Club all female team, Marguerite included. We flew over to Honolulu and swam in the Waikiki 2.4 mile roughwater race a few days later—another lark, and another first place!

Now that I'd had more ocean experience I decided to celebrate my 70th birthday by trying the Alcatraz 1 1/2 mile swim to San Francisco—completed in 48 minutes. Meanwhile my husband, Bruce, after many years of mountaineering, chose to climb the Grand Teton in Wyoming for his 70th celebration, belayed by Marguerite.

Looking back, my earliest recollection of organized swimming was being a Junior Swim Counselor at Camp Lokoya in the hills above the Napa Valley. Then at Mills College in 1941-45 I joined the synchronized swim club. Back then the routine was simply holding hands, touching feet, making a star that revolved and then kicking mightily to diverge. We thought it was very clever.

Now swimming has become an addiction. My workouts and an educated diet keep me in such good health, able to swim 2,500-3,000 yards at least four or five times a week. My cholesterol is significantly lower, my arrhythmia is no longer a concern and I intend to continue swimming for many more years. I will always be inspired by Masters swimmers who have filled a large and joyous part of my later life.

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