October 2000

Maureen O’Donnell,
Exceptional Senior Athlete

by Joseph RADDER

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If the term senior athlete seems like an oxymoron to you, you haven’t met Maureen O’Donnell. At age 68 she’s still winning gold and silver medals in competitive swimming events. At the recent Senior Games in Syracuse, Maureen swam in six events and won two gold and four silver medals. In the Empire State Games at Binghamton this year she won five first prize gold medals. When asked how many medals she has won over the years she replied, “I have no idea.”

Surprisingly, Maureen didn’t start swimming until she was in her late 40s. “When I was young I was involved in raising a family and many other things,” she says. Also, women did not participate in sports then the way we do today.”

When two of her sons were active on a high school swimming team Maureen became interested in the sport. With one son, she took American Red Cross life-saving courses. Later on she became a water-safety instructor, was a lifeguard and then qualified to teach swimming.

Her parents, both from Ireland, met in New York City and came to Buffalo, where they endured the great depression and World War II. “My father died young leaving my mother to raise seven children,” Maureen told us. She was the youngest. “One of my brothers was killed in the war, but my mother carried on. She did a wonderful job.”

Maureen has four grandsons, ranging in age from 3 to 14. She has no idea whether they will be championship swimmers, but she would be very happy if they were.

Swimming is not the only sport Maureen O’Donnell loves. She has done race walking, bicycle racing and time trials. She taught gym and exercise to an adult education group on Grand Island, her home base. Maureen is also certified to teach a class in arthritis therapy. “We’ve found that exercise in a pool is much easier for arthritis patients than traditional exercise where they ordinarily have difficulty. Water exercise is easier for them and relieves pain.”

She’s a water-skier too, and enjoys slalom water-skiing in the Niagara River every summer. “One of the reasons I enjoy living on Grand Island.”

In the wintertime, Maureen O’Donnell can be seen on the ski slopes. She is a member of several ski clubs and has skied in Europe and New Zealand. She hopes to participate in the Senior Winter Games at Lake Placid and is looking forward to the downhill ski race there in 2001.

As if all this were not enough, Maureen O’Donnell teaches gym and exercise classes, and often substitutes as an instructor in water aerobics. Maureen’s activity isn’t all physical. She’s an enthusiastic member of a current events discussion group at the Amherst Senior Center, where she frequently serves as discussion leader.

“I love the theater, music, reading and travel. In fact I love life and enjoy people,” she said.

Can you think of anyone better qualified to be called “Forever Young and Active”?

Joe Radder is a freelance writer.


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