Betsy Jordan (USA)

Honor Masters Swimmer (2005)

The information on this page was written the year of their induction.

INTERNATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS: World Points – 1251, Pre-1986 Points – 151, Total Points – 1402; Since 1973, she has competed in seven age groups (35-39 thru 65-69); 38 FINA MASTERS WORLD RECORDS;

Betsy grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana, where her family’s daily visits to swimming pools became a summer custom. Her mother taught her to swim at age five, and later revealed that no matter how hard she tried to teach her the front crawl, Betsy floundered helplessly with her rear sticking up in the air and her arms flailing. However, when she flipped her daughter over on her back, Betsy was buoyant and smooth. She was a natural backstroker.

Around age 9, when Betsy was little and scrawny, she wanted desperately to be like her older sister and join the Riviera Club swim team. The coach, surprisingly said no, and suggested she go home and grow a while.  Incensed, she joined the rival and then fledgling Indianapolis Athletic Club team, where she trained and competed regularly in local, state, and national meets until she left for college in 1955.

Betsy remembers this time as a golden era for swimming – no butterfly, no pace clocks, no goggles, no time standards for entries to nationals, but there was great team spirit. Sometimes the team swam away- meets in stone quarries, with racing lanes attached to a turn board in the middle. If the ropes shrank, pulling the turn board closer to the start, times were unusually good. Every spring, the Athletic Club always had “lifesaving season,” when the team practiced hair carries and cross chest carries and had to bring up their bulky coach from the bottom of the pool as a test. The team performed water shows to raise money to travel to out-of-town meets, and some tried what was then called “water ballet”.

During her first nine years of competition with the IAC (1947-1955), Betsy had many highlights. She set a national AAU 200 yard backstroke record and won a 3-mile national junior lake swim (swimming backstroke).  She placed second several times at Senior Nationals in backstroke events, and in 1952 was a member of a 150 meter medley relay team that set an American record.

Before Title IX, there was hardly any opportunity for women to swim in college, and by 1955 Betsy had decided to focus on academia, attending Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She graduated in 1959 and continued the study of art history at Harvard where she received an M.A. in 1960.

After graduating, Betsy began raising her four children, and in 1971 she decided to try swimming again. She joined the San Diego Swim Masters team, swimming in both the pool and the ocean. Her masters swimming balanced out her further academic pursuits in a plan to stave off atrophy in both body and brain. She completed a Ph.D. in English Literature in 1985. From 1985-2000, Betsy taught full time in the Humanities Program at U.C. San Diego. The work was both intellectually and psychologically fulfilling. Eventually there was a masters swim program at UCSD, and she was able to exercise both her mind and body on campus. She still teaches one seminar at UCSD each year. Presently involved in writing a children’s book about Dante, Betsy still studies to improve her fluency in Italian.

Over her career as a masters swimmer, Betsy has set more than 100 national and world records, both individually and as a member of relays. As she moves up, each new age group has presented a welcome challenge. She would like to keep working out and competing as long as she can. She values all of her teammates; over the years they have become a close-knit and loyal group. Betsy and her husband Peter Riddle continue to compete in long distance races and try to find some aquatic event to pair up with a visit to children and grandchildren spread across the U.S. Betsy loves the fact that with a regular exercise program she can eat what she likes and enjoy life to the fullest. Through swimming, she learned the value of sportsmanship, to schedule her time wisely, and how to lose gracefully. Betsy wants to continue to be a good representative of Masters swimming, valuing the fairness, fun, and fellowship that it has afforded her.