Ronnie Kamphausen, in Her Own Words
"I do a lot of laughing at meets"
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland where I competed in all sports through high school. I played on an undefeated basketball team, and made All-Baltimore as a fullback in field hockey. Swimming was a sideline, but I found time on my own to practice a few weeks before the spring AAU competition. I was dominant for a few years while in high school, swimming primarily freestyle (the 100 and 220). I think it was 1952 when I set an outdoor record for the 100-yard free in the South Atlantic Association. At that time, I was told to drop all other athletic events and stick to swimming. I didn't! My father, Larry Peacock, taught and officiated for 40+ years and was my mentor. He was recently inducted into the Maryland Swimming Hall of Fame. One of his early pupils was Wendy Weinberg, the Olympian. My mother, June Peacock, also taught swimming, so this aquatic sport is in my blood.
When it came time for college, Purdue was the hotbed of women's swimming; but again for me, there was more to life than swimming. I went to a small mid-western college where there was no pool. I tried swimming competitively on my own, but found it too difficult to mix studies with training in the town pool. The next time I swam competitively was in Moorestown, N.J., where I taught sciences, following college graduation. There, I competed as a "senior" on a team made up mostly of kids in a league that included teams in the Philadelphia area.
Then, there was a "dry spell" for Ronnie. I got married, had two kids, and helped out in my husband's business. We moved from Indiana to Connecticut, where we still have a home. I was in my early 40s when I played on a parents' basketball team competing against our kids. Running up and down the court did me in, and I decided to listen to my parents. They had recommended I look into this "Masters” program. Nancy Brown, a hotshot Maryland Masters swimmer, had been a high school classmate and was kicking up a storm in Masters. Nancy had also taught swimming with my father. "If Nancy can do it, why not Ronnie?" they said.
The rest is history. I got in touch with Dot Donnelly who directed me to the Connecticut group, which was meeting at Yale University. I started swimming once a week, then several times a week. I entered my first "mini-meet" and thought I would have a heart attack. Gradually, I gained confidence to go "all out" in meets and found I did pretty darn well. Not only that, I enjoyed it immensely. It was fun trying and learning new strokes and swimming all distances. For several years, I went far and wide to compete and gained stature nationally. I have been competing for over 20 years for Connecticut's team—twice my age group's All Star and frequent All-American. I am by no means the fastest in my age group, but I do swim most all events (though the 200 fly is becoming a lesser item!). I often think that my rising to the top is because someone didn't swim that year. (I am realistic about my capabilities.)
In recent years, I have split my time between Maine and Connecticut. I compete in both places, though less in the summer season. It is then that I work as a naturalist, teaching families about the flora and fauna of the Maine shoreline. In the winter, I also lead weekly walks in the Connecticut woods at a nature center. Though swimming keeps me physically in shape, it is natural history that keeps my mind active and creative. I draw, photograph and write articles about nature, and maintain two web sites. I also sail with my husband, Karl, in the Maine waters. Wet suits are mostly necessary for swims in the salt water.
What is unique about me is the fact that I have never had a coach, per se. I have benefited from clinics and occasional group workouts, but pretty much train and swim on my own. That is partly a reflection of my independent nature, but I often wonder how well I would do under the tutelage of a full time coach. In recent years, I have been plagued by a neuropathy in my feet which slows me down and affects my turns and kicking. I also was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, and am dealing with that, though I can't say it has affected my swimming.
I hope to keep swimming for the duration. I enjoy competing because of the upbeat people attracted to the sport. I treasure having had Dot Donnelly and Gus Langner as teammates. At several meets in the Maryland area, I competed along side of my mother (who swam for Maryland Masters) and my aunt, Elsa Mattila, (who competed for DC Masters). This Masters thing can be a family affair! I love being a part of a team that has "hunks", shapely beauties, as well as those of us with baggy skin. Working out is boring for me, but you can't compete without it! Masters swimmers have taught me that athletes do not have to give up their sport as they age. Their best years may be ahead of them.
One final thing about this female Ronnie—in Connecticut, we seed our swimmers based on a submitted time. Male and female swimmers often swim in the same heats. As for me, this makes for a competitive impulse to beat the guy in the lane next door! Sometimes it helps both parties, but it gives an extra incentive. It occasionally happens that when the results are posted, "Ronnie" gets mixed in with the men. If I beat them, it's good for laughs. I do a lot of laughing at meets. When you come right down to it, most of us are pretty funny looking in these revealing bathing suits, bulging goggles and skin-head caps. There is definitely an entertainment factor to this sport. It keeps me coming back for more.