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by Cheryl Gettelfinger

February 1, 2011

A Masters swimmer emeritus

Ivan Chalfie took up swimming after suffering from rheumatic fever at age six. The prognosis was probable permanent heart damage and the possibility that he might never walk. His doctor suggested he play in the bath tub and reluctantly approved swimming. In the summer when he was nine, he went to a local swimming pool, the Kirschbaum Center, which became the Jewish Community Center, where he was befriended by a lifeguard, Earl Montgomery, who taught him how to swim. When at the age of 13 he began winning races, it was advised that he increase to year round swimming because he was such a strong competitor. Only clubs had indoor pools; however, there were membership restrictions at that time for Jews and Blacks. In fact, prior to that time, Ivan didn’t realize that he was “different” in his Jewish faith. His coach suggested that he visit the Downtown YMCA (called the Central Y) of Indianapolis. There were no family Y’s at that time and consequently, all members were male. Ivan was immediately accepted and began his heretofore daily swimming. Incidentally, Ivan’s membership card shows he’s been a member since 9/1/45 making his the longest unbroken membership in the country.

For you trivia buffs: Woolen swim suits would produce lint that would clog the filters so men swam in the nude except for swim meets. After joining the Downtown Y in 1945, his team won the statewide championship the next year. Ivan held two 50-meter records in 1946: the 50 breast (fly arms, breast kick) with a time of 36.8 and the 50 backstroke with a time of 37.6. These records stood until Olympian Frank McKinney later broke them. Ivan was so successful with his swimming that Shortridge High School rewarded him with a varsity letter his senior year. Ivan was a member of a relay comprising 10 men whose combined weight was less than 1000 lbs. Luckily for Ivan, he was still scrawny at that time but they each swam 50 meters to win the 500-meter championship at the Shakamak Nationals in 1946 in Jasonville, Ind. He also swam in two marathon distances in the pool: two and six miles. Another event was the 10 mile swim on the Mississippi which was divided into one mile segments per day. If you have been in the pool with Ivan in the last twenty years this would probably shock you as Ivan now considers anything much over 100 to be a distance swim!

Ivan was an All-American in 1948. After graduation from high school, Ivan swam for Indiana University where in 1949 he was made a member of the National All Interscholastic Squad. After college while serving our country in Guam, Ivan swam for a service team which won the Far East Championships.

Ivan was one of eight of the initial swimmers for Arthur Jordan YMCA now called YMCA Indy Swimfit. In fact, Ivan taught head coach Mel Goldstein how to swim at Big Eagle Camp in Zionsville, Ind.

The Ivan M. Chalfie Award for Distinguished Service to the Jewish Family and Community is an annual award that Ivan has used to recognize those who exemplify service. This past year was the 30th year of this award. The succeeding year’s recipients are chosen by the past recipients. But not only does Ivan give awards, he receives awards such as the James L. Kittle, Sr. Lifetime Achievement Award received in the fall of 2010. It is the highest tribute that the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis can bestow upon a volunteer leader. He has served on both the Arthur Jordan Branch and the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis Board of Directors serving as chair in the early 1970s. In 2011, Ivan becomes a Greater Indiana Masters Swimmer Emeritus for his active participation with Greater Indiana Masters Swimming.


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