by Kim Ruiz BALCERZAK
Rochester native Betty Perkins-Carpenter would make a novel spokesperson for the Nike
This diminutive former Olympic diving coach and fitness pioneer with the Just Do
It (TM) attitude, embodies all that is right about being 50PLUS.
Betty is internationally renowned in the sports and fitness arena through her
accomplished swimming and diving career, and her physical education work with children and
Betty with her prestigious Fred A. Cady Diving Coach Award, one of the highest and most coveted honors in amateur diving.
Betty and Chips Carpenter.
A very young 65, Betty has successfully developed and run four corporations that
incorporate her love of fitness - Perkins Swim Club, Fit-By-Five, Child Fitness
Productions and Senior Fitness, Inc. She has also authored two books on senior fitness -
The Fun of Fitness and How To Prevent Falls.
These activities, combined with her affiliate work on childrens and seniors
fitness with the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness, keep this mother of two and
grandmother of two on her toes. She wouldnt have it any other way.
Just how did the former little Betty Kalmn become one of the nations leading
I was born into it, she said. They used to tell me that my playpen
was on the pool deck. My mother and three brothers were known as Rochesters
First Family of Champions. They held just about every city championship in swimming
and diving for years.
Betty participated in her first competition at age 5. From that point on aquatics took
She learned and worked beside her mother, often coaching younger children. She even
started Rochesters first synchronized swim team at Benjamin Franklin High School,
where she was undefeated in diving.
After graduating high school at 16, Betty attended Cortland Normal School (now the
State University College at Cortland) and pursued a degree in physical education. Because
of her coaching experience, she taught swimming and diving at the college.
During her freshman year, Air Force recruiters made her an offer too good to refuse.
They offered to pay for my schooling, she said. My Mom and Dad
didnt want me to go into the Air Force because, back then nice girls didnt go
into the military. So I got my Uncle Oscar, who was commander of the Navy Blimps at the
Pentagon in Washington, to sign for me.
That was a turning point in her life. She dove for the Air Force aquatic team, winning
the Inter-Service Competition. She also established physical activity programs for the
young children of Air Force-based personnel.
Betty met her first husband, Floyd Perkins, in the Air Force. When their service duties
ended, the young Perkins family moved back to Rochester. Daughter Cheryl was born in 1952,
followed by son Scott in 1954. The family also included three foster babies.
Something was still missing. Betty began teaching swimming and diving at the local
Betty and fellow 1990 Healthy American Fitness Leaders at an awards ceremony in Tampa, Florida.
As interest in her classes grew, she spotted talented children in need of close,
one-on-one coaching to develop their skills. It became clear that another arena for
instruction was needed.
In 1959, Betty embarked on her first business venture and prelude to the renowned
Perkins Swim Club - a backyard pool club. It was far from smooth sailing.
After borrowing $4,000 to build the pool, town officials agreed to give her a
commercial venture variance if she won neighborhood support. She gained that support by
promising neighbors private swim time.
Betty (right) with daughter Cheryl and granddaughter Jennifer.
As she prepared to break ground, she found herself between a rock and a hard place.
Nobody told me that there was a rock ledge through Penfield, Betty said.
The dozers came to dig the pool and about three feet down, they hit solid rock. We
had to dynamite. When we blasted, most of my neighbors windows were broken and I had
to borrow even more money to fix them.
The pool club became an instant success with over 200 children enrolled and another 100
on a waiting list by the end of the second summer.
Her teams were competing and winning local, district, state and Canadian-American
Because of the pools popularity, Betty purchased a bubble air dome, making the
pool a year-round club. At about 4 a.m. one morning, the bubbles guide wire snapped,
turning it into a giant balloon that kept filling up with air until it finally exploded.
Betty would not be deterred. She purchased a thicker bubble that was known as the
Circus Tent of Penfield because of its red and white stripes. Luck was not on
Believe it or not, a mini-twister went through Penfield and hit my bubble,
Betty said. It exploded into a million pieces and sounded like an atomic bomb. Red and
white stripes were flying all over Penfield. We needed a permanent structure. Thats
when I decided to construct my own building.
And so, the Perkins Swim Club was born. Despite a lack of finances or strong business
track record, Betty wheeled and dealed her way into the new swim club.
She had a professional model built, persuaded residents to invest in the club,
purchased a tract of land and broke ground.
On July 20, 1964, the Perkins Swim Club opened for business. An outdoor pool was added
From left, Chips and Betty Carpenter with
Throughout their history, Betty and the Swim Club produced winning teams and individual
champions. From 1964 to 1972, Perkins divers were the only undefeated teams in their class
in the Eastern United States.
Wendy Wyland, one of the Clubs divers who individually trained with Betty, qualified for the Olympic Trials, was the 1983 National Diving Champion and a 1984 Olympic Bronze Medalist.
