Things appear to be going swimmingly for 71-year-old American Jewish aquatics all-star Dr. Jane Katz.
In the wake of an astounding 13-medal haul for swimming events at last summer’s 19th Maccabiah Games in Israel, Katz is set to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the US President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. She will be given the honor on September 16 in Washington, DC.
“I’m truly touched that my lifetime of fitness is being honored in this way,” said Katz, who has taught aquatic fitness and safety at the City University of New York since 1964 and at John Jay College since 1989.
The author of 14 books on swimming, fitness and water exercise, Katz has competed in a record-setting 14 consecutive Maccabiah Games, dating back to her first appearance as a 14-year-old in 1957. She also represented the United States in synchronized swimming at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
In her later years, Katz became an American and world champion Masters swimmer and synchronized swimmer, and she has received many awards and recognitions, including an induction to the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
Things have come full-circle for Katz, who won her first award from the President’s Council on Fitness when she was a 12-year-old schoolgirl.
“It was in 1955, and it was actually not for swimming. It was an award for running and jumping, which is kind of funny since I always thought of myself as klutzy out of the water,” she said.
The water has always been one place where she has not felt clumsy.
“As soon as I get in the water, I feel weightless, free, graceful. I’m like a beautiful mermaid moving with ease,” she said.
For decades now, Katz, whose own father taught generations of children on Manhattan’s Lower East Side how to swim, has been encouraging others to get in the pool.
“Anyone can exercise in water, and it’s not just about swimming. There are many disciplines of aquatics, like water polo and synchro,” said Katz.
For her, the most important things are participation and safety. She’ll help any individual willing to dip in to find the right wet fit.
“I’ve got 50 ways to leave the gutter,” she says, riffing on the title of a Paul Simon song.
She’s especially excited about a new project she has begun with American war veterans, which she calls her “latest splash.”
Katz, who plans on continuing to make waves for years to come, doesn’t see the Lifetime Achievement Award as a culmination of her contribution to water sports and fitness. However, she does consider it a milestone at which to look back and see how far she and other female athletes have come.
“You have to remember that when I started swimming, it was way before Title IX,” she said, referring to the law passed in 1972 that requires gender equality in every educational program that receives federal funding, including sports programs.
“Women used to face so many rejections. It was hard for women to participate,” she said.
“The biggest change over my time in the water has been the inclusion of girls and women, and all the support systems and leagues that have sprung up as a result,” she said.
“Another big change has been the bathing suits. The bathing suits we had were so heavy it was hard to get across the pool with them,” she said.
“And they were so ugly.”