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Profiling Ann M Hirsch

Still swimming and loving it

Ann Hirsch | December 12, 2002

Ann Hirsch, aka Ann Stanfel, and aka Ann Pisciotta was born in New Rochelle, N.Y. in 1931. "I spent one year there, three years in Philadelphia, 10 years in the Saint Louis suburbs where I attended various schools including Webster Groves Jr. High, two years in Alexandria, Va., then I spent two years in Honolulu.

I learned to swim at the Westborough Country Club in Kirkwood, Mo., at the age of five. My parents played 18 holes of golf and left me with the lifeguard at the pool for a swim lesson. When they finished a round of golf, they could see the 10-meter platform and that same day they saw me on the top. I jumped in and swam to the side. That was the beginning of my romance with the water. I swam every day except Mondays when the pool was closed. I had no coach or team but my mother took me to downtown St. Louis where I swam a 25-yard freestyle for eight and under girls. When I was about nine, my mother also took me to a round robin meet where you swam a different stroke every week and accumulated points as you went. When we got to the breaststroke week, I told my mother I didn't know how to do the stroke. She said, "Watch the other girls in the heat before you." I did and won the event. There began a long and successful career as a breaststroker. That was the extent of my swimming competition in and around St. Louis.

In 1944 the family moved to Alexandria, Va. Sometime later, I took a bus to the Ambassador Hotel in Washington, D.C. where they had a swim team coached by Bill Armstrong. I joined the team and went in a few times a week for practice, a commute of about two hours round trip. The pool had no lane lines and the hotel guests used it while we swam. I swam in a few local meets, breaststroke and IM which had only three strokes back in those days. It was breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle and there were 150-, and 300-yard IMs. Breaststroke was always my best event butterfliers used the orthodox breaststroke kick, and it was sometimes called overarm breaststroke.

In 1946 the family moved to Honolulu. My father took me to a meet at Punahou School and pointed out the best breaststroker in the islands at that time. In June of 1948, I beat her by 20 seconds in the 200-meter breaststroke. Soichi Sakamoto asked me to join his team, Hawaii Swim Club and wanted to get me ready for the 1948 Olympic tryouts in Detroit. My dad said, "Nothing doing, you are going to college" and I did.

While in Honolulu I swam a few interscholastic meets at Sacred Hearts H.S. and broke the existing record in the 100-yard breaststroke. Forty years later, I won the 100-yard breaststroke at the Stanford Nationals and was written up in Sports Illustrated, "Faces in the Crowd." My time was the same as it was in the Honolulu meet forty years earlier.

I went to San Francisco College for Women, a private women's college after we moved to San Francisco, but the college offered no chance to swim. The nearest pool was Crystal Plunge but it was too far to go and did not fit into my academic schedule.

After college I returned to Alexandria, Va., and worked for Blue Cross, then taught fifth grade for three years. I returned to San Francisco and taught third through sixth grade in various schools. I joined a group called "The Surfins" coached by Dr. Lola Baer. They performed floating patterns, did twelve woman wheels and I was the puller. Marriage and three children interrupted swimming. In 1974 I read an article about the San Mateo Marlins Masters swimming team. I called Ray Taft and went to Joinville to try out. I was immediately snagged and joined the team, age 44. Most members wanted my age, not my name. I swam sparingly as my children were still young, four, eight and 10. They came to a few meets and worked as runners. I later trained at South San Francisco H.S. at night with some of the Marlins. A few years later I went to Mission Viejo and swam in the nationals where I won the 200-yard breaststroke about ten seconds ahead of my competition. I saw my name, place and time on the electronic board. What a thrill!

As the children grew, I swam more. Someone asked my son, a soccer and football player, if he swam in competition. He replied, "One competitive swimmer in the family is enough." My husband answered the same question recently (2002) in the same manner.

As a Marlin, I traveled to Portland, Ore., and Seattle for long course nationals and I consistently won all the breaststroke events, some fly and IM and the 50-meter back using the double arm. As a Marlin, I discovered the dolphin kick but never used it as my breaststroke kick is quite powerful.

Once at a long course meet at Woodland, Calif., I entered the 50 fly, followed closely by the 200-meter breaststroke. I complained to Zada Taft that I would be too tired for the 200. She said, "Use the 50 fly as a warm-up." I won the 200 and set my first national record.

Not long after that Woodland meet I joined the Walnut Creek Masters. I've been with them for about sixteen years. We moved to Concord, Calif., and I was a short distance from where Walnut Creek trained. I traveled to some of the national champioships, Portland, Seattle, Santa Clara three times, Nashville, North Carolina (my favorite college and at that time my favorite college basketball team). In that year (1992) my 26 year old son died of cancer, just two weeks before the national swimming meet. Swimming helped me deal with the grief. Also in 1992 and 1993, I was named to the USMS All-Star team. I've been named All-American about 25 times. My biggest thrill was last year at Federal Way. I set three national records in the 50, 100, 200 breaststroke and a world record in the 200. I also won the 200 fly, 200 and 400 IM. I have always swum the same six events at nationals. In 2001, I broke eight national records and two worlds in the breaststroke. I set a few Pacific records in freestyle and IM.

My swimming career has been great. I enjoy meeting all the interesting swimmers. I swim at an early morning workout and we socialize a great deal. The usual workout is 3,000 yards or more, I do only about 2,200, three days on and one day off. I've had shoulder, elbow and knee problems—a lot of froggy kicking since I do it on back and fly. I try to do breaststroke kick (without a board) 500 yards at every workout. I do some light weights and ride my bike a bit around Rossmoor where I live. I do a lot of stretching.

I am married to Dave Hirsch who comes to all the meets and volunteers as a timer. I have two daughters who live about 40 miles from here. I am a retired teacher and activity director in a nursing home. Presently, I volunteer about fifteen hours in a nearby nursing home. We volunteer for Meals-on-Wheels, play bridge and root for Cal's basketball and football teams.

I attended and held positions in our local LMSC for about seven years.

I have a huge collection of all kinds of stuffed frogs and I bring several to meets for good luck. The oldest "Froggy" is 25 years old and known to many local and out of town swimmers.

Whenever I go to class reunions (just recently my college 50th) classmates first question is "Are you still swimming"? At nationals in Honolulu last May, three of my high school classmates came to watch me swim. They always ask the same question mentioned above.

I have fine coaches who support me in and out of the water. When I first joined Walnut Creek, Kerry O'Brien tried unsuccessfully to change when I breathe on breaststroke. I never knew if my breathing was early or late. Last year I panicked when FINA announced that the frog kick would no longer be allowed on the butterfly. I had a special t-shirt made with frogs and the saying, "You can't teach an old frog new kicks". I am not built for the dolphin kick.

I am so lucky to be part of PMS and USMS. I appreciate all the work that is done on behalf of the swimmers. I know the importance of volunteers. I hope to continue swimming for many years."

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