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Rembering 1952 Olympian Della Sehorn

"Most incredible scrapbook of Olympics and swimming"

Liz Kellar | April 9, 2001

Of the many things she accomplished in her life, Della Sehorn most treasured the memory of competing in the 1952 Olympics as part of the U.S. women's swimming team.

It is only fitting, then, that she will be buried in her hometown of Portland, Ore., with an Olympic flag. Sehorn died March 14 at her Los Altos home.

Sehorn set 18 American records in the breaststroke from 1950 to 1963, and returned to swimming in the late 1970s, winning many Masters titles.

Her 15-year-old grandson, A.J. Sehorn of Soquel, is carrying on the family tradition with a twist. He is one of the best young surfers in the country and recently represented the United States in the World Championships last June.

Olympic teammate Barbara Jordan remained close friends with Sehorn through the years.

"The Olympics were her dream," said Jordan. "She lived every moment of the Olympics every day of her life after she participated. She always had a camera in her hand. She had the most incredible scrapbook I've ever seen of the Olympics and of swimming from 1946 on. She loved to sit and reminisce about swimming. It gave her such great joy."

Her husband, Al Sehorn, is a Santa Cruz native who worked as a lifeguard and as an exhibition swimmer before moving to Portland.

"She was a youngster that came to me and wanted to swim," Al Sehorn said. He coached her when she was 11, then began coaching her again after World War II. They married soon after.

"She could swim every stroke," says stepson Al Sehorn, Jr. "It was not common in her day to be that good in all strokes. She was one of a kind. There are a lot of good athletes, but she was a notch above everyone else."

At 25, Della Sehorn was the oldest member of the women's swimming team at Helsinki in 1952. She did not qualify for finals. On her return to Portland, she was the first woman awarded the Hayward trophy as Oregon's top amateur athlete. She set three U.S. records in one day during the 1953 Pacific Northwest Championships.

Sehorn retired from competitive swimming in 1953 and coached swimmers both in Portland and in Los Altos, where she and her husband moved in the early 1960s.

When the Masters program was started in the 1970s, Sehorn jumped back into swimming. More than winning, however, family and friends say she loved the camaraderie.

"I used to call her the social butterfly, and she was that," says Al Sehorn.

"She was just my very best swimming buddy," says Jordan. "She was probably one of the most popular Masters swimmers in the Northern California area. If someone was too competitive, she would get them out of taking it so seriously."

Sehorn won several Masters titles and was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. She swam every day until September 1999, when she became ill. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2000.

"She never gave up hope," says Jordan. "She was going back to the pool."

Della Sehorn

BORN: May 28, 1927, in Portland, Ore.

DIED: March 14, 2001, in Los Altos.

FAMILY: Survived by husband Al Sehorn of Palo Alto; stepson Al Sehorn Jr. of Soquel; daughters Barbara Wigney of Phoenix, Ariz. and Laurie Mettier of Texas; brother Ken Thrasher of Portland; and grandsons A.J. Sehorn of Soquel and James Colby.

SERVICES: Memorial service held in Los Altos. Burial will be at Willamette Cemetery in Portland.

CONTRIBUTIONS: American Cancer Society.

Santa Cruz Sentinel Sunday, March 25, 2001

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