Betty was also becoming recognized as a champion-rearing coach. As her teams progressed
to the international level, Betty was climbing up the ranks of diving coaches, judges and
Betty Perkins-Carpenter pins an award on a spectator at a senior fitness event.
Her diving career reads like a Whos Who in Sports. Among the groups she has
served with are the U.S. Olympic Committee, National and Junior Olympic Diving Committee
and National AAU Competitive Diving Committee.
In 1976, the American Divers and Coaches Association gave her its highest honor,
the Fred A. Cady Diving Coach Award.
She was an assistant to the referee at the Olympics in Munich, aided in starting up the
Empire State Games and founded the Can-Am-Mex Diving Competition in 1974.
In 1976, Betty coached the Turkish diving team in the Montreal Olympics, marking her
place in history as the only American woman to ever coach a mens and womens
Olympic Diving team.
Her star diver, a girl with dual American-Turkish citizenship who had been training
with Betty, was asked to dive for the Turkish team. Betty opted to coach the Turkish team
instead of leading a U.S. squad in European competitions for the eighth time.
On one of her overseas diving excursions, Betty developed a child fitness pre-school
idea, now known as Fit-By-Five.
In 1969, she was in Italy with the U.S. swimming and diving team, when she learned
about a Soviet study that compared the success of students in an academic pre-school with
those in a gymnastic pre-school.
The students in the physically-oriented program excelled in studies of all disciplines
and had more self-esteem, confidence and discipline than their counterparts.
Betty returned to the U.S., excited with the idea.
I landed in New York and called my mother, because she had over 20 years
experience in physical education, Betty said. I asked her if she thought I
could do this, and she said Betty Lou, youve flipped. I came back more
fired up than ever.
Betty created Little Athletes Day Camp in a field adjacent to the
Swim Club. The program was very successful. Betty returned to the bank to borrow money -
without a hitch this time - and added a second floor to the Swim Club. Fit-By-Five was a
Throughout the years, she and her cadre of skilled physical education teachers,
developed lessons that incorporated such academic skills as counting and recognizing
shapes and colors through physical movement.
Fit-By-Five was a hit. in 1984, franchises sprung up nationwide. Betty has even
lectured on its techniques in Czechoslovakia, Japan and Ireland.
Today, Betty focuses on licensing the program. To date, there are schools in Alabama,
Michigan, Ohio, California and Massachusetts. Negotiations are in the works with Korea and
My dream is to get this program into the inner city someday, Betty said.
So many children have blossomed because there are no failures in Fit-By-Five.
Theres no peer pressure. Children know they can try again and again.
Betty started her third business, Child Fitness Productions, in 1984. This venture
produced informational materials on child development.
Since 1987, it has expanded into Senior Fitness Productions, Inc.
Through this business, Betty teaches senior fitness classes and provides consultation
on issues affecting senior citizens.
Her books on senior fitness and preventing falls, published under this venture, are
used by medical professionals around the world.
In my 35 years of working with seniors, I have never seen them in such a quest
for knowledge, Betty said. They dont take their doctors world as
final. Theyre very much aware of alternative medicine and prevention. Theyre
getting what I like to call an I can do it attitude.
Exercise has a lot of connotations for seniors, because gym classes werent
much fun when they were young - they were horrible. If you talk about exercise in terms of
wellness and prevention, you get their attention.
Somehow, in the midst of running her businesses, coaching, diving and raising her
family, Betty found time to complete her education.
She earned a bachelors degree in physical education administration from Empire
State College, a masters degree in child care administration from Nova University in
Florida, and a certificate in gerontology from St. John Fisher College, where she is an
Betty assists a senior on the
At 65, Betty has no intentions of retiring.
Though her first marriage ended in divorce 18 years ago, she found love again three
years later with Marcellus Chips Carpenter, a Coast Guard and Case-Hoyt
retiree. He also served as the business manager for the Rochester Red Wings baseball club
affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
She also has an agent who has signed her with St. Martins Press, and is exploring
the possibility of making videos based on her books.
What does the future hold for this energetic dynamo?
Id love to go to medical school, she said. But with Fit-By-Five
expanding to other states and the work involved in licensing the pre-schools, theres
just not much time. I do get to work a lot with doctors on my balance system and in
research pertaining to seniors.
What advice does she have for her fellow seniors?
Keep moving ... what you can, as much as you can, Betty said. Yes,
its going to hurt, but disuse invites decay.
Seniors deal with a lot of loss and stress in their lives. The best way to deal
with these factors is with a strong emotional support system. Keep actively involved with
other seniors. Volunteer your time. Stay active and keep learning something new and
Kim Ruiz Balcerzak is Managing Editor of Living Prime Time
Photos courtesy of Betty Perkins-Carpenter.
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