Something in the Water: An NYC Professor ‘Splashes’ Out from the Rest

By Dan Kloeffler

Oct 29, 2011 9:13am

Every now and again, I come across an interview that deserves a little extra attention. Not only is Dr. Jane Katz a former Olympic swimmer, professor, author, and all-around ball of energy, she’s got a personality that only gets better when you add water.

If you haven’t clicked on the video “Swimming for Seniors,” stop reading, hit ‘Play’ and prepare to pull out that old swimsuit with a smile.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I graciously declined an invitation to one of her senior swim classes. I’ve got a fragile ego and couldn’t hold a candle to these ladies in a swimsuit showdown.

At 68-years-old, she’s just as crazy about swimming now as when she performed as a member of the U.S. Synchronized Swimming Team at the 1964 Olympics – This woman has been pruning before Michael Phelps was even born!

Since then, she’s lapped pools around the world, showing off her backstroke and distance freestyle to take home medals and accolades from the competitive swimming community. Most recently, Jane captured four championships at the 2010 U.S. Masters Nationals in Puerto Rico.

Along the way, she’s stayed on dry land long enough to earn a Masters from New York University, a Masters from Columbia University and earn her Doctorate of Education in Gerontology from Columbia University.

When she’s not poolside, teaching future police and firefighters life-saving techniques at New York City’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, she’s running an aquatics class to help students get past their fear of the water. And did I mention she also teaches underprivileged kids how to swim? Yup, does that, too.

Where some women dread having just one bathing suit, Jane bashfully admits to owning more than four dozen. I’m not saying invest in textiles, but so long as Jane’s swimming, nylon might be a safe bet. And to help pay for all those one-pieces, she’s written thirteen books on swimming instruction, helping students of all ages and abilities to move beyond the doggie paddle.

How does she find the energy that puts most teenagers to shame? Her 91-year-old father.

He still does a few laps in the pool every week, giving Jane a little nudge to keep up her work. After nearly drowning as a kid, he made it a point to teach Jane and her three younger siblings to tread water at an early age. If there’s a water-gene, it runs deep in this family.

But beyond her talents in the water and relentless pursuit to teach the world how to swim, she’s got a personality that warms your heart. Jane affectionately signs her emails, “Splashes, Jane,” and never misses a chance to make a swimming reference during conversation. I was going to challenge her ability at this word play to see how she could weave a watery expression into a European debt crisis debate, but ‘drowning’ and ‘underwater’ seemed a little easy.

“I eat to swim and swim to eat,” she laughed when I asked her if she’d ever get tired of swimming.

“Besides, you can’t hear the phone ring when you’re underwater!”

True enough, Jane Katz. Maybe I will put modesty aside, grab a water noodle and join your group of spritely splashers. After all, I’m always looking for an excuse to pull out the Speedo.

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